What is production scheduling, and why is it important?

What is production scheduling, and why is it important?

Remember the great toilet paper panic of 2020? Hundreds of thousands of people rushed out and stockpiled what became, for a few months, one of America’s most sought-after commodities.

There’s absolutely no way manufacturers could’ve predicted this once-in-a-lifetime combination of events, and the result was… we ran out.

We’re so used to going to the store and seeing the stuff we need in abundance because, over time, manufacturers have gotten very good at getting the right materials in, manufacturing on time, anticipating demand, and shipping it off to the store. When you do see empty shelves, it’s usually because someone has struggled with procuring materials, work orders — or there’s been a natural disaster or pandemic.

It’s nearly impossible to predict an event like COVID-19, but for everything else, there’s production scheduling. It’s a handy process that helps your business meet customer demand more efficiently. Read on to find out more!

What is production scheduling?

A production schedule lists every single product that’ll be manufactured, including where and when they’ll be made.

It includes every detail, from raw materials to logistics. It also incorporates various processes designed to make production run smoothly while helping managers spot potential issues — like bottlenecks — and stop them before they explode into something bigger. For this reason, it’s a flexible, changeable document that you’ll need to update and check regularly.

As well as helping managers plan ahead, the production schedule works as a line of communication between production and sales teams. Sales inform the manufacturing team about the levels of demand. Manufacturers then tell sales when the product is ready.

What is a production schedule used for?

The production schedule is a versatile and important document for planning, forecasting, predicting, and meeting demand. It helps keep your operations working on time and under budget, which helps you keep your commitment to your customers. Let’s get into its main functions in a little more detail.

Planning: Predicting demand and matching that to labor, materials, and equipment capacity

Scheduling: Assigning workers and detailing contingency plans for when unexpected delays happen

Stockout prevention: Planning to maintain output, even if materials are delayed, or a swell in orders increases demand

Improved efficiency: Spotting bottlenecks and looking for areas of improvement. This results in improved lead times and smoother demand flows

Improved communication: With one master document detailing every element of the production workflow, communication is standard across the entire business

How to create a production scheduling process

Your production schedule is a big, evolving thing — and without a formalized process in place, it could end up getting a bit unruly. Here are five key steps to follow.

  1. Planning: Begin with your demand plan. How much raw material will you need, and when? There are two types of planning you can do here: static and dynamic. Static assumes nothing will change, whereas dynamic assumes everything could change. Both involve collecting information about resources, timelines, and team availability.
  2. Routing: Identify where your raw materials will come from and how they’ll be delivered to your production or manufacturing team, with a focus on the most cost-effective route.
  3. Scheduling: Develop a schedule that sets out how you’ll meet requirements — including contingency plans.
    – Create a master schedule that encompasses the entire process, from start to finish
    – Set up a manufacturing schedule that covers raw material routing
    – Plan a retail schedule that covers how products move from manufacturing to the shelf or eCommerce store
  4. Communicating: Share the production schedule to everyone involved and make sure it’s understood
  5. Dispatching: Plot the process of items and people moving around — including when and where throughout the entire process
  6. Execution: This is the process of putting your plan into action
  7. Maintenance: Keep your schedule updated regularly as demand changes

What to include in your production scheduling

Your production schedule will include these elements:

  • A product inventory that lists all of the products you make
  • A variation sublist (size, color, type)
  • Demand and delivery dates
  • Production quantities (the number of units you’ll produce each week)

The benefits of using a production schedule

Your production scheduling will help with demand planning, supply, and the changing needs of your customers. It should help you better anticipate the ebb and flow of work, not to mention give you a framework to use when things don’t go quite as planned.

Here’s a summary of what your production schedule does:

  • It gives you an inventory of your entire stock, so you always know what you have and where you need to replenish items
  • It helps HR know in advance how many staff you’ll need at any given time
  • It’ll help you navigate risks and prevent issues from bringing production to a standstill
  • It helps you avoid stockouts because you know how much raw material you have, how long production will take, and how much you’ll need

How to optimize your production schedule

Your production schedule will be a big document that you will regularly update. Not only that, but multiple people will need to be told about that change as soon as it happens. Here are some tips on how best to manage that:

Create a dynamic schedule

Flexibility is the name of the game, so make sure you create your schedule on something that’s easy to edit in real-time. Project management software is the gold standard here.

Prioritize tasks according to delivery dates:

Your schedule might prioritize an order that’s due in two days’ time, but if you know there’s an order due in 10 days, and it won’t make its deadline if you don’t see to it now, then focus on that first. Having a dynamic schedule makes it easier to reprioritize those orders.

Use project management tools

With a project management tool, you can create your schedule using a Gantt chart. This is essentially a virtual diagram that helps you schedule tasks and resources across a timeline. As the project evolves, individuals can enter their data, and the chart automatically updates in real-time — meaning everyone’s on the same page at once. If there are delays in raw materials or staff are off, the team can edit it, and the new data turned into an updated schedule with recalculated times, costs, and other metrics. No more manual adjustments, no more update emails — just the entire team working like a well-oiled machine.

Final thoughts

Production scheduling is a big job with a cocktail of people and tasks all happening at once. Then there’s the largely unpredictable nature of supply and demand, the movement of materials, and the complex manufacturing process — all of which can send your carefully constructed plan out the window.

If one of those things goes off-track, then the whole lot could grind to a halt. This is why dynamic production schedules are so important.

If you’re looking for a tool that offers so much more than a typical APS, that automatically updates schedules and recalculates resources, that can send out notifications and operate in real-time, then Backlog — our own project management software — may just be what you’re looking for. Give it a try today.

Georgina Guthrie Georgina is a displaced Brit currently working in France as a freelance copywriter. Before moving to sunnier climates, she worked as a B2B agency writer in Bristol, England, which is also where she was born. In her spare time, she enjoys old films and cooking (badly).