I believe there are two types of businesses—those that plan and seek growth systematically, and those that move forward using the sometimes outwardly successful, but unnecessarily risky “wing and a prayer” approach!
For those of you who have asked for more detail about systemizing your company—particularly your SCHEDULING system—HERE IT IS! Hope you “wing and a prayer” people will lean in!
I've had numerous conversations with business owners and production or plant managers about Production, Project and Service Scheduling Systems, and they generally ask, "How can you deliver your product ‘on time, every time’ at your company?" They express doubts that it could be accomplished in their own company, due to the difference between their turnaround times and ours, and the different types of product or service we each provide.
This article is addressed especially to the “risky business” group.
To begin with, as with any process or event that needs to happen in a consistent manner, and on a given date, what is needed is a complete system—no GAPS! To build a great Production or Service Scheduling System, you need several systems working in concert for a complete solution, starting with a detailed list of steps in the entire process, from start to finish.
Hereafter, the term production will be used to describe the steps in any process; whether for a service company or for manufacturing. The same basic principles apply, whether you are a printing company or manufacturer, food provider, medical facility, restoration company, etc.
Today there are many types of software on the market for Production, Project and Service Scheduling. Some companies use Excel spreadsheets, industry-specific software, or a Manual Scheduling Board, showing all the jobs/projects in progress for a given day (also known as WIP, Work in Progress). These are great tools, but only part of the solution in building a great Scheduling system.
As a job/project progresses through the production or fulfillment cycle, toward the due date, the job/project moves from one process or work center to the next.
Example: Printing Industry
Process/Work Center (Prepress-Plating) MONDAY
Process/Work Center (Pressroom) TUESDAY
Process/Work Center (Paper Cutting Machine) WEDNESDAY
Process/Work Center (Folding, Stitching, etc.) THURSDAY
Process/Work Center (Shipping or Delivery) FRIDAY
A larger company may have one or more employees whose sole job is manning the Scheduling System. The Scheduler normally receives his/her orders or updates from the Project or Production Manager, who is generally running around the building putting out fires and trying to keep the wheels of production moving by directing and pushing jobs or projects from one work center to the next.
Management and Salespeople scream at the Project/Production Manager when their jobs are late or they need to put through a "rush job" for their top client or customer. With some management/salespeople, every job is a rush job. They assume most of the jobs in progress are already late, and figure they need to pad or even fib about the due date, to ensure the job will be on time. This creates more pressure, chaos and lost production time.
The boss also gets in on the act—barking orders to the Scheduler and Project/Production Manager, as he/she may have their own clients...and everyone knows the boss’s jobs go through production no matter what. The boss may also have a salesperson that they are afraid of losing, breathing down their neck, reminding the boss that they are the "top salesperson" and their jobs are "priority one.”
The main schedule buster is data entry errors.
These data entry errors cause production to constantly slow down, while one department or employee has to call and interrupt others to find missing information or data. This is another prime reason for Rework Due to Errors.
Errors are made for the simple reason that there is not a Control Checklist in place for entering data, to create a Job or Project "Ticket" (a folder or large envelope containing all instructions for production, etc.). These errors come from customers, salespeople, customer service representatives and others not having correct information, leaving out certain information or inputting the information incorrectly.
We implemented the Driver Checklist along with an Estimate/Order Checklist; detailed control checklists that have eliminated 99.9 percent of all data entry errors at our company.
To add more pressure and chaos to the Schedule, a client or customer may call to report an error or desired change on his job, and to demand that it be done or redone RIGHT NOW. Now it's panic time. The whole process is moved around in order to accommodate or re-work this customer's job, at breakneck speed. You know the old saying, "There always seems to be enough time to redo a job, but never enough time to do it right the first time."
The unexpected seems to happen, just when the production pressure is at its peak. Worst case scenario: one of the main machines or Work Centers goes down—now the whole production process goes into a tail spin. A lot of breakdowns in equipment happen, because there is not a well-planned Preventative Maintenance System and a Repair Request System in place.
Another problem that causes delays is that needed materials are not available or have not been ordered when it is time to produce a job or project.
In some companies, schedules are delayed or moved simply because certain employees refuse to work overtime, even in the most urgent situations. Companies should have a written policy about working overtime; a policy that should be given to the employees when they are first hired, as part of their Orientation. At our company, the new employee signs the Overtime Policy before being hired.
