Production scheduling in manufacturing is complex; it’s difficult to produce a production schedule that is both achievable and meets business requirements. Have you ever been part of an organization where the production planner’s life seems like groundhog day?…Every day, that person adjusts and re-issues the master production schedule? If so, you probably saw lots of frustration and people continually scrambling — not just the shop floor and other internal operations teams, but also suppliers and customers. Operations has to readjust crew and equipment plans, suppliers have to rush orders, and customers often receive less than what they need. Many organizations look squarely at the production planner to fix the issue. The reality is that production scheduling isn’t just about production planning software; a cross-functional approach is required for success.
Frustration factors aren’t the only reason manufacturers need better production scheduling (although it should be enough of a reason). The less obvious symptom of ineffective production scheduling is excess inventory — both raw materials and finished goods. Extra inventory is the only way to accommodate a poor production schedule, ensuring the factory doesn’t run out of raw materials or short the customer.
How Does Production Scheduling Get off Track?
We’re not talking about the day-to-day problems that affect the master production schedule. Instead we mean three factors that generally stand in the way of creating a manufacturing schedule, which also includes responding efficiently to the typical problems that most factories experience.
Inaccurate Data Due to a Poor Measurement System
A manual measurement system (as opposed to an automated OEE system) provides little insight into run rates. Instead, we get “averages of averages” until someone deems the data good enough, or we just deal with it.
Fear of Acknowledging Operational Inefficiencies
Sometimes the team is afraid to acknowledge how long something truly takes. I once observed an operations team that was fearful of letting the business owner know how long a changeover really took, and scheduled less than half the actual time needed. This approach assured that the schedule and execution did not align, and the misinformation degraded the trust between the scheduling and operations people.
Desire for Positive Budget Variance
Some companies value a positive variance to the monthly budget more highly than hitting the budget. Since running faster than the standard rates in the system drives a positive variance to budget, teams or functional leaders might resist updating standards when operations achieves rate improvements. Though management may enjoy the accolades, they are not doing any favors for those trying to execute the schedule.
Improve Production Scheduling: Three Necessary Steps
We have seen companies tackle production scheduling problems head-on: some get great results while others continue to struggle. Those that succeed in getting a handle on production scheduling at a minimum always do these three things:
STEP 1: Set ground rules.
It’s critical that everyone in the organization understand responsibilities around creating an efficient production schedule. The production planner owns creating the schedule but cannot operate in a vacuum. The engineering and operations teams must provide accurate data, and the operations team must own execution of the schedule.
STEP 2: Agree to create a realistic, achievable schedule.
All of us have seen production planners over-schedule (schedule more than can be executed). When there’s pushback from the operations team, the scheduler says, “But this is what we really need.” While that may be what the production planner wants to see, it’s impossible to execute and won’t yield additional product. The operations team must agree the schedule is attainable; they must believe they have a fighting chance to succeed.
STEP 3: Set a timeline and benchmark for measurement and review.
Everyone should agree upon a time horizon for measurement and determine how precise it needs to be. Is it critical for the operations team to hit the daily schedule in the exact order listed, or is there flexibility to move production runs throughout the week?
Determine what constitutes a “miss” in executing the schedule. The definition is manufacturer-specific and tracking misses should not place too much burden on the operations team. As the production scheduling process improves, the organization can tighten up the metric. For example, a company might initially define a miss as a run that starts four or more hours after the scheduled time. Then, as execution improves, it can redefine a miss as starting two hours behind schedule.
A daily cross-functional review of production schedule versus execution is extremely valuable. Since the operations agreed that the schedule is attainable, that team needs to address misses. Tracking provides insight about areas that need focused improvement.
Recommendations and Action Plan
Not every company has established cross-functional collaboration for production scheduling and schedule execution. Those that do have positioned the organization to do much more than just hit the schedule — they meet customer and business requirements, avoid negative impacts to suppliers, and are less likely to need excessive raw material and finished goods safety stock.
For over 30 years, Patricia Hatem has been a change agent helping companies apply continuous improvement. Throughout her career, she has inspired and motivated teams to align culture, processes, and technology, and achieve business results through operational excellence. Her particular expertise spans business process, supply chain, strategy, MOM/MES, ERP, and quality, and she has deep manufacturing experience in consumer goods, chemical, and plastics.
Pat has held strategic and leadership roles in operations, supply chain, purchasing, strategy, process improvement, project management, process engineering, research and development, and environmental for prominent industrial organizations that span CarbonLite, Bemis Manufacturing, Diversey (formerly a division of SC Johnson), SC Johnson, The Dial Corporation, Abbott Laboratories, and Olin Corporation. Pat is a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Lean Leader; she earned a BS Cum Laude in chemical engineering from Missouri University of Science & Technology.