Monday, July 10, 2006

Where have I been for the last week?

Over the last week, I haven't been able to blog much because I've been busy.

Busy with what?

As mentioned in a previous blog entry about what I was doing this summer, I've spent the last week doing a whole slew of stuff for Tennis Canada. Similar to other sporting events, Tennis Canada has a volunteer program to help with various aspects of their events. From the volunteer description page on the Tennis Canada website, it is stated that:

There is a tremendous amount of time and effort put forth in staging a tennis tournament of this magnitude and volunteers are essential to its success. Approximately 1000 people volunteer at the Rogers Cup held at the Rexall Centre each year. We are looking for energetic, enthusiastic, and team oriented tennis fans to help volunteer as we bring the world's best tennis players to the premier summer sporting event held in our great city. There are more than 30 committees from which to choose from, including centre court control, transportation, pass control, greeting patrons, and many more. During the week you will not only get the opportunity to see some exceptional tennis but you will also make new friendships, be part of the fun and excitement, and have memories that will last a life-time.

I have been volunteering at the tennis tournament in Toronto for the last ten years, all of those in the Transportation Committee. However, this year is unique, as it is my first year as a Committee Head (alongside two other returning Committee Heads) of the Transportation Committee.

As a committee head, I have a few more responsibilities this year. Essentially, this can be broken up into two parts - Pre-Tournament and Tournament Responsibilities.

Prior to the tournament, there is quite a lot of work that needs to be done. This ranges from liaisoning with Tennis Canada staff members, such as the Volunteer Co-ordinator, or the Tournament Operations Manager, to ensure that all the appropriate transportation committee-related resources are in place (i.e. personnel, supplies, arrangements for tournament vehicles, etc), other Volunteer Committee Heads, and the volunteers in my committee (i.e. scheduling and other general items).

The goal of pre-tournament planning is to come up with solutions to deal with everything that is expected to happen during the tournament. By identifying various events and developing optimal solutions to these expected events prior to the tournament, more time is left over to deal with unexpected events during the tournament itself. Of course, one hopes that with enough pre-tournament planning, the number of these unexpected events is minimized. However in practice, things always come up. Items of this nature for our committee include the setup of our communications systems for our drivers, preparing information handouts to our drivers or putting in place the processes required to ensure that player/v.i.p./etc needs are best met.

This past week, I have been working on the scheduling of the volunteers in my committee. With approximately 1085 shifts needed to be filled by 127 volunteers, it isn't exactly the simplest of tasks. The best analogy I can think of is that this scheduling task is like putting together a puzzle, where the goal is to fill our needs (the 1085 shifts) by efficiently utilizing all the resources that are available to you (here the resource is the volunteers, each having unique characteristics, such as the date and times that they are available, various preferences as to tasks that they are comfortable in doing, how many shifts per day etc). Doing this in an efficient manner is key, as there is a cost factor involved. At the end of the day, Tennis Canada is still a 'not-for-profit' organization dedicated to growing the game of tennis throughout Canada, from grass root programs to high performance development. If they burn up all their costs running this tournament, Tennis Canada would have a difficult time fulfilling its mandate.

Luckily, I have some assistance in the form of ScheduleSource TeamWork software from ScheduleSource, Inc. However, it is not a completely automated task, as I would say that the software completes the task to about 80% completion. This is due to some unique characteristics of the tournament that the scheduling software does not easily accommodate.

These include the following:

  • the scheduling software is organized on a weekly basis (i.e. limited number of hours one can work in a week, limited shifts one can work in a week etc) while the tournament is effectively 12 days;
  • overlapping shift times in my committee (the scheduling software doesn't allow for overlapping shift times, so I have to fudge the start/end times of the shifts);
  • real-life situations occurring with the volunteers (i.e. changes in their shift availability);
  • lack of a effective method of re-publishing of the scheduling output from the software to a set of webpages.

All these above items require manual intervention by me to re-concile, so as a result, I haven't had time to blog about anything in the past week. I am just about done this task, so I'll be blogging more in the coming days.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to software that can aid in scheduling employees (resources)? What would be needed? These would be some of the criteria....

  • Ability to handle an event that is 12 days long;
  • Ability to define performance criteria over 12 days (i.e. shifts worked per 12 days, hours worked per 12 days);
  • Ability to define performance criteria per day (i.e. max number of shifts per day, max number of hours per day);
  • Ability to manage 200 employees, each with differing days and times of availability;
  • Ability to distinguish distinct employee skillsets (i.e. specialized skills);
  • Ability to define stations that require specialized skills;
  • Using the above factors, automatically build a schedule that reconciles all the above factors in the most resource-efficient manner possible; and,
  • Output the results into a webpage for employees to access.

I realize that this set of requirements is not exactly run-of-the-mill, but perhaps someone knows of some software that can accommodate all these criteria. If you know of any, please tell me!

Over the next couple of weeks, as we get closer to the tennis tournament, I will blog about some of the things that I do during the tournament. Among these items include managing the transportion of players from the tennis stadium to their hotels, picking up players or celebrities from the airport, or managing the volunteers that are needed to perform these tasks. If there are other aspects of my position that you'd like me to blog about, please leave a comment and I'll see what I can do.

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