A quarterly publication of Society of Workforce Planning Professionals
How to be Great in WFM—Three Approaches to Training
by Tiffany LaReau, Human Numbers
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
— Benjamin Franklin
If you’re going to use WFM Software, some form of vendor training is required. If you’re lucky, you will experience a complete program of dedicated training, with plenty of follow-up opportunities from live support, check-ups, white papers with exciting new features, and release notes that fully describe all the changes. If you’re very lucky, you might win the WFM lottery and get a Super-Trainer; someone who explains how these WFM functions actually benefit your department, the best ways to get buy-in from your team, how to troubleshoot your software when things start to go wrong, and how all of this lines up with your specific contact center goals.
Vendor training is typically expensive, may require travel, and is usually paid time on the clock. It can even be as expensive as the software itself.
A far more common experience is stepping into a WFM role in an environment where that training already happened for people who were there at the time and who are now long gone.
If you have to pick up where they left off, you might need to become self-taught on the current version, finding your answers in user manuals and online communities.
Either way, training on the product you’re using is necessary. Vendor sessions teach you what buttons to push. If you’re using a cloud-based application, you’ll also want to know what buttons NOT to push. Many apps work in a live, dynamic environment with an auto-save feature but without an Undo command. I learned that lesson the hard way when I played around with schedules and wiped out an entire week, including exceptions. It was all permanently gone because backups don’t exist the way they did when the software was an on-premise server version.
Vendor training can shield you from learning things by trial-and-error, and when it’s available to me I always try to grab a seat in those classes.
“A ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.”
— Thomas Edison
There are no college degree programs for studies in workforce management. When I see a degree requirement in a WFM job posting, it’s usually for a business degree. We all know that degree would not produce a graduate with a working knowledge of how to generate a set of schedules. But there are places that offer training and certification for WFM Professionals.
ICMI.com is the fastest path to certification. They have a four-day Workforce Management Boot Camp ($2,199). After students complete the training, they have six weeks to take the online certification exam, including 75 multiple-choice questions in 90 minutes. Score 80% or better, and the certification is granted, with no re-certification requirements.
SWPP.org offers a less-expensive path, ranging from $100 to $350, depending on the specialty, but it takes longer and is more work to achieve. This program is the Certified Workforce Planning Professional (CWPP), and it’s been known to show up as a requirement in some WFM job postings. To earn your CWPP, you must pass multiple proctored tests (two hours each) and complete a project, including a presentation to certified reviewers. Then, your certification must be renewed every calendar year by collecting points through various activities. This program is not for entry-level hopefuls. You’ll need to have experience, and it helps to have that experience in several different environments so you’ll see there can be more than one way to do things.
I can also tell you about both certifications from my personal experience. I was an original architect of ICMI’s WFM Boot Camp back in 2007 and was tasked with writing the exercises. I saw this as four days of total immersion into practicing everything in workforce management from A to Z, so I crammed over 80 different activities into those four days. I had a vision of every student leaving that class and hitting the ground running with a full arsenal of knowledge, but the purpose of a boot camp is to teach the basic essentials needed to perform the job. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the team recognized the level of fatigue a person would feel after going through something that intense. Today this class is offered onsite and remotely, with a nicely paced balance and about a dozen exercises, some being group break-out sessions, with plenty of time left for WFM theory and discussion.
I also have my CWPP certification from SWPP in all three areas of expertise: Planning & Strategy, Staffing & Scheduling, and Managing Daily Staffing & Service. But this was not an “easy A” for me. For starters, the quizzes are designed to test comprehension of different WFM practices according to the specific study material, so it’s critical to attend all the training webinars and read every article on suggested content to make sure you are thinking in the same language as the testers. When it comes to the project, my advice is to choose your subject carefully and thoughtfully. I selected the project that asked which was better, Service Level or Average Speed of Answer, thinking it would be a clean solution with results built around metrics and data. Instead, it turned into the most challenging presentation I’ve ever made, with a lot of push-back from my reporting audience to justify the reasons for my choice. SWPP truly wants to see everyone succeed, and if you choose this route, be sure you take them up on their generous offer to provide you with a mentor to help you through the process.
