Recent news in nytimes.com about Ms. Navarro is really an opportunity in disguise for materialistic workforce scheduling specialists like myself. After many a years, the word ‘scheduling software’ has made any kind of headline! I must ignore Ms. Navarro’s plight and capitalize on this, get myself in front of more companies, sell my skill as the super-duper scheduling software expert the world has ever seen. In the interest of making more money I should inform you that Starbucks did not configure their system properly. If they had worked with me, instead of some other expert, they would not have faced such issues. I would have helped them improve the organizational culture (really what the f*!# is that?) so that such problems would never have arisen.

Self-directed sarcasm aside, someone like myself hurt Ms. Navarro.

I find this to be one of the hardest things in the world of scheduling software configuration; we sit in comfortable conference rooms in corporate headquarters, eat custom ordered free lunches and tweak parameters of a software till kingdom come to build more efficient (corporate understanding only!) employee schedules, never for once putting ourselves in the shoes of Ms. Navarro, never realizing that she is not going to drive her kid to the school because of a scheduling conflict. And that she is a single mom. All because the optimized labor plan at her workplace requires her to come to work 30 minutes earlier today. Awkward still, she does not know what it may be next week.

Whenever I am in a scheduling configuration meeting, trying to optimize & improvise & extemporize our solution design, I have to take a coffee break to come back to reality. I have to tell myself over and again that it is real humans with real families that I am scheduling.

Once, many years ago, I flew one of my engineers from India to Boston to work with me on a new scheduling user interface design. Fortunately we were working with a customer who did not mind putting us in touch with one of the store managers to do a ‘reality check’ on our work. First thing I did with my engineer next to me was to call the store manager and discuss some aspects of the user interface. The engineer was completely shocked to realize that a real human being is going to use whatever we are building! But softwares do have that effect on us. In ways, they make us impersonal. The functionality, user interface and configurability of the software sometimes overshadows the lives it affects.

I personally do not think that Ms. Navarro’s state was purely an end result of Starbuck scheduling policy or scheduling software or software configuration. The news that we read was the news that the newsmaker chose to report to us. There may be other things at work in her life that we, here, cannot know of. But this is a lesson that’s been coming to me in bits over last few years. ‘Schedule optimizing software is an impersonal tool’. It can get brutal while trying to make people work to meet the demand.

Now that I have learned my lesson over many implementations, I do the best I can to keep my scheduling system configurations simple, practical, maintainable and more importantly ‘people aware’. But I still have another mountain to conquer. The corporate offices are typically all gung-ho about the new scheduling tool being installed. They don’t like the idea of ‘dumbing the optimizer down’ so much. So, it’s not anymore about what I know should be done. It’s more about how do I sell what I know!

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