8 Steps from Newbie to Master On-Call Scheduler

Are you brand new to creating your group's on-call schedule? Where do you start and what's next?

Using a Training analogy, what does the on-call scheduling journey look like from “newbie” to “seasoned” professional?

What does evolving from short-term emergency scheduling to a long-term sustainable process look like?

The short-haul:

This is where many first-timers start: creating a schedule under short-term emergency conditions, struggling to get a calendar out every month. Tallies and spread need to be reworked carefully so they continue to be fair through tight scheduling periods such as summer vacation time. Typically it involves paper or excel and lots of head-scratching.

The long haul:

This is where the Master schedulers “live”: a long-term sustainable condition using an auto-scheduler and repeatable scheduling process where you produce “more schedule” with less effort. You use your professional judgment for the more difficult decisions.

Want to recognize your “master scheduler”? Recognize them!

What does the journey of an on-call scheduler look like and how does it progress?

1) Start where you are:

    • Do you have “current” policies? Great. Review them to be sure they are current before using them.
    • No policies? Start gathering past info to see what was “okay” in the past.
    • No documentation or past history of schedules? Use generic forms to gather and document needed information.

2) Everyone can walk:

    • Manual scheduling. Get things moving by setting expectations where Providers and office personnel can always find the most current information.
    • Agreement regarding rules and preferences is imperative!
    • Providers can see benefits immediately with on-line calendars and SmartPhone views.

3) Bump it up:

    • Involve your teammates. An on-call calendar doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You cannot do it without the cooperation of your Providers.
    • On-line Provider Requests enable your Provider to help you while helping themselves! Not on-line? At least have a paper trail to track the “he-said, she-said” issues.
    • Online self-serve tallies and views allow Providers to save you time for other things.

4) Add muscle:

    • Tallies and various views reinforce and prove fairness at any time.
    • Auto-schedule to enforce rules and honor commitments.

5) Practice makes perfect:

    • Review all the software features, even if you don’t use them just yet.
    • Schedule a training review for yourself and your backup so you remain current and efficient.
    • Document your scheduling process so it’s easy to review and tweak.
    • Mentor “laggard” users who may simply need a little encouragement to adopt the change.
    • Gradually stop print-and-send so everyone goes “electronic” or prints their own.

6) Become a resource for everyone:

    • Become the go-to local expert for iCal subscriptions and the Call Schedule.
    • Establish the online calendars as the go-to place for all things regarding “on-call”
    • Manage scheduling fairness. Prove fairness in tallies, frequency, and request processing.
    • Accountability and transparency regarding the scheduling process is available as needed.

7) Good coach to Great Coach:

    • A good coach is strongly pragmatic with great integrity.
    • A Great Coach also encourages dialogue about the “on-call” schedule. She/he elicits ideas for improvement while using the “3 Whys” method to avoid unknowingly skewing the schedule for everyone to accommodate an individual need.

8) See it. Do it. Teach it:

    • A Great Coach also empowers others on the team
    • Assign the easier items to your assistant manager, such as routine maintenance of the schedule, while you handle the more “politically charged” issues such as vacation time and Holiday assignment scheduling.
    • Teach your “techie doctor” how to make his own Provider Requests or use iCal subscriptions and watch him spread the good word!

Key Takeaway

As you move away from creating an on-call schedule with paper/pencil under short-term emergency conditions, struggling to get a calendar out every month, to a long-term sustainable condition using an auto-scheduler and repeatable scheduling process, you will find you produce “more schedule” with less effort.

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