University of Twente Student Theses


Collection, the starting point: Matching workforce to workload at TNT Business Counters

Haspels, Eljo K. (2010) Collection, the starting point: Matching workforce to workload at TNT Business Counters.

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Abstract:This thesis describes a master graduation research into the problem of matching workforce to workload at TNT business counters. A TNT business counter is a facility where, every night, mail is collected, prepared and sent on to a sorting centre. Team managers at these collection facilities try, on a daily basis, to make sure the process is finished in time. The strategy of TNT Mail Netherlands currently aims at cost reduction and the creation of a more flexible cost structure at all departments. To achieve these goals within the collection department, a reorganisation called DPM-C was started at business counters. This change process includes the implementation of standardized best practice processes and improvement of process steering. The first evaluations show that cost reduction is achieved, but team managers indicate they have no clear understanding on how to organize the required amount of workforce needed on an evening. Therefore, management at collection asked for a research into the daily process of matching workforce to workload. In this thesis we address this operational workforce management problem. The amount of required workforce depends on two uncertain factors: “mail volume” and “productivity”. To estimate the magnitude of these uncertainties at two process (intake and preparation), we analyse data within existing databases at TNT and interview experts. The mail volumes for the intake and preparation process fluctuate daily and can be approximated by a normal distribution function. We quantify the fluctuation by measuring the coefficient of variation, which is on average 0.1 and 0.2 for the intake and preparation process, respectively. For the productivity we conclude that, although norms exist for each process, the actual achieved productivity also fluctuates significantly. We discuss two ways to improve performance on matching workforce to workload: (1) taking actions to reduce the workload uncertainty, and (2) improving workforce flexibility to cope with the existing workload uncertainty. It appears that the correlation between consecutive days and weekdays is very moderate, therefore no reliable predictions on workload is possible based on these variables. Our data shows nonetheless that fluctuations in mail volume may be reduced if the mail volume of different business counters is integrated. We therefore recommend continuing the current research into centralization of business counters, especially as larger facilities also make the creation of flexibility easier From interviews we learn that uncertainty in productivity may be caused by the following factors: difference in input, difference in measurement, motivation and experience of employees. Isolating these factors and compensating for these effects in the data turns out to be impossible with the currently available data. Based on evaluations of DPM-C and interviews, however, we conclude that productivity fluctuations may be reduced by the creation of performance feedback and increase of control by management (by presence at the work floor). v Improving flexibility on operational level is bounded by decisions on strategic and tactical level; for example, the collective labour agreement bounds the way in which personnel can be deployed. Comparing methods to create operational workforce flexibility in literature to methods currently used by team managers, shows us that almost all methods are present within collection to some extent. We can distinguish methods used in case too many and too few employees are present at the work floor. If too few employees are present at the work floor, flexibility can be created by cross function employment, arranging extra personnel and working overtime. If too many employees are present at the work floor, workforce flexibility can be created by asking for volunteers to take leave (for part of their shift), to participate in cross function employment, or to switch to not-time-dependent activities, such as the mandatory work related knowledge test. Workforce flexibility should preferably be created at the end of the process, and can be arranged more easily at larger facilities than at small ones. We also recommend that training of team managers should focus more on creation of commitment and cooperation, as this is essential for many of the methods to create operational flexibility. We conclude in this thesis that reducing uncertainty of different factors in the process of matching workforce to workload is difficult on operational level. We also conclude that ways to create flexibility exist and are used by team managers to different extent. As many of the methods used to create flexibility depend on local circumstances, we recommend to increase knowledge exchange of concrete and useful approaches on this topic.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Industrial Engineering and Management MSc (60029)
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