Still other companies allow their employees to consistently arrive at work late, or take leave without proper notification to management. We use the Absenteeism System and the Request for Leave System in our System100 Software, which includes the unique JobTraxx feature that tracks and enables us to be proactive with our employees. This is to ensure we have consistent start times for production, and enough man hours to handle the scheduled hours for completing the work. All vacations and requested leaves are automatically posted on our company calendar.
Some schedules may be shifted around because a company does not have Time Keeping/Floor Data Collecting Software that reports on Actual Time versus Estimated Time on a project or job (the estimated or actual time it takes for a job or project to go through the entire process, from start to finish...also known as throughput).
The company may never have measured, benchmarked, adjusted, and then repeated these steps, until they have a very close Estimated Time for how long each process in the production/project cycle takes to complete. Therefore, they really don't know the throughput of a job, making the schedule a "guesstimate," at best. Actual Time can only be measured after the work is completed, and then it should be used to benchmark for improvement. If it is a new process that will be implemented for a job/project, then a time study needs to be conducted to come up with an estimated time.
In many cases, the Project/Production Manager is also the Scheduler, and spends a lot of time trying to keep the schedule accurate, while fire-fighting in production. As you can see, trying to please everyone and handle the schedule, along with many system-busting (non-conforming) events, is almost an impossible task.
The Schedule Reports are normally not up-to-date; therefore, they are practically unusable. The reason these reports are sketchy is that, by the time the Project/Production Manager sits down and inputs all the jobs/projects into the schedule, new work is being added to production by Client or Customer Service. Also, there may have been a slowdown or bottleneck in production at some work center, and the schedule does not reflect that.
So, on and on it goes! This is why many large companies must have one or more people overseeing the schedule at all times.
When we began to implement our scheduling system, I had flashbacks of all the conversations I'd had with many vendors of software management systems. Many of them, when demonstrating their software, honestly confessed that very few companies used their scheduling modules. They explained to me that they were working on updates to fix the issues that companies had been complaining about. Some vendors claimed it was likely a company's poor use of their software. There were other software companies developing what they call automatic schedulers.
What I observed immediately—thinking of the Scheduling Module of our particular industry-specific Software—was that it would involve many of our current systems coming together to complete the circle. A scheduling system with no gaps.
LET'S REVIEW the problems that cause chaos in a Scheduling System:
Problem: Data Entry errors
The Fix: Data Entry Control Checklist and Estimate/Order Entry Checklist.
Problem: Too many hands in the pot—Salespersons, Owner or others demanding that their jobs take precedent.
The Fix: Know your capacity by having a system for benchmarking production times with Time-Keeping/Floor Data Collecting Software. Have a Chain of Command Policy showing who makes decisions about priorities.
Problem: Employees showing up late, at different times, or absent.
The Fix: Starting Time Policy for various departments and Absenteeism Policy. Absenteeism Reporting System, Request for Leave System, Company Calendar showing who will be out on certain days, and Time-Keeping/Floor Data Collecting Software.
Problem: Workers refusing to work overtime unless convenient for them.
The Fix: Overtime Policy that the employee signs.
Problem: Rework due to errors or client/customer changes, causing work to fall behind.
The Fix: Quality Control Checklist at each stage of production to reduce rework. System Buster/Corrective Action System to track and fix errors so as not to happen again, and to benchmark progress.
Problem: Client/Customer changes, in middle of production
The Fix: Scheduling Policy regarding Client/Customer changes, that is given to client before starting a job/project
Problem: Necessary materials not on hand when a process to be done.
The Fix: Material Order System, Purchase Order System, Daily Routine Checklist, 100 percent System of Cleanliness, Inventory System, Shipping and Receiving System.
Problem: Equipment breakdowns
The Fix: Scheduled Maintenance System with Checklist, and a Repair Request System that employees can report any equipment problems before they completely break down. These checklist and request are given to a supervisor who follows up to see if work was performed.
Problem: Rush Jobs putting pressure on the production system.
The Fix: All of the above and having a Today's Printed Schedule for each phase of production. Rush Jobs are given an asterisk, and this is the first thing that each person completes on their schedule for today. The rest of the schedule will be completed, and marked as completed, before end of day or shift, unless the Project/Production Manager overrides. Each production employee turns in their completed schedule at end of day or shift to the Project/Production Manager, along with their Time Sheet.
As you can see—to have a great scheduling system, OTHER systems must be in place to complete the Circle. NO GAPS! It’s the difference between one business—able to deliver the goods ‘on time, every time’—and one that is unable to guarantee that kind of service!
Did I mention? Great Systems Work!