Lessons Learned from Production Planners


A few weeks back I utilized LinkedIn to connect to some Production Planners / Schedulers. My goal was to reach out and determine what really matters in their day-to-day focus. I spoke to planners from a variety of industries—Food and Beverage, Discrete, Electronics, Paper and Utilities.

As a product manager, I need to ensure that what we offer, as well as plan to offer, resonates with customers and potential customers.

This is what I learned:

  1. The production schedule is dynamic. It changes on a daily basis. There needs to be a way to quickly update the schedule. “What if” analysis is important to allow the planner to see the impact on changes to due dates.
  2. Scheduling in tools like Excel® is complicated.  ...although many planners use Excel even if they are using other APS systems. People are familiar with Excel so it is a natural tool to move to. However, it doesn’t give easy insight into the schedule, it can become very complex to manage and there typically isn't source control, so when the person who knows the Excel spreadsheet leaves you typically need to start from scratch. Upper management would like to see planners move away from Excel toward more standard COTS solutions.
  3. Top priorities are: On-Time Delivery, Minimize Changeover, Eliminate Bottlenecks, Throughput. Visibility into duedates is critical. Also having the ability to see ahead to avoid bottlenecks helps to improve throughput. Getting more done with less resources, including humans and inventory, helps to increase revenue by getting more product out the door and reduces costs by reducing the need for further capital expenditures.
  4. Automatic feedback is important. I talked to many planners who didn’t have automatic updates on their schedules. Scheduling updates was very manual, for example at a daily meeting. This did not allow the schedulers to see how the schedule is performing on a real-time basis. Having this information early can help planners see in advance where the schedule is slipping and can allow something to be done about it sooner rather than later.
  5. Collaboration with other groups is important. There are a lot of groups impacted by the schedule—Raw Materials, Delivery, Customer Service, Plant Floor personnel, etc. In order for the operation to run smoothly, these groups need to be in contact. For instance, one customer I spoke to had just-in-time delivery of materials so if the schedule needed to change, this group needed to be informed to ensure the right materials were in place to run the schedule. Also if there is a plan to have a truck onsite to load for delivery, if it can be seen that the schedule will be late, changes can be made in advance so there are no penalties for having a truck sit idle.

In my experience, planners and schedulers I have spoken to are for the most part using very manual systems to schedule their production. In most cases, they don’t have visibility into their schedule on a real-time basis and in most cases appear to be “flying blind,” not realizing their schedules can be more “real-time” based on the reality of the plant floor. They can become more efficient by having better visibility into their schedules.

Do you agree? How do you handle your scheduling today?

Paul Adams

Paul has spent more than 20 years in manufacturing with GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, focusing on product development. His deep industry experience comes from countless calls, meetings and visits to manufacturers around the globe to help solve their business challenges. Today, he works in Global Professional Services, which allows him to continue working with GE’s manufacturing customers at a more downstream function. Wonder what challenges he’s helping manufacturers solve today? Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.

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