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Production Scheduling Software: What You Should (And Shouldn’t) Expect

3/4/20 10:00 AM


Everyone schedules, but not everyone does it well

It’s a universal truth that every manufacturing company schedules. You may not do it well, but you do it. It’s simply the nature of the business—customers request an item and you must look into the future to predict (and commit) to when it will be done…before you even start working on it.

Unfortunately, a lot of manufacturers use inefficient methods to get orders out and it’s not uncommon for on-time delivery to be as low as 50 percent. The frustrations caused by poorly managed capacity and materials can cause companies to throw up their hands and stop trying to make scheduling methodical, accurate, and just plain better.

Production scheduling software can be a powerful solution for manufacturers, but it’s not a cure-all or magic wand you can wave to fix all of your production issues. Keep reading to learn what a scheduling module can do for you and what you need to do to get the most out of it.

Typical scheduling expectations

Here is what people typically want out of production scheduling software:

  • Automated scheduler. Manufacturers either don’t have a scheduler and think they need to hire one, or have an existing scheduler who’s been at the company for decades and is ready to retire. In both cases, companies are hoping automated technology can do the job instead of a human and the scheduler position can be eliminated.
  • Automated order acceptance and scheduling. Manufacturers want a system to automatically take and then schedule orders. It’s a common misconception that this is a linear process, but it’s actually the opposite (more on that later).

These are the wrong  expectations to want from a scheduling module.  The goals are unattainable and will just lead to continued frustration.

Proper scheduling expectations & goals

Advanced planning and scheduling isn’t easy, but you can dramatically improve it by leveraging your system in the right ways. Here’s what you really want, and should expect, your scheduling module to do:

  • Get the best date available. Production scheduling software can calculate how a new order fits with all existing orders. Feed a requirement into the system and it will assess your open capacity, raw material inventory levels, and more to provide a date of when you can complete an order based on all the other promises you’ve already made. You get the best date available at order entry. This is where the information is needed; before the promise is made.
  • Manage capacity. Capacity is finite, like inventory, but manufacturers often cheat with how they manage it—for example, a job for a top customer will often jump the queue. A scheduling module can tell you how much time a job will take on a particular piece of equipment to help you better manage your capacity and keep orders from backing up or being unwisely prioritized.
  • Prove out scenarios using data. Production scheduling software gives you the flexibility to model ideas using data instead of gut instinct. For example, you’ll define the equipment you have and how many hours and days it runs, but can change the parameters if needed. Whether you want to run a month of overtime or buy another piece of equipment, you can model your ideas with the new parameters against your current orders to get a realistic idea of what’s possible and whether it would help or hurt your business.
  • Give your scheduler a powerful tool. Scheduling is an algorithm. It's not perfect and can’t replace a thinking human being. What a scheduling module can do is give your scheduler a way to do their job better.
  • Give your sales team a powerful tool. Sales can use the system to instantly check whether what the customer wants is possible and when it can be done—without having to call anyone or meet with production. Scheduling modules help sales provide customers with better, faster service and eliminate internal strife over unrealistic promises to customers.

In short, think of production scheduling software as a mechanism to coordinate all shop floor activities. It's like having a lot of musicians who play their instruments well, but sound horrible together without sheet music. A scheduling system is the sheet music that literally helps orchestrate everything into a “song.” It tells each department what to run, and when to run it, to get orders out on time.

Achieving your scheduling goals

Now that you have the right expectations for production scheduling software, you need to figure out how to meet those expectations. Each of the above bullet points are essentially your scheduling goals and can be achieved by having good manufacturing data—we’ll call this having a “clean ecosystem” within the scheduling module. Having a clean ecosystem includes:

  • Properly defined resources and capacity
  • Accurate quantities, dates, and estimated costs for work orders
  • Accurate, real-time labor reporting
  • Accurate quantities and dates on purchase orders
  • Analysis of historical data from closed (or in process) work orders to determine deltas and therefore identify issues and bad data that need to be addressed

You need all of these items because they work in tandem and are critical to successful scheduling. The cleaner the data, the more you will trust what the system tells you. Don’t live with bad data.

Keep in mind that cleaning the ecosystem is a cross-team, multi-department effort. Engineering, purchasing, production, management, and many others will need to work together to fix data issues.

Getting started with a scheduling module

When manufacturers first implement production scheduling software, it can be overwhelming because it’s a big shift in processes (and internal culture). The two best pieces of advice are to:

  • Keep it simple. If you try to tackle all of your scheduling problems, it will create a mess. Focus on keeping the data clean. Do not focus on the various bells and whistles in the scheduling module.
  • Manage what your system sees. This involves not only ensuring the data is accurate (clean), but making information more quantifiable and measurable. Get rid of wordiness and fields that require human interpretation. Here’s a quick checklist to get you started:
    • Resources
      • Properly set up
      • Accurate capacity
    • Work orders
      • Accurate estimated costs (structure, run times, BOM)
      • Accurate actual costs (labor reporting, materials, rework)
      • Authenticity (i.e. are all the work orders “real,” or are there many with old due dates?)
    • Inventory
      • Accurate inventory
      • Accurate want dates
      • Authentic released purchase orders

Maintaining your scheduling module

You’ve put in the work to clean your ecosystem and prioritize how you’ll handle scheduling for your company using the software. But even if you’ve completed all of the above, and finished it well, you still won’t be successful.

Scheduling isn’t something you can put on autopilot and it’s critical to put processes in place to maintain good data hygiene. Mistakes happen and without intervention, your clean ecosystem will get polluted over time. Your regular review process should include labor reporting sign-offs to help you catch issues immediately, as well as weekly efficiency reports to help you measure what you want to improve and stabilize.

The biggest fail to avoid with production scheduling software

Even when you’ve cleaned your scheduling ecosystem and locked down how to keep it clean, you’re still not done. It’s not only important to have the data, but also to use—depend—on it. One of the biggest failures companies have is to sideline the data and information your software provides and continue relying on inherent knowledge or gut instinct to schedule.

Becoming dependent on scheduling data to the point that everyone will scream if it’s wrong, requires most manufacturers to transform their culture, which can be difficult. It’s a process of moving from feeling to facts, but it is incredibly important to the success of your scheduling function. You must develop the mindset that you need data to run your business.


This is more than scheduling. This is running your business. A scheduling module helps you understand what you make, how you make it, and what needs your attention and what doesn’t. The clarity you gain into operations more than makes up for the effort it took to put your production scheduling software to use in the right ways.

If you want to learn more about scheduling, let’s talk. We can have a free, 30-minute conversation. No pressure and no strings attached.

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Shannon O'Loughlin

Written by Shannon O'Loughlin