When you’re trying to juggle dozens of work orders, it’s tempting to cut to the chase and go straight to the whiteboard or Excel spreadsheet to draft your shop’s production schedule.

While the DIY approach may be easier to get up and running than your existing ERP’s scheduling functionality, it often results in decreased visibility, reduced efficiency, and complicated processes. That’s because traditional shop floor scheduling — whether it’s done on a whiteboard or in an Excel spreadsheet you’ve customized to your needs — can only account for what’s right in front of you.

Why manufacturers turn to manual production scheduling

Manufacturers default to manual processes for managing shop floor production for several reasons. To start, you have a job to get done so that you can go home, spend time with your family, and sleep well at night. With customers calling day in and out to change order specs and due dates around, scheduling on the shop floor in a system you’re not comfortable with, can’t get the data you need from it in a usable format, or don’t trust that it reflects your shop floor’s reality can be a big leap.

And, if you’ve worked on the shop floor long enough, you’ve probably been caught in a tug-of-war between leadership and IT over a poorly-executed ERP implementation where scheduling was either the “phase II” that you never got to, or it gave you a production plan you simply can’t believe in.

Regardless of your experiences with traditional scheduling, the DIY approach offers a lower barrier of entry, both in time and money. Creating shop floor production schedules in Excel allows the data to be edited and basic operations to be performed quickly, and most ERP software also allows you to export basic work order information as a starting point.

Why better DIY scheduling isn’t what you need

Despite these advantages, creating shop floor production schedules in Excel still creates problems for many manufacturers.

First, while basic scheduling in Excel is quick to get up and going, actually managing your shop floor production schedule in Excel is hard to do and maintain.

Second, Excel production schedules are only as accurate as the moment they’re made; they may be days or weeks out of date by the time you’re looking at them to make a decision.

Third, manual scheduling also has difficulty accounting for personnel changes, order delays, and other extenuating factors that can crop up at any moment and influence your shop’s ability to complete an order on time.

The wrong way to prioritize jobs on the shop floor

If you’re struggling to understand where jobs are at, how they’re progressing, or what priorities to focus on next, your first instinct may be to search for better production scheduling templates in Excel or some form of DIY magic. Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios will give you the visibility you actually need.

And that’s because the problem isn’t the scheduling software or tool — it’s the method behind it.

Most scheduling systems default to a method that prioritizes jobs based on work order due date. Even though a project due in six weeks may be in more danger of being delivered late due to its complexity, the scheduling system will still mark a job due next week as more urgent than the former.

This has been the default method in manufacturing ERP and scheduling software for the better part of 40 years, which means your DIY approach to scheduling is likely fundamentally flawed to begin with.

The right way to prioritize

While due dates are a vital component of the production scheduling process, they’re a poor priority mechanism to organize shop floor production around, especially considering that the vast majority of manufacturers are high-mix, low-volume (HMLV) production.

With the varying complexity of jobs and unpredictable order changes in play, manufacturers need to shift their mindset to look at the entire shop floor picture, moment-by-moment.

Protected Flow Manufacturing™ (PFM) can provide that level of real-time visibility into what is actually happening at a given moment on your shop floor by helping you identify which jobs are most in danger of being late and need to be prioritized, regardless of due dates.

With its flow-based paradigm, PFM helps you drastically improve on-time delivery and dramatically accelerate the speed of information and materials moving through your shop.

With PFM’s Threat-Level Prioritization, you can:

  • Gain instant visibility into your entire WIP status and associated Threat Levels
  • Identify at-risk work orders and problematic operations that need urgent attention
  • Always know exactly which job to work on next