Group scheduling software
Group scheduling software has become increasingly common in the business world. Here, I argue that, in most cases, it is a really bad idea: useless at best, and incredibly disruptive at worst.
Perhaps someone has a good example of where this actually works well; if so, please let me know. I do pride myself on having an open mind. However, I've seen group scheduling software deployed in several places, and in every case, I've thought it was a terrible idea.
What's particularly interesting to me about this topic is that such applications are typically quite popular with users, especially extremely busy ones. What I've seen is that, while the app may allow scheduling of meetings where it would otherwise be logistically difficult (if not outright impossible,) the app serves to enable a dysfunctional workplace to continue to function dysfunctionally. In this chronically overworked world, this is, unfortunately, not surprising.
There is some useful functionality in these packages. In particular, the ability to easily see who's in the office and who's out can be really handy. However, I still think that you should be able to live without it. If you can't, it probably means that your staff is overcommitted, much like an overbooked flight. And, much like an overbooked flight, you will consume resources just like the airlines do, trying to fit n + 10 passengers into n seats.
Why you don't want to use group scheduling software
The theory seems sound enough: you need to schedule a meeting with several people. Everyone has their own list of things to do and different times to do it. Why not have a network application that allows all of these people to accept and/or decline meetings, and rearrange the schedule until a time is found that everyone can be there? You can reserve the conference room and adjust the schedules until everyone's happy. Great idea, right?
Well, maybe not so great.
The fundamental problem is that scheduling meetings is a business process that doesn't scale as the number of attendees increases. It doesn't scale when people do it, and it doesn't scale when software is used to do it. The more people you have in a meeting, the more resource conflicts you will have, and the more time you will spend trying to resolve these conflicts. Your scheduling software may save time in phone calls between attendees…but will eat it right back up in the number of transactions made to get the meeting to everyone's satisfaction. Every time an employee stops what he (or she) is doing to review the schedule change request, his time is being wasted. If he now has to go and modify his schedule to adjust for the most recent modification request, his time is again being wasted. Multiply that by how many people are required to attend…and that's how much money your scheduling has cost you.
What if your people generally don't have a lot of meetings (with customers, vendors, etc.) scheduled, and have very flexible schedules? My response to that is: well, then what do you need the scheduling software for? You're solving a problem you don't have with a tool you don't need! The occasional scheduling conflict can be solved with E-mail and telephone. Your employees hopefully already know how to use this technology. If your people don't have a lot of appointments, but insist on rescheduling meetings constantly nonetheless, perhaps you should call them into your office, close the door, and remind them of how much they're interrupting everyone else in the group with schedule changes that they really don't need to make.
"So," you may ask, "what is your technological solution to this problem?" My solution: good management. No additional technology is required.
There are two types of meetings: routine and non-routine (typically somewhere between "addressing an immediate concern" to "outright panic.")
Routine meetings are, by definition, routine. If someone can't make a meeting, they should be able to catch up by getting the 30-second briefing from a colleague. If it's that important that they need to be directly briefed by a manager, that person should be able to talk to their manager. A manager who is never available for his or her employees is not an effective manager.
Anyone should be able to attend a meeting scheduled far enough in advance. If not, then your problem is not scheduling technology…your problem is managing your people properly.
A non-routine meeting generally means near-immediate scheduling, where you don't have time to juggle the schedule. You need to find your people right now and have a "huddle." Hopefully, your people are not so anchored to their computers that they're unable to take their eyes off of them for at least several minutes at a time to do their jobs. If this is the case, then your scheduling software isn't going to help you. You'll have to call, page, or hunt them down on foot and get everyone you can into the conference room.
"But we couldn't function without it!"
If this is what you think, then you're probably right. To be more specific: you can't function without group scheduling software if your schedule is so heavily loaded that you need group scheduling software to manage it.
If a group is scheduled so tightly that it's a juggling act to fit a meeting in for group members to get together and discuss operational issues, then the schedule is overloaded. There are "too many irons in the fire." This is a situation very similar to having a "conversation" via e-mail; it's an inefficient way to get things done.
Here is an IRC session with a friend of mine, defending Groupwise use. Well, at least, when the conversation started, he was…
You probably don't need group scheduling software. Just because something can be done, doesn't mean it should be done. Schedule meetings in a more routine fashion instead, and save yourself the time of punching in your schedule planner. When it's time to update your scheduling software, uninstall it instead, and throw a company party with the proceeds. You'll do more for productivity and morale that way.
If you can't function without group scheduling software, you probably have way too much on your plates. Your scheduling software is serving as "glue" that's holding your outfit together. Again, this is a management problem. It may seem like a good idea to always keep your employees busy as bees all the time. The problem is: bees aren't very intelligent. Even if they had big brains, they wouldn't have time to think much. They're too busy doing what bees do. But, if you can't change any of that…well, I guess you have no choice but to continue to do things the way you are. But I really feel sorry for you.
Do you think I'm full of it? Do you know of a situation where
scheduling software works well? Please tell me about it. I'll
update this paper, and you'll have your 15 minutes of
Ron Oliver, Manager
September 4, 2004 original November 20, 2002