Both programs offer a chance to take a sample quiz to see what you’re getting into before committing. Both programs’ tests have considerable difficulty levels. Even today, when I re-take these, I still can’t seem to get a perfect 100% score. There’s always some language in there that I end up overthinking, and I get it wrong, probably the same reason I rarely win when I play WFM Jeopardy. That’s why it’s so important to understand the content standard, which comes easier after experiencing the classes first-hand and reading the materials provided.
“It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
— Albert Einstein
I’ve spent a lot of time in my WFM career as a speaker, trainer, and writer. Even this morning, I was putting the finishing touches on my latest class which I designed as a crash course in Contact Center Forecasting. One of the few good things that came out of the pandemic is that it made Zoom a household word. The ability to share a desktop elevated WFM training to a whole new level. In the past, I was limited to a PowerPoint deck using a projector and a 24-point font, which is great for showing an agenda or pictures and ideas, but it was difficult to do a deep dive into the mechanics beyond that.
Remote training with screen sharing allows us to drill down into an Excel workbook and demonstrate step-by-step how to build a formula that calculates how much attrition we can afford before our service level fails. Or how to develop multiple forecasting methods with variable growth rates. Then, how to compare the strength of those results using Relative Absolute Error (RAE), in the hope it will lead to a better way of mathematically measuring a Forecaster’s ability. Forecasters are usually limited to simple forecast accuracy ratings, which tells us that the calls behaved the way we expected, or they didn’t, but shows very little about the quality of the forecasting process itself and the effort that went into producing the live forecast model. Now that we can open up this data for everyone to see and touch, we can talk through all of the layers and diverse elements driving the forecast.
But even though I’m a trainer myself, I will never stop being a WFM student. There’s always something new to learn. The most recent thing I learned about was the “9/80 Work Schedule.” That’s a schedule crossing a two-week span working nine hours/day on Monday through Thursday, then either working an eight-hour schedule on Friday or taking the day off. Working the extra hour on four days each week earns an extra day off every other week. I love alternative work schedules and have been collecting these for years. I was happy to add this one to my list, but I know it won’t be the last. There are still unexplored options out there waiting to be imagined and discovered.
My favorite training source of new WFM information is the annual SWPP conference, especially the case studies where WFM vendors and their companies present their success stories together and tell us how they got there. And I always enjoy the 60-Ideas-in-60-Minutes session, which is like speed-dating with workforce management ideas.
I also look for free training opportunities, like Contact Center Expo, because I love to hear other voices in the industry. This year they had a session by Todd Gladden called “What Can You Offer Me? Hiring the Next Generation of WFM Professionals,” which addressed The Great Resignation and options for retaining WFM staff. (Pro-tip: Conduct STAY Interviews!)
CrmXchange.com hosts a free virtual conference for Workforce Management and Performance Optimization each year, which is co-sponsored by SWPP. They offered live sessions on Setting Strategic Goals, WFM in the Digital World, and Innovative Ways to Schedule, just to name a few. Their last event happened Oct. 31–Nov. 4, 2022, and it’s always free. They’ve been around for over 15 years and commonly have free webcasts, roundtables, and other WFM industry events, which makes this a good mailing list to be on.
The pandemic has left us in a job seekers’ market, meaning there are more available jobs than people looking for one. If you’re looking for a WFM job, you’re probably in a stronger negotiating position now to ask for things like ongoing training and a paid membership to organizations like SWPP that offer ongoing WFM training, such as their Fundamentals of WFM web seminar series that is presented every year.
Tiffany LaReau is the Workforce Manager and Owner of Human Numbers, an outsourced forecasting and scheduling service provider. She can be reached at Tiffany@HumanNumbers.com or 770-609-6565.