The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

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I’ve always been interested in business theory and its possible applications to HR.  Unfortunately, many HR practitioners (or business practitioners for that matter) are not well educated in many business theories.  Even MBA’s get a minimal schooling in these.  One theory that has caught my attention lately is queueing theory.  Best briefly described by From Wikipedia:

Queueing theory (also commonly spelled queuing theory) is the mathematical study of waiting lines (or queues).

The theory enables mathematical analysis of several related processes, including arriving at the (back of the) queue, waiting in the queue (essentially a storage process), and being served by the server(s) at the front of the queue. The theory permits the derivation and calculation of several performance measures including the average waiting time in the queue or the system, the expected number waiting or receiving service and the probability of encountering the system in certain states, such as empty, full, having an available server or having to wait a certain time to be served.

Queueing theory is generally considered a branch of operations research because the results are often used when making business decisions about the resources needed to provide service. It is applicable in a wide variety of situations that may be encountered in business, commerce, industry, public service and engineering.

So there are some obvious applications.  In our customer service centers, there is probably quite a bit of queueing theory going on, whether the service center manager knows it or not.  More probably the VP running the place has some knowledge of queueing theory.  The problem is that when we get to HR service centers, the expertise we are provided is sometimes one step away from the top tier talent that the business gets.  While we may run the same metrics in the HR service centers, we may not be looking at or interpreting those metrics in the same way, or getting the same meaning out of them.  In other words, we may all intuitively know that we’re trying to reduce overall wait times, but have we really considered what wait times mean in each state and what the cost/benefit is to reducing those times?

In a less obvious application, we can apply queueing theory easily to recruiting.  You cold look at this from a couple of angles.  First, there is the queue of the applicant and how quickly you can get them through a process.  In this case, you’d look at losses of applicants within the process at various stages.   This is of course critical, but if you look at it from the business side where the business is the customer waiting in line, you would be looking at lost time and money in various stages as well as identifying where bottlenecks occur.  While both are important, the latter is probably where more value can be created by strategically looking at end to end queue processes.

I know that this is pretty abstract stuff for most HR practitioners, but the value of applying business theory linked to financial metrics can be very valuable.  It demonstrates how we can speak the language of business, and shows that we’re on the same page in our approach to reaching business goals.

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4 responses to “Queueing Theory and HR”

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  2. Andrew Marritt Avatar
    Andrew Marritt

    Nice post, I studied queing theory back in an Operational Research course at university – it’s good for understanding everything from why airport check-in lines don’t always work well to why buses usually come 3 at a time.

    There are lots and lots of areas you can apply this to HR. Anything with a stock / flow model can use queing theory pretty successfully (arguably QT needs to be used). Then a logical extension is to start to use system dynamics.

    My own experience is that pumping the numbers in to models is less valuable than using a simulation model to run scenarios. Some show the results graphically and can be used in workshops to look at different opportunities. Change the process, spot bottle-necks and change resource requirements and see what the result is.

    The only negative thing about studying queue theory is that it can turn you into a bit of a bore. Everytime I’m stuck in a queue I end up cursing that the if person who designed the process had even the slightest understanding of the mathematics behind a queue then I’d already be being served. My wife tells me I’m a huge bore in this regard.

  3. Lexy Martin Avatar

    Not a bore…just don’t curse out loud unless to another queuing theory afficionado. In fact, that is the secret to being a good analyst, I’m finding. Use the theories, use the algorithms, but what is really important is then telling the STORY about why they work. So, for example, applying queue theory to recruiting, show a picture of the funnel and show how many potential candidates fall out and don’t get into the pipeline, and then show the impact of what losing those candidates means to the organization. Yeah yeah…not the best story, but hopefully you get the point, that the story is equally important to the actual theory/algorithms. They make sense to other analysts, but not necessarily to all managers.

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