I just came across an old blog post I wrote on January 22, 2009. Originally titled ‘Brainstorming and research’, it discusses the light bulb moment when I decided to build an online rostering system. Since then, almost 2 years have passed, a journey I have tried to summarise in the Company History page.
Here it is, word for word:
Most companies can be traced back to a single question asked by its founder/s. A few minutes after my girlfriend called the bar she works at, to find out when her shifts are for the next week, I asked myself: “I wonder if there is a program that helps bars notify their staff about shifts, to save them all having to call or drop in?”.
I figured this problem applied to any business with casual staff, shift workers, and even full time workers that need to be in multiple locations. I did a few Google searches and found a few web based staff scheduling apps; most were bloated with features, had shocking interfaces, or did not notify staff about upcoming shifts. It got me thinking about the core features I would be looking for if I owned, or worked for, a business that have to deal with these issues.
I came up with the following list of features:
- Super easy user interface for building rosters, accessible from work or home.
- Ability to print a nicely formatted roster.
- SMS notifications to staff at the start of each new roster period or shift.
- Simple interface for staff to login and book their days off in advance.
Looking at my list of key features, I continued to search Google for an hour or so. I found few more products but nothing met more than two out of four features I desired. By this time I was getting a bit excited about building such an application. Would there be a market? I contacted a few of my friends and colleagues on both sides of the rostering equation.
As I anticipated, businesses owners complained about the amount of time spent tracking their staffs future days off (written on little bits of paper in most cases), the amount of phone calls from staff wanting to know when and where they were working, and the time it spent building printable rosters in excel. Even a conservative estimate of spending jsut two minutes per staff per week added up to over 4 hours of extra work per month (based on 30 staff), which does not include the time spent wrestling with Excel!
Staff complained about difficulties finding out when and where they were working, the fact that they had to call or write down dates they wanted off, and how frequently these bits of paper went missing. 30 staff members spending five minutes per week on these tasks would’ve wasted another ten hours.
I figured this was enough research for such a small project to get the go-ahead, so I set out creating a more detailed list of features:
- Create rosters of any length – not every business runs on a one week roster cycle.
- Create rosters from old rosters.
- Ability to split staff into departments, and build ‘department specific’ rosters.
- Add multiple shifts to rosters, with notes.
- Let the business owner or staff indicate days off in advance.
- Notify staff about their shifts via SMS at the start of the roster period, or before the shift.
- If business owners make changes to a current roster period, the corresponding staff members are automatically notified.
- Print rosters.
- Export rosters to excel.
- Export rosters to HTML, which can then be posted on to the company website.
- Show business owners, at a glance, the total hours for each day / staff on a roster.
With the new feature list it was becoming clear that this was not such a small project, so I decided to stop writing and start drawing!
‘Not such a small project’ – What an understatement! Here are some of the original sketches: