5 Steps to Prepare Before Implementing a New Production Scheduling System

It has been said that proper preparation prevents poor performance. With so much threatening supply chain performance in today’s environment, preparation has never been more critical – especially when it comes to implementing a new production scheduling system.

Successfully implementing a new production scheduling system can have great benefits for your company, like helping you understand the implications of daily decisions that drive profitability and customer service. That being said, it’s easy to get distracted by the many operational demands placed on scheduling. Below are my recommended five steps to help you prepare before kicking off your new implementation and keep your efforts focused.

  1. Evaluate the potential opportunities and benefits
  2. Define the goal
  3. Communicate the vision and get commitment
  4. Develop the scope
  5. Choose the scheduling system.

1.) Evaluate the potential opportunities and benefits

All companies are constantly looking for options to reduce costs and to increase revenue. A scheduling system can help achieve both, depending on the circumstances. Begin by identifying your pain points. Look for what takes you the most time to schedule and what causes the most interaction to resolve problems between scheduling and the manufacturing floor. These are likely the areas that you will gain the most benefit from improvements that a scheduling system can provide.

In addition to the time it takes to generate the schedule, evaluate the quality of the results. Several factors can contribute to an inefficient schedule – multiple bottlenecks in the production process, constraints in manpower, and raw material availability are a few examples. Managing these constraints with a manual scheduling process can be time consuming and have less than optimum results. In general, the more constraints there are, the more opportunity there is to improve with automation and advanced scheduling tools.

Also evaluate whether you can increase the production throughput with a more efficient schedule. For example, reducing changeover and cleaning times between products with an optimum product sequence can uncover hidden capacity.

Another category is the time spent changing the schedule once it is set and the reasons why the changes are made. If there are a lot of schedule changes due to problems with the initial schedule, that is a good indicator that improvements can be made with a less manual process enabled with scheduling software.  If the frequent changes are due to external factors such as rush customer orders or unplanned downtime, then scheduling software can help evaluate options and enable quick changes.

2.) Define the goal

Now that you have evaluated the potential benefits, decide along with your supply chain leaders what is most important to your organization. For example, if you are currently capacity constrained maybe unleashing hidden capacity with your existing assets is your highest priority so that you can delay the next capital project to add physical assets. Or, possibly your goal is to generate better schedules more efficiently to save scheduling time and use assets more efficiently. A third possibility is the need to be more flexible to quickly evaluate and make changes to the schedule when external factors change in either demand or supply.

Define your goals in quantitative terms. For example, estimate the manufacturing dollars you expect to save from a more efficient schedule and/or the increased revenue from increased capacity. This will help justify the project and provide a benchmark to measure success.

To help with the quantitative estimate, measure the time that your processing equipment is not being productive. Break out the non-productive time into categories such as planned and unplanned downtime, cleaning time and costs, and product changeover costs for continuous processes. Unplanned downtime can be further broken down into categories such as raw material shortage, downstream equipment bottleneck, and equipment breakdown, to name a few. Then, estimate the improvements you expect from scheduling software for the impacted categories.

3.) Communicate the vision and get commitment

Getting buy-in and commitment from the key stakeholders up front will be important to achieving a smoother and more successful implementation down the road.

First and foremost, since the schedulers will be affected the most, they will need to understand the goals and the benefits to the company so that when they are asked to spend time on the implementation and to ultimately change what they will be doing, they will be enthusiastic agents of change. One selling point is that the change will likely have a positive impact on their work. However, some people are comfortable with their current work processes and inherently resistant to change, so the effort and approach needed to get the buy-in you need will vary based on the circumstances.

Manufacturing and logistics may need to change how they do transactions in the ERP system to better work with the new scheduling tool, so preparing them for this possibility will avoid surprises and reduce resistance during implementation. Also, how does scheduler currently communicate the production schedule to Manufacturing and how will this change with the new system?

Management may get pushback from their employees – change is always hard – so it is good to have them on your side. Their employees will also be asked to take time for the implementation so it would be beneficial for their managers to include this in their goals for the year so that everyone is in alignment.

4.) Develop the scope

What attributes will you need for production scheduling to be able to meet your goals? These can be very specific to your individual situation, but here are a few questions to ask:  Are there constraints that are not in the ERP system that will need to be modeled separately? Would you benefit from being able to link orders so that they move in-sync when changing the schedule instead of needing to do this separately? Is there a mix of make-to-order and make-to-stock products that need to be scheduled differently? Input from the scheduler can be helpful in doing a thorough review of what attributes would be beneficial to meet the goals.

The scheduler will need to know what to schedule. How is this done today and how will it change with the new system? If there is already a longer-term planning system, will it be used to provide signals to the scheduling system (i.e. tell it what to schedule and how much is needed). Integration between the planning and scheduling systems will need to be included in the scope.

In addition to production scheduling, will the scope also include upstream and downstream activities?  Upstream, raw material scheduling is an option to be part of the scope. Downstream, there are logistics activities such as scheduling of loading racks to consider.

List the reports that you will want the scheduling system to generate. At a minimum, you will want a report to communicate the schedule to manufacturing. Other reports could include a distribution report, a raw material report, and a capacity report. Or maybe there is something unique to you implementation that will be needed.

5.) Choose the scheduling system

Review the capabilities of your existing ERP system. If your scope is simple and your budget is limited, you may already have what you need in your current system and the task at hand is to implement its scheduling capabilities. One advantage to this is a fully integrated system that avoids the need to transfer data.

But, if your scope includes more complex and custom scheduling tasks, you will likely need a third-party system that is designed specially to handle these tasks. These systems include the ability to customize to meet your specific needs. Having a defined scope at this point will be beneficial to provide to potential scheduling vendors so that they can accurately communicate their ability to meet your needs and to provide a quote.

Consider your needs for future flexibility and how the new system will be able to manage this. If you expect to make frequent changes, the ability to quickly get these changes made is a positive attribute to consider.

We have been focused on a single implementation, but sometimes companies have larger efforts that include multiple implementations for many sites and many schedulers that are in different business units and different geographical regions. If this is the case for you, then choosing the scheduling system will need to consider the larger scope and may be influenced by how it fits into the corporate strategy. However, it is important to note that scheduling requirements can vary significantly from site to site, so this may justify choosing different scheduling systems based on the scope of the individual implementation. In this case, the company will have more than one scheduling system to maintain, but the overall results will be better quality schedules across the organization.

Summary

After completing these five steps, you will be well prepared to begin the implementation, which will have its own challenges. Having done the groundwork, you will have the foundation to meet these challenges and work towards a successful implementation.

About Bruce Shabosky

Bruce has over 30 years of experience in engineering and supply chain in the chemicals industry, implementing and improving supply planning and scheduling processes and systems.

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