About once a day, I feel compelled to scream at no one in particular: ‘it’s all about scheduling!’

Because it is.

All about scheduling, that is.  The Ballistix method — Sales Process Engineering — it’s really all about scheduling.

But people just don’t get it.

So, I’m going to take some time out to talk to you — because, as a list member, you’re one of a small group of devoted followers — about scheduling.

This post sets the context and introduces the problem.  Future posts (if this one generates interest) will explore the solution (or solutions).

Why the big deal about scheduling

Scheduling is a big deal because it’s the ‘missing link’ that prevents most organisations from evolving, of their own accord, the Ballistix method.

In a nutshell, Sales Process Engineering involves the application of division of labour to the sales process.  No more, no less.

Now division of labour isn’t a particularly new concept.  Even before Adam Smith told us about it in The Wealth of Nations, ants and bees were doing it.  (In fact, at an even more granular level, the cellular building blocks that make up ants and bees were doing it!)

So division of labour is where the huge increases in output Sales Process Engineering promises come from.

But, it’s not quite that simple.

There are two prerequisites that must be in place before division of labour can be applied.

First, you need a standard process.  You can’t apply division of labour in the absence of a standard process.  (And everyone knows that already.)

Second, you need a scheduling function.

Scheduling is a prerequisite for division of labour because, without it, you end up with chaos.

Here’s the problem.  You’ve divided a process up into similar tasks, and allocated each group of similar tasks to a different resource (person, ant, etc).

You now have a bunch of individuals doing stuff.  The challenge is to synchronise the sequence and rate of work of each individual so that, collectively, these individual resources become one machine (or system).

That’s what scheduling is.  If you want to understand the importance of scheduling, imagine an orchestra without a conductor, a manufacturing plant without a master scheduler, a building site without a project manager, etc.

The magnitude of the problem

Now, conceptually, scheduling is really simple (it’s nothing more than the synchronisation of a bunch of individuals).

In practice, however, scheduling problems tend to be very difficult to solve.

The technical complexity of scheduling tends to be disguised by our brain’s uncanny ability to solve complex problems in certain environments.  Take my orchestra example: an individual musician just plays in time with the conductor, right?  Actually, I doubt it’s that simple.  If you take away the hours of rehearsal and the real-time feedback loop that the musician’s ears provide him, I don’t think the music would sound that sweet.  I suspect that there are some incredibly complex neural-mathematics going on behind the scenes.

Imagine a robot that can play an instrument.  Now imagine that you have fifty of these robots, each playing one of a variety of instruments.  Imagine too that you have another robot, one that has the ‘Conductor V1.2′ program loaded into its robot brain.  You job is to write the additional sub-routine that must be loaded into each of these robots’ brains that will cause them to play nicely together.  The only inputs to this sub-routine are the signals from the robots’ eyes and ears.  Now, imagine how many lines of code you will have to write.

So, scheduling is inherently complex but, in certain circumstances, human brains have the ability to solve complex scheduling problems.  What are those circumstances?

Well, people are good a scheduling when they can observe the operation of the system as a whole (which, of course, means that the system is simple enough to be comprehended).

But in most cases this isn’t possible (the musician is actually the exception, not the rule).  Think of the process worker in the manufacturing plant, the plasterer on the fifteenth floor of a building under construction, the salesperson sitting in the potential client’s office, and so on.

In all these cases, the individual is conscious only of his local environment and unaware of the contribution that his behaviour is making (or not) to the performance of the system as a whole.

In these circumstances, the human brain is useless as a scheduling tool.  In fact, it’s worse than useless.  In the absence of an awareness of the performance of the system as a whole, the human brain will strive for local optima — which are rarely the same as global optima.  (Just imagine an orchestra where each musician wears a blindfold and earmuffs and where all musicians attempt to play with as much expression as possible!)

The solution

In my next post, I’ll explore different approaches to scheduling (how manufacturers do it, how project managers do it, how ants do it) and then we’ll explore our approach to the sales process.