If your manufacturing company has decided to invest in shop floor scheduling, it's time to determine what solution is the best production scheduling software for the organization. By this point, the production planner and operations management have probably built a business case for production scheduling software. You’ve engaged corporate executives, quantified the financial impact, and articulated production scheduling software advantages. Now it’s time to figure out which manufacturing scheduling software will align with manufacturing processes, integrate with existing manufacturing and business technology, and empower production planners to solve both common and complex problems.
If your company picks the wrong software, it will waste valuable time and money. Worse, a poor choice can sidetrack business processes or destroy trust and collaboration between functional teams. Following a pragmatic and agreed-upon approach for solution selection allows everyone to focus on getting the right software and minimize or avoid conflict. The key steps to pick the best production scheduling software for your manufacturing company are:
- Engage stakeholders
- Define requirements (business, functional, IT, integration, data, interface, other) and understand tradeoffs
- Investigate solutions and develop a shortlist of options
- Request demos, pricing, and proposals
- Understand implementation, integration, training, and support options
Step 1: Engage Stakeholders
It's tempting to jump in and make a software decision based on what just one or two production planners need or want in production planning tools. However, even though these are the people who will generally run the system, they're not the only individuals with a stake in making sure orders get out the door on time, in the correct quantities, and doing so with resources and inventories optimized.
Anyone or any team that must contribute to the success of implementation, integration, data, and business and functional outcomes should at minimum participate in defining requirements for the system. Furthermore, any other people or functions that may experience an impact from the system should also have an opportunity to weigh in on how the solution or processes may affect their role.
Making a list of stakeholders and consulting them early in the software selection project gives the project leaders confidence that they have considered every factor that might affect project success.
Step 2: Define Requirements and Understand Tradeoffs
Imagine building a house or a bridge without defining requirements: the end-product might very well collapse if the engineers didn’t define requirements. Requirements are the foundation upon which the project team builds success. Just like a house or a bridge, if the requirements foundation isn’t adequate, anything built on top of them will suffer problems or failure. Preparing requirements with sufficient detail takes time, effort, and stakeholder collaboration. If the project team is unwilling to spend the time to do it properly, the project has little chance for success.
Evaluating tradeoffs is an essential part of defining requirements. For example, which is more important for your company's unique situation: the ability to model very complex scheduling problems around materials, machine changeovers, and orders, or the ability to conduct real-time job sequencing based on rapidly incoming orders? Setting priorities around requirements helps the team set expectations among all stakeholders.
Step 3: Investigate Solutions and Develop Short List of Options
Most of the time, it's not necessary to talk with every software vendor and see a demo of every solution. A reasonable approach is to use the top five to ten unique "must-have" requirements as a guide to develop a shortlist of three solutions. For other types of software, like ERP, MES, or OEE, a "top five" shortlist of vendors might be appropriate. However, most production planning software packages today offer at least a similar baseline of features that meet many companies’ core requirements. It’s the unique “must have’s” that help the team narrow the field very quickly.
For example, many companies are worried about integrating the production planning solution with the company’s ERP — and that’s a reasonable expectation. Ultimately, the hard part isn’t getting the two systems to connect; data normalizing and field mapping are the aspects that require careful consideration and effort. When considering production planning and scheduling software, a shortlist of three potential vendors is usually adequate.
Step 4: Request Demos, Pricing, and Proposals
Whoever is leading the software selection process should get organized and drive the process of requesting demos, pricing, and proposals. Often a manufacturing company will do this internally, but just as often, companies look to a consulting firm to assist or guide the process. Either way, this is yet another stage during which the requirements list is an critical tool. Ask software vendors to demo the solution against the list of the key requirements; this ensures you'll see the things most important to your company and not just the coolest features the vendor wants to show. This approach also ensures that all vendors on the shortlist have an opportunity to address the things most important to your organization.
Step 5: Understand Implementation, Integration, Training, and Support Options
Even if a top-three production planning software package has all the right features, it might not be available in a format that’s acceptable to your company’s IT department. Or, your preferred package might not integrate with your ERP system in an "out of the box" fashion. These questions, along with the availability of training and support, are critical considerations for every organization. For example, even if a solution doesn’t have instant integration with your company’s ERP, it doesn’t mean that option is off the table. It only means that you’ll need to understand the cost to integrate them and decide if that price tag is worth it, given the expected gains. Including the implementation, integration, training, and support options and their costs is a key component of the software decision-making process.
When to Hire a Production Scheduling Software Expert
Most production planning professionals don’t have software implementation experience. Even companies with a robust operations technology team may need help implementing a smart manufacturing like production scheduling. This is where a systems implementation and integration consulting company can help you make progress faster, ensure the solution and the data works for your team as required, and that your company gets the results it expects for the investment. Furthermore, the right systems integrator will have more than just the technical muscle to implement production scheduling software: it will have proven strength to understand your business objectives, help you decide if production scheduling software is right for your business, related industry experience, proven project management best practices and tools, and depth of expertise to capture and apply data from a wide variety of disparate sources.
The best consulting firms have a strict vendor-agnostic posture to bring unbiased, independent thinking to client projects. Ultimately, a consulting firm with experience across many planning and scheduling platforms can help you view your situation through a fresh lens. The ideal consulting partner will go beyond helping you choose the best production scheduling software for your manufacturing company and provide expert implementation and integration services for your new system.