Forward and Backward Scheduling: Definitions, and How You Can Practice Them to Compete

Missed deadlines mean lost customers.

This is true whether you’re shipping products, performing installations, or delivering food. Imagine you run a cable company. You have a customer that rearranged their day and stayed home from work to let your installation specialist in during a 4-hour service window. If your worker shows up late, you’re probably going to lose that customer (and likely get a bad review). Fortunately, there are two proven strategies that can help you stay on top of deadlines, increase customer satisfaction, and earn repeat sales: backward scheduling and forward scheduling.

What Is Forward and Backward Scheduling?

Forward scheduling and backward scheduling are planning strategies. Both methods are useful for strategic planning at all levels of complexity. Whether you’re mapping delivery routes for multiple drivers or scheduling maintenance appointments for service teams, you can benefit from using one or both of these strategies.

Forward scheduling

Forward scheduling is planning with the primary objective of completing tasks as soon as the required resources become available. For a coffee company, this would mean scheduling shipments to go out as soon as the beans (the required resource) are roasted and packaged. This strategy is optimized for expediency and prioritizes fast delivery.

Background Scheduling: Order of Planning – Start “Receive New Order” — 1. Delivery > 2. Shipment Preparation > 3. Product Manufacturing > 4. Resource Assembly  

The following forward scheduling examples in personal life and in business illustrate some of the key benefits of this strategy:

  1. Let’s say you have a weekend to-do list consisting of yard work and washing your car. If your preference would be to knock-out these tasks first thing Saturday morning, your personality is likely aligned with the forwarding schedule. Crossing things off your list early will allow you to enjoy the remainder of your weekend without stressing about chores.
  2. For a business example, let’s say you run a pool maintenance company. You have a client that needs their pool serviced the last week in June. Using forward scheduling, you would schedule this client’s maintenance appointment for the first open appointment slot within that last week of June and get the job done as soon as possible.

Backward scheduling

Backward scheduling is planning with the primary objective of completing tasks on time (but not early). For a florist, this would mean scheduling bouquets to be arranged as close to the delivery window as possible. Backward scheduling is optimized for flexibility and would allow this business to easily incorporate last-minute changes if a client decided to, say, upgrade a bouquet or change the message in a card. Backward scheduling can help you use employees’ time efficiently and avoid redoing projects, while still meeting deadlines.

Backward Scheduling: Order of Planning – Start “Receive New Order” — 1. Delivery > 2. Shipment Preparation > 3. Product Manufacturing > 4. Resource Assembly  

  1. Taking the same weekend to-do list example from above, let’s say you live in a climate with unpredictable weather. Washing your car is one of your must-do tasks because you have a client meeting Monday morning, and you want to roll up in a polished vehicle. You could use backward scheduling to tackle your to-do list Sunday evening. That way, there would be less of a chance that your car would get dirty again before your client meeting. 
  2. Using the business example from forward scheduling, let’s say you have the same client that needs their pool serviced the last week in June. Using backward scheduling, you might decide to schedule this customer’s maintenance appointment for the last day in June, so you have more open time slots at the beginning of the week for new customers.
  3. Backward scheduling can also be very beneficial for businesses that offer free returns or exchanges to their customers. Let’s say you run a pet-product company and you have backorders for leashes that need to be shipped on June 10. You receive the inventory of leashes on June 3. Using backward scheduling, you would still schedule shipments for June 10. That way, if a customer decides they want a different color or alternate length leash in the next 7 days, you can still fulfill the order on time and avoid incurring any order exchange or return costs.

Which is better: forward or backward scheduling?

Both backward scheduling and forward scheduling offer advantages. Neither one is better than the other, and some logistics coordinators even benefit from using a blend of the two. To choose which strategy works best for your business, you’ll need to consider two main factors: what type of business or delivery service you run and how you prefer to organize schedules.

If we refer back to the weekend to-do list example, you could also apply a blend of forwarding and backward scheduling to accomplish your tasks. You could complete all of your yard work Saturday morning (using forward scheduling) and save just washing the car for Sunday evening (using backward scheduling). That way, you would have peace of mind knowing most of your chores were out of the way, along with the assurance that even if it rained Saturday night, your car would still look good for your meeting Monday morning.

4 Business Challenges Solved by Forward and Backward Scheduling

Using forward and backward planning can help you overcome many of the common challenges modern businesses have with scheduling. These scheduling strategies help you increase process efficiency, ensure that you meet due dates, balance workloads across employees (and avoid employee burnout), and allow yourself the flexibility to accommodate order changes. Here are a few ways you can overcome business obstacles using backward and forward scheduling.

Meeting due dates

Forward scheduling and back scheduling can help teams meet important deadlines and avoid showing up to appointments late (or early). Forward scheduling can show product pickup and delivery services where they have room to accommodate more orders. Those product pickups and delivery services can then use these open windows to make early deliveries and exceed customer expectations. Backward scheduling helps maintenance and repair companies with standing monthly or quarterly service appointments balance schedules to meet a multitude of deadlines.

Balancing employee workload

A combination of backward and forward scheduling can be used to evenly distribute work across teams of employees and/or drivers. For example, a grocery delivery company could start with delivery windows and work backward to plan routes while making sure each driver was assigned the same number of deliveries. That same company could then use forward scheduling to have their packing team assemble orders as soon as they have time. This ensures that workloads are balanced. Ensuring that your employees aren’t overworked will increase morale, and minimizing underworking employees will reduce wasted spend.

Accommodating changes

Backward scheduling allows you to build in time for adjustments to orders. This is particularly advantageous for businesses that create custom products. For example, let’s say your business makes custom windows. You guarantee delivery within 30 days, and it takes 15 days to manufacture a window. Using backward scheduling, you could start at the 30-day mark, allot 7 days for shipping or delivery, and then plan to begin production 8 days after receiving a new order. That would give you the flexibility to accommodate changes for the first week after an order has been placed.

Planning weeks in advance

Both forward and backward scheduling can help you plan further in advance, which will give you a clear projection of revenue and show you process inefficiencies that need to be improved. Combine this with route optimization software, such as OptimoRoute, and you’ll be able to clearly see where you can fit more orders in, when you need to hire more workers to fulfill existing orders, or when you should decrease your workforce based on demand.

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Sanghamitra Roychoudhary

She is a professional Technical Writer, Content Marketing Specialist, Content Editor. Author of IT Techno Solutions. She's a learner for lifetime; and explores WordPress, and shares new and fresh findings to develop her proficiency and also help her audience with the latest IT learnings.