Staff scheduling… it’s easy, right? How hard can it possibly be to schedule a few staff members for your business? Well, it depends on the business. Staff scheduling is as unique as the person doing it, and blanket features rarely truly meet the needs of a business – and its people. Offering limited features to our customers was never an option, no matter what Erik and Anthony thought in the beginning.
When Erik and I started dreaming about scheduling software years ago, we were busy helping our clients jump through operational hurdles – in many cases, hurdles that a computer could do faster than a human manager. The management team could then spend time with clients and employees; duties a computer could not perform for them.
So, we sketched out the easiest possible scheduling system we could think of accounting for the varied operations at different restaurants. We asked one of our staff members to consider it his daily project to build a proof of concept for a simple scheduling system.
Our dreams were meager: a graphical scheduling system in a modern web browser, sending out emails and text reminders to staff members, making sure that everyone was in the loop.
One of my best friends (and a roommate in college), Craig worked at a local restaurant (Zookini’s), and his uncle ran the place. Every week, we had to pack up in my truck and drive across town to see what was on the schedule. Every week, Craig paid me a few bucks for the gas we were burning. Every week, I asked him if he knew that he and his uncle were crazy. Surely there was a simple web page waiting for their schedule to be uploaded so that staff knew when to be at work. Craig and I discussed that good restaurant scheduling software would need to get rid of this driving for the employees. It needed to keep staff in the loop!
The first version that Angus produced for us didn’t run very well in a web browser (it was “clunky” and slow), and we were pushing the very limits of what your web browser could do. It loaded the entire week into a big graphical chart, and then you moved things around. It did exactly what it was supposed to do. It sent out email messages. Staff knew when to be at work! And, it didn’t crash very often, if you waited a few minutes for it load completely. Version 1 was done.
Daniel (one of our awesome Bolivian developers), took our “Version 1” software and started banging on it. He started doing things that programmers love to do… optimizing the program. He made the pages load faster, the buttons easier to click, and set it up so that it automatically saved changes. It didn’t crash as often. Version 2 was done.
Late one night at Zookini’s (Craig and I stuck around to eat some of the best salad bar in Lubbock), we were talking with the manager about his job. He hated it. When I asked him what he hated, he said that building the schedule sucked. It took hours. He was in some cramped back office and staff members were constantly bothering him. He showed me the paperwork to build the schedule: a spiral notebook, a half-dozen sticky notes (multi-colored!) and printed emails, along with his Excel spreadsheet. Yikes! On the drive home (after Craig filled up my truck with gas again), we discussed that scheduling shouldn’t be that hard for managers. It needed to keep them on the floor, not grinding paperwork. It needed to make their life easy.
We took Daniel’s version of the software, and added our own secret sauce. An AutoScheduler™ We worked with a team of professors from some of the best math schools on the planet – we learned about higher level math, artificial intelligence, and sophisticated statistics. We dug in and analyzed schedules from beta customers all over the US. We looked at labor costs, availability, time off, training, skills, overtime, and about fifteen other variables. We gave it learning capabilities and made it smart. Then we put TimeForge up for sale on the Internet.
TimeForge did exactly what we wanted it to. Simple scheduling. It kept employees in the loop. It gave managers back their lives. Customers started signing up from all over the United States, Canada, Germany, and many European countries. And then, they started calling our offices.
My brother started working in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher in high school before he could even drive. He would wash pots at a local independent Florida restaurant and dad would pick him up late at night (after a day of hard work at the base) and drive him home, both stinking of old food and cleaning detergents. During college, he worked at several chain restaurants, including Joe’s Crab Shack, Abuelo’s, and On The Border. Over the years, he worked the front of house and the back of house. He was a bartender, a head waiter, and then a trainer. At every job he had, we discussed how the scheduling varied, what was different, and more importantly: how it could be improved. Erik and I discussed that any scheduling software needed to be able to be rapidly expanded – it needed to be developed in an agile manner – every restaurant does something different with scheduling. Staff members truly are the secret sauce of restaurants.
