What are the actual challenges that planners face in their daily work?
Planners have a pivotal role in production companies. Production scheduling is the link that ties production to the other departments in the organisation, e.g. sales, purchasing, R&D, customer services and HR. The better the tools that the planner is given, the better the basis for the planner’s communication concerning options, limitations and potential in the schedule. When the planner is able to provide information about why the possibilities are as they are, it improves the basis for collaboration between the different departments across the organisation. Data provided by the planner is very valuable and can be used actively to improve customer services, strengthen stock management and optimise delivery times etc.
Mads Bruun Larsen and Karen Kjær Larsen from Consulting House, instructors on ROB-EX A/S’ training courses, have compiled a list of 10 major challenges that planners all over the world face in their daily work:
1. Planners are often appointed based on practical production experience
Planners are typically people with practical experience and strong competences from production work. They are most often production staff with detailed insight into the company’s specific production range. However, many years of experience from production does not provide all the skills required for production scheduling. In many cases, there are no formal production scheduling education programmes nor other training programmes to provide production planners with the particular skills required to cover the entire discipline of production scheduling. Planners need specialised tools to transform their practical knowledge into usable data for all relevant departments in the organisation – and they need tools to optimise production. Equipping planners with the relevant tools and knowledge will generate a strong planning concept on which the company can base decision-making and will also result in more reliable scheduling.
2. Planners need to know their planning system – fully and in every detail
Planners often report that a full introduction to the planning systems was not included in the start-up packages for the job. This means that the planner does not always know the parameters that form the basis of the system set-up and is unable to make adequate use of the system. Planners need full and detailed knowledge and insight into the system and its set-up, in order to be able to include all options and possibilities in their scheduling. Planners need scheduling systems that provide all the necessary tools for carrying out their work and they must have full insight into the functions and features of these systems.
3. Planners are under pressure from several departments with different prioritisations
Being a planner is sometimes like standing between a rock and a hard place. You are the link between production and sales – and you are linked to purchasing, R&D, customer services, HR etc. The prioritisations of each department differ: production managers prioritise 100% utilisation of machines – but sometimes machines need maintenance or staff are absent; sales managers want orders ready on time – but sometimes they want to push an important order through at very short notice etc.
4. Planners are often told that efficient scheduling is all about keeping machines running at all times
It is a major challenge for many planners to convince management that a utilisation factor of 80% in many cases is more optimal than running at full capacity. In fact, running production at full capacity may result in prolonged lead times. This may be difficult to document short-term, but the long-term effects of running production with 80% utilisation are quite clear. With 80% utilisation, time is set off for planned maintenance which results in improved production quality and a significant reduction in the number of unplanned stops, unforeseen adjustments or quick-fix solutions in production. Production costs are kept in check as unplanned down-time and costly repairs are kept at a minimum.
5. Scheduling is a complex discipline
Management often underestimates the complexity of production scheduling. A common misconception is that “it is all just a matter of putting some data into the system, and that’s it…Bob’s your uncle…”. However, this is not how it works. There are a multitude of factors that affect the plan, and that require constant adjustments and a detailed and continuous overview: delivery of materials may be delayed; a machine breaks down; sub-suppliers change their prioritisations etc. All of these factors have multiple links to processes and flow in production and require flexibility in scheduling and prompt reactions based on a constantly updated and detailed overview of production.
6. Low production costs or reliable delivery times? You cannot have your cake and eat it too…!
Management must define the general framework for production and for production scheduling. It is a matter for management to decide which parameter the company wishes to prioritise: low production costs or high reliability of delivery times. It is not possible to give both the top priority.
7. Master data is not always structured in a way that matches the data structure of scheduling tools
The transfer of data between IT systems may not be as automatic as one would wish. As a planner, you may find that you need to transfer data manually – or adjust areas in which the master data is not directly applicable in the tool. Manual data transfers take time. The precise areas that are affected by data transfer difficulties are detected and handled based on the planner’s experience and knowledge and are often only known to the planner. This makes the organisation vulnerable if the planner leaves the company or is taken ill.
8. Who is responsible for the prioritisation of orders?
Order prioritisation is not included in the planner’s responsibilities. Management must provide the framework and ensure that the planner is equipped with tools to carry out the required scheduling. This includes management’s taking responsibility for the prioritising of orders. If management decides to set the successful delivery rate at 80%, management must take responsibility for identifying the orders that are to be carried out first…and also, which orders are to be carried out last.
9. Planners may be bogging themselves down with excessive scheduling
Planners are often people who take professional pride in being able to make extremely precise schedules. However, scheduling is always based on average times and figures, and there will always be variations in real life. Scheduling may not be mirrored minute-to-minute in production, but production will often still meet the desired production times for orders. In many cases, planners need to accept that certain details are best scheduled by the production staff who have hands-on experience with the machines.
10. Scheduling takes time
Planners need time to structure their scheduling. Realistic production scheduling frameworks reduce the need for sudden and unforeseen changes in the plan. Scheduling is more realistic and correct if the planner allocates time for daily or weekly reviews and adjustment of the production plan. Check points for reviews include: order status, performance history, identifying focus areas that will make next week’s plan even more accurate.