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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Staffing numbers always seem to forget about lunch

I have a rant about the realities of understaffing a support organization. This is mostly about what happens down at the very bottom level where you're dealing with one, two, three, or even four techs who are scheduled to work a given shift. Bigger situations don't work the same way.

My schedule used to be Thursday to Monday, 4 PM to 1 AM. Later, it was moved up a bit such that I'd come in at 1 PM and leave at 10 PM, but the same "wraparound" day schedule persisted. This meant I worked every weekend and then had Tuesday and Wednesday off. This part didn't bother me too much at the time.

Where the problems began is when people started scheduling things in such a way that only three people would work for long stretches on those weekend days. After first shift left and before any of the third shift people started showing up, there might be 5 or 6 hours with just three techs working.

That was horrible because the people who did the scheduling rarely worked it, so they missed one huge point.


Every one of us was entitled to an hour-long lunch every day that we worked. Since there were only three of us covering all of the Unix customers, that meant we had to take our lunches individually. We couldn't even take one friend from the team with us, since then that would only leave one person to handle the whole affair. It's a lonely life: you eat lunch by yourself in the afternoon or evening on a weekend while the rest of the world is out having fun.

So let's look at this a little more closely. Assume that tech #1 goes to lunch from 4-5, tech #2 goes to lunch from 5-6, and tech #3 goes to lunch from 6-7. Assume they are perfect transitions, everyone takes exactly one hour, and there is no overlap.

That means from 4 until 7, you have just two techs handling the entire support situation for those customers. Think about this. You probably did the math based on dealing with the support load with 3 people, but a full third of that shift (3 of the 9 hours) is actually running with 2.

There are problems with this. While all three of those people might be really sharp and may be able to crunch tons of tickets, the phone call side of the business does not scale. One tech might be able to close 20 tickets in a night, but they still only have one pair of ears and one mouth. They can only work on one call at a time.

Worse, if you get stuck on a call, you (probably) won't be able to handle any other issues in the ticket queue. They will just have to wait until you can finish with whoever called in.

I tried to make this case a couple of times, but it never yielded useful results for the big picture. The best thing I managed to accomplish was getting moved to a typical Monday through Friday week where there were always plenty of people around.

Weekend coverage was never the same.