Linear programming and operations research are often utilized by companies to arrange employee work schedules. For example, implementing a linear programming system enabled Al Boxley, owner of four McDonald's franchises in the Cumberland, Maryland area, to compile manageable schedules for his employees.
In the past, linear programming had been used to compile employee schedules in organizations where schedules are relatively consistent and can typically be forecast at least four weeks in advance. In the fast-food industry, however, work shifts vary, employee availability is not consistent, and personnel requirements vacillate. The primary concern in fast-food restaurant scheduling is matching part-time employees' availability with the coverage requirements throughout the day. As a result, fast-food restaurants generally do not have standard work shifts or work weeks. Thus, compiling a workable scheduling system for Mr. Boxley posed a challenge.
Operations researchers Robert Love and James Hoey were able to replace Boxley's previously burdensome and time-consuming manual scheduling with a more efficient microcomputer-based employee scheduling system. Because this problem involved three work arenas, 30 work shifts, and thousands of decision variables, its solution would have been difficult, if not impossible, without the use of a computer. Developing the schedule used to take more than eight hours. With the model the task was completed in under an hour and the schedules better matched the schedule preferences of the workforce.
In the academic context, replicating a problem like this, albeit on a much smaller scale, is a worthwhile endeavor. Allowing students to actually see the mathematics involved in part-time work schedules like those at their own part-time jobs, should provide immediate connections to their world of experience. We believe that doing so will better motivate their study of the mathematics involved.