Shift Scheduling for Distribution Centers

May 11, 2015

Let's start with the disclaimer that "I am not showing you the answer to scheduling for every distribution center in the world."

My intent is to show you what I commonly run across as an issue with many of the distribution centers I have worked with.

That issue is an unbalanced workload.

Consider the following chart:

Slide1This is a graphic representation from a recent project; one in which my task was to match the "Shape of the Workforce" to the "Shape of the Workload."

You will notice that staffing is much lower between 6:00 pm to 6:00 am than it is from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm.  Like many distribution centers, the workload is lighter during the night than it is during the day.  This is not by choice.  Rather, outside influencers (delivery trucks etc) are not inclined to work during the nights even if the D.C. wants them to.

You will also notice that there is less staffing on Saturday and Sunday than there is during the weekdays. This is due to the same reason as the workload dropping off at night.

Still, this facility is running 24/7 even though at different paces, depending on the time of day and day of the week.

When faced with this type of situation, many companies feel they have only two scheduling solutions.  One solution is to pretend that they are not a 24/7 operation.  They do this by staffing three 8-hour shifts during the week.  The put fewer people on the night shifts because of the lower workload.  This is a Half-Good idea.  It solves the problem of less work when its dark.  However, it fails to address the on-going weekend work.  That coverage is generally left to overtime; not a bad idea unless the overtime is too high.

A second common solution is to put in a 24/7 schedule.  This is typically a 12-hour schedule with two Day shift crews and two Night shift crews.  They staff the Night shift with fewer people so as to better match lower work at nights.  However, this can often result in over-staffing on the weekend Day shifts.

The best schedule is one that matches the "Shape of the Workforce" to the "Shape of the Workload" as closely as possible.  Any mismatch should be seen as an unnecessary cost; weather that cost if from overtime/fatigue or from over-staffing.

One thing you can do is to see how much flexibility your "Workload Shape" has.  Can you move work to other parts of the week?  You don't have to do this, but it does help to identify the degrees of freedom you have when rearranging your workforce.

Another thing is to look at complex scheduling solutions.  A "complex solution" is one that requires more than one approach.   In the case with the chart above, we did the following:

  1. Verified that some work could flow into Saturday from Friday without cost.
  2. Verified that work could be pulled forward from Monday to Sunday without cost. (note: steps 1 and 2 helped to level the workload and promote more streamlined operations)
  3. Implemented a 12-hour, 7-day schedule that covered all the hours in the week between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm.
  4. Retained three 8-hour crews to add to the workforce Monday - Friday.
  5. Distributed the workforce amongst the different schedules in such a way as to retain some overtime while never over-staffing.  This helped to meet the expectations of the workforce while not incurring additional costs
  6. And most importantly - We got the workforce involved.  They helped to pick the schedule patterns, the shift hours and the amounts of overtime.


Remember, a workforce that helps develop the schedule will be a workforce that owns and supports the schedule.

If you have any questions, you can reach me at (415) 265-1621 or