How Should You Use Production Scheduling Vendor References?
Your company is interested in purchasing production scheduling or advanced planning and scheduling software. You’ve already contacted and, to some extent, worked with vendors. You know you need to check two references. What should your strategy be, and how should you go about it? Is there really something that you can learn from references, or should your goal be to
simply “check off a box” to satisfy your management?
There are two things to keep in mind. First, vendors are going to do everything in their power to screen out negative references and only give out positive ones. Therefore, any reputable vendor who has been in business for more than a couple of years is going to be able to give you references that will say good things. Second, when a reference takes time out of his or her busy day to share experiences, the reference is doing both you, and the vendor a favor. Since vendors won’t want to impose upon and unduly burden their best customers, they are going to limit the number of references you speak with. Furthermore, if you are as busy as most people who work in production environments, you are not going to have time to talk to numerous references.
So, in practical terms, you are going to have limited chances to talk to references. How do you make the most of these opportunities? One strategy is to ask for references early in the process, and use the references to screen vendors. If you do so, you’ll be squandering an opportunity. At this point in the process, you might not know what the most important issues will be for your intended use of the software. In addition, it will be hard to screen vendors based on references that are going to be hand-picked to be positive.
A far better strategy is to hold off contacting references until near the end of your evaluation. Evaluating complex software such as advanced planning and scheduling can be an involved process. Don’t try to make a choice immediately. Share with your vendor your goals for the software, how your operations are structured, who will be using the software, and the data that you have available. Educate the vendor so that, in turn, they can educate you on how their production scheduling software might apply in your environment. How well a vendor works with you prior to the sale is a good indicator of what it will be like after you’ve paid the vendor’s invoice. As advocated elsewhere in this blog, working with your vendor on a sample production scheduling model prior to the sale can be invaluable in determining if the software, and the vendor, will meet your needs.
While the process of working with a vendor prior to the sale can be invaluable, it won’t answer all of your questions. In fact the process most likely will produce questions that hadn’t occurred to you earlier. Many of the questions will be fairly general, but more than a few will be specific to how you plan to apply the advanced planning and scheduling software to your environment.
Share your questions with your vendor’s sales staff! If your vendor understands your questions, they can take steps to get you answers. A smart vendor will listen to your questions, and match you up with references who have dealt with the same issues that you are raising.
While it would be ideal for your vendor to match you up with a reference “just like you”, it pays to look beyond the superficial. Companies in similar industries often go about satisfying their customers in very different ways. Also, just because two a companies are in the same industry doesn’t mean that they necessarily have the same goals for the production scheduling software. One might want software for scheduling over a short horizon, while the other may want to do longer range planning. While the references your vendor introduces to you may be in a different industry, below the surface you may have much in common.
What kind of questions might you want to ask production scheduling and advanced planning and scheduling references? Below is a list of less obvious questions that might be helpful:
- How well did the production scheduling / advanced planning and scheduling software meet your expectations?
- How well has the vendor kept promises made to you before you purchased?
- How smooth was the handoff between the vendor’s sales staff and implementation staff?
- How responsive have the vendor’s support and development staffs been to issues which have arisen and to enhancement requests?
- How expert in the software are the vendor’s consulting and implementation staff, and how quickly have this staff picked up the nuances of your business?
- How did you make use of the vendor’s staff during your implementation?
- Did the vendor help you draft an implementation plan, and if so, how useful was it?
- How smooth and problem free was your implementation?
- What kind of unplanned expenses and costs were passed on to you?
- What business benefits did the production scheduling / advanced planning and scheduling software help you achieve, and how quickly did you get those benefits?