How Do I Know if A Production Scheduling Solution Can Solve My Problems?

You’ve seen slick demonstrations of good looking software.  You think a production scheduling / advanced planning and scheduling system might improve your business.  But you want to be sure.  How do you know if a vendor and their product can really help?  Ask the vendor, but be prepared to think through some potentially difficult issues.

Advanced planning and production scheduling is an incredibly powerful technology, but it is not a magic wand.  The technology doesn’t fit in all environments, and it can’t solve all business problems.  Depending upon the specifics of your operation, advanced planning and scheduling can also be a bit tricky to implement.  To know if the technology can help in your environment, you both need a roadmap on where you want to go, and be able and willing to dig into the details.

Some production environments are simple and straightforward, and your operations might fit into this category.  However, your plant might also have unique twists or rules that influence how work gets done.  These unique characteristics may be “how we’ve always done things”, and therefore, be ripe for change and simplification.  However, many of the unique aspects of how you manufacturer product are unique for a reason.  You’ve developed proprietary processes over the years that give you an advantage over your competition.  In order to be successful, your planning and scheduling software needs to be able to capture and reflect the legitimate intricacies of your business.

So, how do you know if a production scheduling solution can solve your problems?  You build a sample model, and use the model to test the application the software to your real world situation.

Any reputable, experienced vendor understands that a sample model is the only way to truly know how well the software will fit you.  If the vendor won’t work with you on a sample model, either they don’t know how to build one (maybe they are a marginally trained distributor), or they have something to hide.  Whichever is the case, if they aren’t willing to work with you, find another vendor.

While your vendor should be willing to work with you on a sample advanced planning and production scheduling model, any vendor worth his or her salt is going to have strong ideas on how the process should work.  These strong opinions should be based on experience building similar sample models for other customers.  At a minimum, if you haven’t done so already, the vendor should insist that you:

  • Involve in the process staff members who might either use the software directly, or use the output from the software.  The only way you are going to develop good criteria for evaluating the sample model is by getting important users and decision makers lined up.
  • Get consensus as to your organization’s specific, measurable goals for the planning and scheduling software.  These goals will influence how the sample model is built and will guide the justification of the technology.
  • Get commitment to help from staff which might be responsible for providing the planning and scheduling system with required data.  Sources of data might range from formal company data bases to informal data held in the head of shop floor staff.  Planning and scheduling software won’t work without proper data, and if the proper data isn’t available, why bother with the exercise?
  • Get sanctioning from decision makers.  Again, why bother with the exercise if decision makers aren’t on board.

Building a representative sample model is a significant undertaking.  You should plan on considerable amounts of your time to educate the vendor on the details of your operation.  While the sample model will require effort on your part, please remember that the vendor’s investment will be much greater both in real and proportionate terms.  Depending upon the magnitude of the investment that your situation requires, the vendor might ask you for one or more of the following:

  • The explicit criteria which you will use to make your decision
  • Your criteria for justifying the software (if you think you’ll have trouble justifying, get help from your vendor)
  • The specific steps in your decision making process
  • The specific steps needed to approve an expenditure for the software and associated services.
  • A commitment that you will purchase if the sample model adequately addresses your needs
  • A purchase order for services to help defray the cost of building the sample model.

While building a sample advanced planning and production scheduling model is not free in terms of time and potentially money, the process should help you understand:

  • The data needs of the software.
  • How your data will  look in the software
  • How the software will be used on a periodic basis (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly)
  • How the software will be used to solve specific organizational problems
  • What your organizational training needs are
  • What the implementation of the software will look like
  • In round numbers, how much it will cost to purchase and implement the software and what the economic benefits of the purchase will be

Building a sample model will greatly reduce the risk that you purchase a technology that won’t help you reach your goals or won’t work properly in your environment.