Supply chain executives aren't just asking, "What is COE" … They’ve seen how other companies have successfully created a center of excellence (COE) to maximize the impact of their digital transformation. Manufacturers have used these COE’s as a unified way to set standards, drive continuous improvement, provide ongoing training, and cultivate innovation across the global enterprise. Given the success of these initiatives, supply chain leaders are urging their own company to apply this same concept to production scheduling. A center of excellence (COE) for production scheduling is a cross-functional collaboration to establish best practices and maximize the value of digitalization investments. However, the dialogue and efforts aren’t strictly limited to how to use the production scheduling platform. Manufacturers with a production scheduling COE focus on driving enterprise business results by:
- Aligning people, processes, and technology;
- Reducing deployment time and burden on resources
- Accelerating time-to-value of technology investments; and
- Achieving incremental change and performance.
Creating a center of excellence for production scheduling is more than just organizing subject experts. Gathering the right people and setting a vision for broad enterprise scheduling excellence is just the beginning of a production scheduling COE endeavor. A company can position its scheduling COE for long-term success by adopting a progressive lifecycle: each phase builds on the success of preceding activities. Let’s explore one approach to this COE lifecycle, the five phases, and the kinds of activities and results that you want to drive:
- Establish a foundation for an effective COE
- Focus first on schedule optimization
- Accelerate scheduling cadence
- Expand production scheduling horizon
- Sustain enthusiasm for ongoing improvement
Establish a Foundation for an Effective COE
A good foundation for your production scheduling center of excellence helps it drive results and avoid becoming a "flavor of the day" or useless initiative. It's not enough to name all the COE members; define their roles and contribution by asking a few questions:
- Who is the designated lead?
- Who is the executive sponsor?
- Do we need representatives from other disciplines? (for example, demand planning, supply planning, inventory planning, S&OP, business system/ERP team, and IT, to name a few)
- Do we need a scheduling professional from each global region or business unit?
- How often should the COE meet, and what is the typical agenda?
Getting the roles right will help the COE secure funding and executive support for change. The first order of business for the newly formed team is creating a charter and setting expectations for the COE. Your charter might include some elements from the following example:
The production scheduling COE will drive incremental change and performance. It is a focal point to manage knowledge: it captures, evaluates, tests, and refines new knowledge and practices from across the business enterprise and beyond the four walls. It aims to establish best practices for the production scheduling discipline and arm local planners and schedulers with the skills and knowledge to carry out the best practices. It's also a centralized body of expertise for problem-solving.
The production scheduling center of excellence exists to make the most of resources – specifically, people and the production scheduling platform. Each COE team member brings unique perspective and experience to the table, while the collective's focus is improving expertise and competency in production scheduling throughout the enterprise. Ultimately, COE strategy, resources, management/oversight, and perceived/delivered value will all affect COE success.
Focus First on Schedule Optimization
If your company is establishing a production scheduling COE, it’s probably starting to implement a production scheduling platform. Our systems engineers and supply chain consultants almost always recommend a phased approach to learning, using, and solving problems with the new scheduling system, but it’s not always apparent why.
A robust production scheduling system usually has comprehensive capabilities to solve many problems. Production schedulers using spreadsheets or homegrown systems often resist learning or using a scheduling platform, usually with good reason! There are so many capabilities and advanced features that it can initially seem overwhelming. Also, depending on which scheduling brand or platform your company selected, the rules processing and calculations happen behind the scenes, which might seem different to your scheduler (even though it’s based on rules and constraints they helped define).
Schedule optimization is the perfect place to begin the learning path [see how schedule optimization works in this YouTube video] because it automates and speeds up the most tedious and cumbersome aspects of the production scheduler’s day: shuffling jobs around on the production schedule to conform to rules, constraints, current conditions, and production requirements. Success in this phase has a tremendous impact on system adoption. However, failing during this phase could delay time-to-value or, worse, waste the investment.
Accelerate Scheduling Cadence
As a production scheduler transitions from manual scheduling to schedule optimization with an automated system, they can produce a better schedule in less time. The center of excellence can begin gathering and testing ways to improve schedule cadence – from monthly to weekly, weekly to daily, then on-demand as conditions and needs change.
The center of excellence also partners with each production scheduler to determine how to shift their focus to more strategic work. Because it takes less time to create and publish the production schedule, they have more time to apply their expertise to advanced work like creating and testing scenarios for material planning, supply planning, demand planning, and vendor management.
Expand Production Scheduling Horizon
Depending on the kind of manufacturing and the factory’s planning and scheduling needs, production schedulers find that they can do even more to apply their expertise. The next phase of the COE lifecycle is extending the schedule horizon with an accurate schedule.
If the schedule horizon was previously one to two days, can they now schedule for up to a week into the future? What is the impact on operations and the business if they can accurately create the schedule for two, four, or more weeks into the future?
Sustain Enthusiasm for Ongoing Improvement
The production scheduling center of excellence is a practical way to:
- Standardize production scheduling best practices, metrics, and goals;
- Drive adoption;
- Cross-train schedulers;
- Create collaboration and assistance across sites;
- Gather learnings and create a positive feedback loop;
- Provide training, help, and resources;
- Establish or contribute to the feedback loop for manufacturing processes and business processes; and
- Provide thought leadership and direction.
After system implementation, the production scheduling COE becomes a driver for continuous improvement. It fosters ongoing collaboration and innovation and challenges production schedulers to solve even more complex problems using their expertise and the scheduling platform.
Establishing a COE around production scheduling is easier if your company already has a culture of collaboration. However, a company with a somewhat less collaborative environment can still succeed in creating an effective production scheduling center of excellence. It simply means that the COE leader and executive sponsors should recognize the realities of their unique company culture and take proactive steps to address or avoid potential pitfalls like competitive postures, negative attitudes, or even language or regional barriers. If supply chain leaders seeking to form a COE can assess and articulate the impact of the COE across the organization, executive buy-in and support can pave the way to overcome nearly any other obstacle – and will drive up the value and results the COE seeks to deliver.