Schedule restriction protections and the constant drip of improvement

In this forum, I often pay homage to the biggest and latest features of our scheduling system. In some recent work with a new client, I noticed, for some curious reason, the vast number of small but vital mechanisms spread throughout. After the call, I thought about how those lesser functions don't see a lot of airtime or press. And when I thought about it further, those sorts of features collectively are not only what makes this system work but are what make this system the rock star it is. There is no one killer feature here. There aren't even ten killer features here. There are more than could be inventoried (more than I have the time to inventory at least). In spinning through the pages and considering all that is happening in the forefront and the hidden wings, I realized this system is a product of a time-weathered philosophy I have held about tech (and life itself for what it matters)—real success stems from the patient and consistent drip of improvement.

While a single drop of anything doesn't seem impressive on its own, add a steady series of drops to a common bucket and give it a look after a day or two. I believe you may be surprised at what you find. A few years ago one of my children told me the bathroom sink was leaking. I checked and sure enough, noticed a small puddle of water on the tile and a drip above it. We were on our way to an event, so I put a bucket under the pipe. When we returned later in the day, I was a bit struck to find the bucket nearly overflowing. Now imagine the end product of a drip campaign that has been happening for a full week or a month, or in the case of this scheduling system, coming up on a decade. That is ten years of consistent drips and drops added to a single bucket. They do add up.

So in honor of this phenomenon, let me celebrate one of our more discrete workhorses—our Schedule Restriction protections. Of course, any schedule has all sorts of obvious restrictions, restrictions like classes can't start before 8:30 in the morning or the last class must wrap up by 10:00 pm. And many schools protect an hour (or two!!!) for lunch. These are all wonderfully simple and straightforward and obvious things to protect, but it didn't take long before schools started asking for more creative sorts of blocks. For example:

We don't like to offer classes on Friday afternoons because students don't want to take them--not that professors are too keen on them either.

Or how about no First Year courses after 4:30 in the afternoon.

Or no Tenured or Tenure-Track faculty can teach during this window because of an all-faculty meeting. Anyone else can teach, just not our full-timers.

Now saying you need a block and effectively enforcing a block are two very different matters. This is a peak we have obviously summited; else we wouldn't be chatting together right now. Handling that sort of request happened way back when. And it is one of the very first things that gets discussed when setting up a new school. But in thinking on this a bit more, I realized that at that point it never really gets discussed or looked at again. We have the conversation at the start, we say we're on it, and the schedules getting produced reflect that we're on it and everyone is happy. But, it occurred to me that it might be nice for folks to see their established restrictions and it would be nice for two main reasons:

To have the assurance that the particular restrictions discussed are in place
AND to contemplate the addition of a new restriction or three to see if a better schedule is possible.

So we made a page where the school schedule-makers could get an overview of their special restrictions. And once we got in there and built the page we realized that we could easily offer a third benefit: the ability to turn a restriction on or off.

Now that last one adds a unique ingredient to an already tasty stew. For one, you can see the effect of a restriction on your schedule by comparing runs with it enabled and disabled. We could even add some new scenarios for you to experiment with. Or perhaps you have situational restrictions that come in and out of play (maybe between a Fall and Spring term). Not sure about you but that is ten kinds of neat to a scheduling nerd like me.

For existing users, to play this new ability, go to:

BOTTOM NAVIGATION: System Configuration
SUB NAVIGATION BAR: Schedule Restrictions

Now you, the school admin, can see the world of restrictions established in your setup just like the ofCourse techs. And don't sweat that light drumming you hear in the background, it is just the sound of your scheduling system getting better.




As always, see you on the scheduling pitch.


Troy Dearmitt

Troy is the CTO & Co-founder at ofCourse.

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