Round-robin scheduling was originally a computer science term, used to describe how an operating system handles priority when instructed to work through multiple tasks. Since its development, some organizations have begun using the term to describe a similar method of handling customers or tasks in the physical world. The advantages of round robin scheduling include even distribution of resources to different projects and a simpler approach than other algorithms. The method does have some disadvantages, however.

The Basics

Round-robin scheduling is a variant on first-come, first-served scheduling. Tasks or customers are first addressed in the order in which they arrive, but each is given only a set amount of time before being sent to the back of the line. In computer processes, this time period is measured in microseconds. In "meat space" it can be much longer, depending on the needs of the situation.

No Priority

Round-robin scheduling, like other first-come, first-served methods, doesn't give special priority to more important tasks. This means an urgent request doesn't get handled any faster than other requests in queue. The best round robin-based systems will include a tool that allows you to suspend the usual priorities for a "rush job."

Unequal Task Lengths

Allocating equal amounts of time to each task is simple, but it can frustrate those with medium-length tasks. Imagine being in line at a supermarket that only allows shoppers to check out 10 items at a time. People with 10 or fewer items are unaffected. People with 100 items take longer, but there's a sense of fairness for loads that size. A customer with 11 items would go to the end of the line after checking out 10, making her wait in line seem longer than is normally appropriate. This isn't a problem for computers, but it can frustrate users and customers.

Cascading Completion

This is another angle of the "no priority" problem. If task A can't finish until getting information or data from task B, rotating between the tasks can mean no progress during task A's turn because the program is waiting for task B to finish. This means wasted time and lost resources in computer systems, and real frustration among employees or customers.

Perceived Fairness

Fairness isn't an issue for computers, but it is a major problem when applying round-robin scheduling to real-world processes. Most customers and team members will expect you to finish their task once their turn in line comes up. If you only work on some of the task, then ask somebody to return to the back of a line, it's easy to understand why they might feel slighted or offended.