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What is activity management?

Created to optimise efficiency within industrial production lines, activity management helps teams to organise their work within optimised time schedules, the need for which is becoming increasingly obvious in most business sectors. Work environments, processes, social behaviours and technologies are changing constantly and rapidly, requiring tailored adaptation and responsiveness. And it is precisely this operational ability to balance capacity and workload in real time that forms the basis of activity management.
But what does it really consist of? How can retail make the most of this management system, and what tools can it use to be as efficient as possible? Let’s find out!


The origins of activity management

Activity management began at Toyota in the early 1970s to meet a need. At the time, production planning and management coordinated data derived from a sales approach, i.e. stocks and finished products. This calculated the “machine hours” that were needed. But once these hours are identified, how can we organise the activity on a production line or in a workshop in particular? To tackle this problem, whose purpose, let’s be honest, was to increase productivity and profitability, activity management was invented through the Toyota Production System, or Toyotism. 
It calculated the workload and examined how to use available resources to fulfil it using a continuous improvement approach: LEAN. In other words, do more and better with existing – and perhaps fewer – resources. This led to reduced lead times and production costs, a constant fight against overproduction, and maximum quality. Yes, all at the same time! But how?
Through “just-in-time” stock management: production follows demand, ultimately seeking a balance between the two. This method requires continuous improvement of production processes to avoid waste.
Through constant collective efforts at continuous improvement: using common sense while identifying and using the quality tools available to always do better.
By immediately identifying problems and solving them in short timeframes with assistance between roles and skills. In short, a malfunction is detected on the production line, and the entire team works together to understand and resolve it.
Toyota’s version of activity management represents a model of efficiency that seeks excellence while involving employees in the organisation of work, introducing the idea of improved working conditions.


Activity management in retail

In the retail sector, the challenge is as colossal as the need is real. The industry is undergoing widespread changes and is struggling to absorb the new drivers of growth – the transformation of the format and concept of the point of sale, digitisation, phygital services, improvements to the customer experience – on which its profitability and purpose depend, in the face of competition from new, more flexible and modern distribution models. To overcome these challenges, activity management, based on the LEAN method, is of course aimed at food retailers but is also increasingly seen in specialised distribution. This is because we need to be able to assign the right people as advisors at the right time to sell better and sell more, but also to be able to deal with the economic constraints – the usual tasks and what still needs to be done – and satisfy customers’ ever-increasing demands.
As in industry, activity management in retail tends to eliminate activities that do not generate value or that lead to overwork or inconsistent results due to unsuitable processes, as well as a lack of assignments during working hours. The goal is to organise activity in an optimal way during working hours by identifying and capturing time that is used poorly to improve quality, efficiency and productivity. Just as in production, zero waste is a must!
In the same way, activity management in retail answers questions such as “Who does what during working hours?“, “How long does each task take?“, “What are the priorities?“, and “How can the workload be distributed fairly?”. The difficulty with this form of workforce management in retail comes from the variability of the workload: you have to take this into account by aiming for “zero wasted time”, in other words being able to react to the variability of the workload in real time. Let’s face it, this is no easy task, and it is very easy to get lost. Without a tool, it is simply impossible.
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Activity management with Timeskipper

Like production management, which lacked a tool that could be used to set daily operational activity by production line or by workshop, retail needed to be adjusted on the ground in a similar way. It needed to organise its activities in a more detailed way, zone by zone, within the framework of timetables calculated by workforce management tools. In some way, the retail sector uses workforce management as industry uses production management. This is why Timeskipper has created a daily activity management platform to complement its workforce management tools.
Timeskipper brings the concept of activity management into retail, answering the question, “what can we do with the people we have?”. The idea is to set tasks with an operational timeframe, assigned to each person according to the shop’s priorities. Is it as simple as that? Not really.
On the one hand, there can be different kinds of tasks – priority, mandatory, restricted to certain hours, or left to management’s discretion – and these must be prioritised. On the other hand, it is vital to understand the criteria that influence these various tasks, such as data about product deliveries and shop activities and those linked to customer flows and product sales. Otherwise, how can you calculate the time needed to carry them out and be precise and fair in the distribution of the workload?
The Timeskipper platform models the organisation, taking into account all the sector’s business constraints, the priorities and skills of each staff member, and last-minute data to update product and customer flows in real time, as well as attendance. Resources are managed in a much more detailed and precise way by incorporating the most up-to-date information and forecasts. This way, we can respond effectively to variations in activity and take organisational decisions for the long term.
Ultimately, if workshop management in production is now standard practice, managing the day-to-day activities of retail staff should become a fundamental part of organisation in retail.
Activity management is not just about adopting a global vision focused on reducing costs and deadlines, but also about developing an approach from the ground up, as close as possible to the actual challenges that employees face. The Timeskipper platform offers much more than just time savings and increased profitability by recovering time. It offers clear communication: everyone knows what they need to do, and they become more independent whilst improving their skills “in a more relaxed atmosphere with less inflows and outflows”. It is currently unthinkable to combine economic efficiency and good working conditions with employees’ involvement without activity management. There is still a lot of work to be done, but Timeskipper has already taken a big step forward!