Pre-flight phone calls for onboarding new course schedulers

In making this system, we wanted to create a workflow so easy to use a schedule-maker would know what to do without a minute of training. Fact is, our ultimate goal was to produce an interface that people who had never made a schedule in their life would know what to do sans instruction. We felt if we could achieve that, there was no way people would not love the system. And based on almost a decade of feedback, this is mostly what happened and everyone, makers and users alike, rejoiced. But, we got caught in our own trap.

The thing that allowed us to turn this complicated and dreaded task into one of the more enjoyable duties schedule-builders had was by asking a single question over and over--How can we make this better? Asking that question, like 72,347 times, is what led us to the beautiful system that is the ofCourse Scheduler. And we found that our approach had created a platform where we could simply hand keys over to a new user, and they could make a schedule. But once we got to that point, we had to ask the question again--How can we make this better?

When we directed that query to our finished product, someone asked what would happen if we actually "trained" people on the system. Another person countered the whole point of making the system as we did was so we didn't HAVE to train people. But the point was acknowledged and the question re-asked, "yes, BUT WHAT IF we trained people?"

We concluded that while a person could log on to the system and figure it out, it would be even easier, and more satisfying if they received a proper introduction to the experience. This is how our Pre-Flight program was born. All the Pre-Flight process involves is a series of phone calls with first year/time users. There are four calls in total, and each one lasts about thirty minutes. In these calls, we introduce the new scheduling team to our five-step workflow and discuss their next steps. When they are nearing the end of that step's work, they reach out, and we schedule the next call. What we learned was that yes users could figure out what to do and managed just fine, but with a thirty-minute pre-flight call they leapt into their work with excitement and intention.

Here is a bit more detail about the pre-flight call schedule. The first call is used to introduce new users to the system and describes Steps One and Two. The "homework" after this call is for the school to enter their semester courseload. When that work is complete, we have the second pre-flight call which introduces the users to Step Three, where Preference Collection happens. Once the preferences are in the system, we move onto our third pre-flight call, which covers making computed schedules. Once that step is complete, the last call takes place to discuss the polish and publish phase.

Some people express surprise that we can offer this amount of hand-holding to each of our customers. We can do this for three reasons. One, because the system is so mature and easy to use, we spend VERY LITTLE time on customer support. Second, the pre-flights only happen for first-year schools--it is not something that needs to happen every year. After a school runs through a cycle, they are quite self-sufficient. And, thirdly, and possibly most important, we love talking about scheduling with folks AND hearing people's reactions as they first experience our system. Let's call it salve for the soul.

So that is how the pre-flights came into being and how they are designed to work. But as with so many inventions, creative applications were soon found. Two of those unexpected applications to the Pre-Flight calls merit discussion.

Story one. Not long ago, I was talking to the Dean of Academic Affairs from one of our clients. At the end of the call, he said he was stepping down and was surprised to feel he was going to kind of miss working on the schedule and using the system. He then commented on how he was going to have to train his replacement. He added that it shouldn't be an issue given how easy the system was to use, and there were already previously built schedules to reference. After I hung up, I asked THE question--How could we make this better? After some deliberation, the answer presented itself--make the Pre-Flight program available to schools going through their standard Dean/Staff rotations.

So now, whenever there is a dean rotation, our office will offer the new administrator our Pre-Flight program, acting as if they are a new school. This new offering has been most welcome, especially in situations where the dean stepping down would be going on sabbatical. Because the Pre-Flight program was available to them, no one was left in a lurch because there was a process in place to properly onboard the new schedule maker.

Story two. In another more recent example, a school unexpectedly lost their schedule-maker weeks before the work was to begin. I received a frantic call from the school, requesting guidance. I told them if they assigned a few people to the job, we would walk them through the process using our Pre-Flight program, and all would be well. And well it was as this new three-person team was able to move through all the scheduling steps with confidence. In the end, they produced and published a beautiful schedule, and they did so perfectly on time!

Those are two beautiful illustrations of how our daily mantra "How can we make this better?" is taking us all to a better place.

As always, see you on the scheduling pitch.


Troy Dearmitt

Troy is the CTO & Co-founder at ofCourse.

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