Francesco Bongiorni
Francesco Bongiorni

Production has one goal: work steadily to produce the orders at a reasonable cost. This process can cause a lot of problems when production cannot process the orders requested. When the orders are failing to meet the timeline established, what are the most common problems affecting the process? Each organization experiences the same types of problems, but they handle them differently when scheduling becomes an issue. If you want to resolve this issue in your company, then look at the four primary issues that affect scheduling.

1) The Scheduler Cannot Say No
This is by far the worst culprit and creates the most problems. A scheduler knows that he has overbooked the production levels, but either he cannot tell the salespeople “No,” or he tells them “No” and upper management overrules him, insisting that the schedule should stay overbooked. I have personally have been on both sides of this issue.

If management cannot understand that production has limits, then this is a dead issue: your company will never face up to the reality that it cannot be everything to everybody. What will happen, if it hasn’t already, is that customer relations will devolve, because you will fail too many times when your production hits its ceiling. If you’re the manager, it is a difficult thing to admit, but sometimes you may be causing the scheduling problems.

Sometimes it is the person you have scheduling who simply cannot say the word “No.” I have found that if the scheduler was or is a salesperson, he has a much harder time saying, “No can do.” He must understand that production cannot pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat and produce more orders simply when asked. If production has had a habit of actually being able to do that in the past, then it is more than likely that the production scheduling level has been set too low.

Tell the salespeople that if they want to move an order up, they have to find something to push out. Keep in mind that if one order is being moved up and another one is being moved out, however, this change cannot interfere with current production. Think of the order process in a production facility as a train leaving the station. Each car tied to the locomotive represents an order. If you want to replace one of the cars after the train has already left the station, the change will affect all the other cars.

2) Scheduling the Maximum Amount of Production Every Week
Are you not allowing for any problems or rush orders? History will show you what your production levels are averaging each week. Let’s say your limit is 100 units per day. Does your schedule show that you are booked for four weeks with 510 units every week? Yes, orders may be delayed after they have been scheduled for whatever reason, but you are not allowing for rush orders or production problems. We all make mistakes, and some orders have to be put ahead of others, but your scheduling does not allow for this. Equipment breaks down, and people do not show up to work, so you have to allow for fluctuations in production levels. Have you ever realized how much easier it is to ask a customer if he wants his order quicker than ask if he minds a delay? Try it a few times; you will sleep better at night because you have happy customers.

3) Inaccurate Unit Measurements Are Used to Gauge Production Levels
Trusses are unique because of their complexity. Various companies have used measurements such as board footage, number of pieces, sales dollars, linear footage, and man-hours. By far, the best unit of measurement is man-hours estimated. If your truss program is reasonably close to being accurate to estimate the labor properly, save yourself a lot of headaches and use the man-hours given. If your truss program is not accurate in its estimation of labor, then you have a much bigger problem regarding the pricing of orders. Using man-hours will help you better understand whether you have been estimating the labor properly for each order. Each of the other types of measuring units fluctuates too much depending on the order types. But if your market creates a huge variation in truss types, then your production foreman will gladly tell you how inaccurate the other types are. He has been mentally adjusting what he can do depending on the truss types. Think about it: How does a measurement in sales dollars account for discounted sales prices and lumber cost variations? There is huge difference using board footage for AG or Attic trusses versus common trusses. Linear footage does not take into consideration the complexity of truss types. Use man-hours and track the level of production every day. (TDC provides accurate and reliable man-hours, S.U. or R.E. for client needs.)

4) Production Level Fluctuates Too Much
Believe it or not, I have found the level of production to be the least of the issues that affect scheduling. Depending on the setup of the production facility, the level of production will be affected more by equipment failure and employee absenteeism.

Think about what happens to overall production when the main saw or gantry breaks down. Do you track how much your equipment is costing you in lost productivity? There is more to the “cost” of equipment than the price of parts. Whether the equipment is brand new or antique, its dependability makes a huge difference to the level of production.

Some companies experience high turnover rates with their shop employees. The type of work these shop employees do is very labor intensive, and they are not usually highly compensated. This issue of keeping and training production employees is a whole issue in itself. For the purpose of scheduling, what do you think is happening to the consistency of productivity if you are not keeping effective, trained workers? If absenteeism is rampant, then how is your shop going to be consistent in its level of production on a day-to-day basis? It is not uncommon that a crew loses 20 to 40 percent of its productivity in the first week with a new employee. It is a slow and costly process to train new employees, and usually, companies don’t understand how much a new employee costs them.

So now we have covered the four reasons that affect accurate scheduling. Of course, you may have a combination of problems affecting your scheduling. Talk it over as a group to resolve these issues. It will be difficult to keep the emotions of the employees down, because scheduling is what causes everybody so much stress. Once you have the initial meeting and begin implementation, schedule a follow-up meeting to see how effective the changes you made have been. Once your company is scheduling properly, you will have fewer stressed employees and a better-satisfied customer base.