Tools for Master Scheduling: Hug Your Master Scheduler Part Two

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In part one of this blog

we determined that the Master Scheduler has a challenging job with Master Scheduling, but you may be thinking that ERP system you’ve spent millions on buying and implementing must make the Master Scheduler’s job so simple it’s as easy as pushing a button, right? Well… not so fast. Traditional ERP systems are notoriously difficult to customize. If you want to perform your MPS process the exact way your ERP vendor has designed their ERP module, you might be OK. But if everyone does their process the exact same way, where is your competitive advantage? The reality is that every company has unique requirements and no one implementation can meet those needs without some customization. And ERP customization is expensive. Very expensive. Typical ERP systems don’t allow you to simply try something out before committing it to production. The ERP idea of simulation is copying the database to another machine and running it there… several hours later you might be able to do some scenarios. Even if you could try something out, you don’t know the impact of what you’ve tried until you’ve explored that change all the way through your supply chain. If the change you are thinking of making will cause an overload on a constraint that is defined on another ERP instance at a different site, you won’t know there is a problem until you start executing. And then it’s too late. Your ERP system has the capability to do rough cut capacity planning. That should help, right? Well, yes, rough cut capacity planning is better than nothing and it can give you some hints as to where problems might be. It does this by having you create “representative routings” that boil very complex routing and bill of material information into an approximation of key resource and key material needs. You see where this is going, right? You can have a perfectly achievable plan based on rough cut capacity planning and still not have a plan you can actually execute because you don’t have insight into the detailed realities of your supply chain. Combine all this with the fact that managing any data in an ERP system is a cumbersome, part-by-part process and there is no wonder that many of the Master Schedulers resort to building complex models in Excel to do their jobs. Except… Excel is not the answer either. As has been commented on previously, while Excel can be effective for one-off analysis, Excel is error prone, non-collaborative and no matter how good you are at modelling, you simply cannot represent the true complexity of supply chain in a spreadsheet. So, what is the answer? Effective management of the master schedule requires a tool that has several key characteristics;

  •  Scenarios – This simply refers to the ability to create a copy of your data in-memory in less time than it takes to click a mouse. No, really! Imagine if you had a supply chain planning problem you wanted to solve and were given a tool that allowed you to try three different approaches – each in their own copy of the entire supply chain database. You can make any changes you want at any level and see the impact those changes will have on your supply chain.
  •  Full supply chain logic and data – The scenario idea sounds pretty good. Now imagine that you have data from all of the ERP systems in your supply chain, regardless of the version, or even the ERP brand. Also imagine that the unique analytics within each of those environments could be replicated. Now, if you make a change in one of your scenarios you have the ability to see in detail what the impact of that change would be. Remember that problem we had above with the capacity at a different plant with a different ERP system. With a system like this, we would have seen that issue at the time we were evaluating our options – before any money was spent, before any work was started.
  •  Extremely fast, in-memory data model and analytics – Ok, so the scenario idea with all your data sounds pretty cool. But your ERP system takes hours to crank through its analysis. This tool must take that long too, right? Nope! Now imagine that this system I’ve been describing leverages a unique in-memory data model and analytics. Imagine making a demand change and instantly seeing the impact on a constrained resource at a different plant (one that uses a different ERP vendor) in seconds. That would change the way you do planning, wouldn’t it?
  •  Tools to evaluate options – Ok, so now we have our three scenarios, we’ve tried our three different approaches, and the tool calculated the impact to the entire supply chain in each of the three scenarios. But that’s a lot of data to sift through, right? How do you know what changed and where?  What changes matter, what’s just noise? To be effective, you need the ability to compare each of these scenarios against key corporate metrics and make decisions based on how well each of the approaches align to those goals.
  •  Configurable resources – Each company has their own way of doing things. In some cases it’s a process that has grown organically and that everyone is comfortable with, but in others your process is a strategic advantage that you must protect. The same tool doesn’t fit every company. You need a tool that is flexible enough that it can be customized by the same smart people that built those Excel models and at the same time has the ability to be locked down so your carefully crafted, differentiated process can be maintained.
  • Collaboration – An effective Master Scheduler can’t exist in a vacuum (for physical and metaphorical reasons). They need to work with others to fully explore possible options that are beyond the responsibility of the Master Scheduler. Imagine if you wanted to explore the possibility of expediting a purchased item. Imagine being able to identify the buyer responsible for that item and with the click of a button share the scenario and contextual information that would allow that buyer to understand exactly what you needed and why.
  •  Alerting and notification – The Master Scheduler is a very busy person and can’t be effective if they have to continuously monitor every part they are responsible for. Getting notification of every change and supply delay isn’t effective either because many of those delays don’t actually result in any meaningful change to customer demand or other key metrics. Imagine if rather than monitoring changes, the Master Scheduler only monitored the impact of those changes – and could receive notifications only if those changes resulted in negative impacts to key metrics – such as inventory, capacity or customer delivery. Now they are managing by exception – focusing time on the things that matter.
So, have you hugged your Master Scheduler yet?

 (I thought we were going to stop and do that back up at the top… oh well, the Master Scheduler’s job is tough enough without a lot of socially awkward hugging getting in the way). I think you can see the challenges that a typical Master Scheduler faces. And I think we’d agree that the Master Scheduler is key to the effective functioning of your business. If your Master Scheduler had tools that could make them much more effective, what impact would that have on your business?

Have I represented all the challenges facing the Master Scheduler today? What additional challenges do you see Master Schedulers having to deal with? How do you address these challenges? Comment back and let us know!

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