The calls were from business owners all over the place – from many different backgrounds, and many different businesses. I can remember compiling a list on my desk of the people using our software after just a few days:
- A fine dining restaurant in Maryland
- A quick service restaurant in Oklahoma
- A bar in northern Canada
- A retail shop in eastern Germany
- A diner in Maine
- A YMCA in California
- An ice cream parlor in North Dakota
So, I did what any sane business owner should do… I called them. I asked a simple question, “What can TimeForge do better for you?” The answers were all over the place. I had no inkling that our simple scheduling software was about to blow up. Simple scheduling was the start, not the end, of what our customers needed.
Erik and I had discussed how we were going to launch TimeForge. I remember it very vividly. Running TimeForge was going to be easy – we were going to hire mostly developers. No sales reps were needed (the software would sell itself), and customer service would be handled via email and support forums. After all, why do you need customer service personnel on a product that’s dead easy to use, and only does scheduling? Wow, were we wrong!
Our easy scheduling software started taking hold, and our customers were not very shy about voicing their opinion – they called or emailed our office, and we asked them to voice their opinions. Daily. Some questions were:
- Where is my labor cost? I want to see my labor totals for the day. And, I need to see which position costs the most! The owner will only let me schedule up to 18% labor cost for the day. Oh, and on Sundays, we use labor hours to schedule with, and I cannot go over 80 man hours for the day.
- Why aren’t sales included on the schedule? I need it broken down by day, then by hour, then by 15-minute interval. Shouldn’t this data come from my Point of Sale system where it already is?
- How do we handle no shows? I want to modify the schedule after the day is over so I can show who didn’t show up. Where’s the report to show me who didn’t show up? Where are the reports?
- I have six minors working for me – they cannot work past 9pm most nights during the summer, or I’ll be fined by the department of labor. Why do I still need a sticky note to tell who is, and isn’t, a minor?
- Our lifeguards require annual certifications, and if they are expired, and someone is injured at the pool, that would be very, very bad. I don’t want to schedule anyone who has an old certification!
- Our servers in Section 1 all need to have alcohol training, or it’s a large fine and they shut down the restaurant for the night. We could lose our alcohol license. Don’t let staff members who are missing the training pick up shifts for staff members that I already scheduled.
Whoa! I thought scheduling was simple? We went back to the drawing board. While we were planning what to do, our phone wouldn’t stop ringing! It was time to bring Gurkan into the picture.
My sister has always been into the arts and finished high school as a cosmetologist. She spent some years working with us on other non-TimeForge projects, then as a cosmetologist, and finally decided to try her hand at the hospitality industry. She worked as a hostess at a fast casual chain, managed a quick service restaurant, and then took over managing a retail business. In several of her business endeavors, she brought TimeForge into the fold, and at each and every stop, she called us, telling us everything we were missing in the program – sales integration, payroll exports, enforcement of the schedule. My phone call to Erik on that day was pretty simple… we had uncorked a burning need. Scheduling wasn’t simple. It was hard. Impossibly hard. And we needed more people to answer the dang phone.
With Daniel and Gurkan at the helm, TimeForge started getting many of these not-so-simple features added to its code base. And, we made them available to all our existing customers for no additional charge. Reports (want them scheduled and emailed to you?), sales forecasting, mobile phone access, schedule templates, scheduling of breaks, lunches, and meal periods, a manager log, and much more.
Over the last few years, we’ve rocketed in size with triple digit growth year after year – both to support our customers needs (want a biometric time clock to track who’s on time?), and to support our customers. We now have inside and outside sales personnel (don’t worry, we’re still a no-pressure sales environment… if you need our flavor of labor management, we’ll help out – if not, we understand), support personnel, marketing people, and developers who do everything from mobile web apps to java software development. And everyone answers the phone!
If you need to get in touch with us, you can call (866-684-7191), email ([email protected]), text, or reach out on our forum. Need us to call you on Skype in another country at 4am? Let us know!
TimeForge will continue to grow, and we’ll continue to add features. You see, we started this business with only three guiding principals in mind:
- Make sure staff members stay in the loop on everything the business does.
- Keep managers happy and on the floor – keep them out of the back office.
- Be flexible, so that the software can change as needed for our customers.
We continue to stay true to these needs.
Have you tried TimeForge recently? Sign up for a free trial to see how our amazing software can help run your restaurant, retail, or hospitality business!