Imagine strategic planning and daily routing as two different people. Strategic planning is a blue-sky thinker, scanning the horizon for threats and opportunities and suggesting great ideas to keep the business thriving. Daily routing is the realist of the pair. Feet firmly planted on the ground and in touch with how the business is performing right now. Daily routing knows exactly how strategic planning’s “great ideas” translate into the real world.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if they were both working for the same company it would be logical to get them talking – a lot.
The reality for some companies with mobile workforces is that the only dialog these two have is daily routing telling strategic planning “I told you it wouldn’t work”, normally months after rolling out changes.
Feedback loops are not new. In fact, it is thought water clocks were in use in China around 4,000 BCE. But the theory of feedback loops (or control theory) wasn’t formalized until 1868 by Clerk Maxwell with his paper on the governor, a clever device designed to control steam engines.
The entire field of control and communication theory is covered by Cybernetics, a word formed from the Greek for both steersman and governor, a nod to Maxwell’s industrial-age feedback loop.
A feedback loop involves four separate stages:
- Evidence – Data needs to be measured, collected and stored.
- Relevance – Data needs to be passed on to the individual in a contextual form i.e. it needs to be relevant to them.
- Consequence – Data needs to highlight a clear decision path for the user.
- Action – This is the fork in the road. It must be very clear to the user what options are available. The action they ultimately choose needs to be measured and the feedback loop can run once more
This repeating series of events should have the sole purpose of achieving the main goal. In the case of Clerk Maxwell’s governor it was to stop the steam engine from racing out of control; and when relating it to driver behavior, it may be about keeping your teams within safe driving parameters.
Repairing the route planning feedback loop
If your mobile business is suffering from a broken feedback loop there is a cure. It’s easy and it doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your business processes. You just need to revisit the four basic elements of a feedback loop and understand where the cycle is breaking down.
It’s similar to repairing a communication breakdown – and that’s not unexpected when you remember that a feedback loop is communication, even if it is sometimes automated and depersonalized by machines.
As soon as you identify at what stage the feedback loop is falling over you can isolate the problem.
A common issue is at the fourth stage, particularly with recorded actions making their way back to the start of the feedback loop.
For route planning feedback to be effective it needs to be a short cycle, so if feedback isn’t being fed back into the loop quickly enough it becomes ineffective. You can imagine if Maxwell’s governor only acted on feedback a week later there would be nothing left of the steam engine it was trying to control. Think about your own commute – if you encounter a permanent road closure on your normal route, how long are you going to continue driving that route before you modify it?
While it might sound obvious, many route planners don’t incorporate feedback for weeks, sometimes months. This means drivers are being issued routes that are less than optimal day after day, costing companies thousands of dollars.
Telogis Route planning offers real-time strategy
Telogis Route tightens up the route planning feedback loop by offering both daily dispatchers and strategic route planners a real-time view on current driver performance.
A web-based view of current routes can show driver progress, measuring actual performance against what was planned. Are drivers showing up late? Has there been any improvement in on-time starts? Is there unnecessary idling? Are drivers waiting excessively at customer sites? Are they being caught in peak traffic, congested routes or new roadworks?
The interactive, drag ’n’ drop route planner tool allows you to try alternate setups to see what time or cost savings can be made by making small alterations to the route, such as reordering or reassigning jobs.
If you organize your team into different zones you can use the territory planning tool to make sure you’re making the most efficient use of the resources you have. Load balancing charts show the respective utilization of your mobile workforce over time, allowing you to review trends and make adjustments as needed – a feedback loop in action!
With clear high-level strategic goals in place your day-to-day operators will be able to fine-tune your company’s performance as they go, without the need to wait weeks, even months for a strategic debrief and follow-up action plan.
It’s the same feedback loop but accelerated to reduce waste and improve the efficiency of your mobile enterprise.
So now it’s like strategic planning and daily routing are not just good friends who talk more; they’re essentially the same person. With a quicker feedback loop you’ll be saving more on operational expenses every day.