Archives for category: scheduling

Scary meetings come in various flavors. The ones I remember most are the ones that I am not prepared for, the other team members aren’t prepared for and the ones that nothing gets done

The meetings I have not been prepared for come in two varieties. The ones that I am invited to but have very little pre-work or information. In this case I try to ask questions that get me up to speed. I also search the room for the dynamics of the team. The other ones are the ones that I should have done the pre-work and didn’t. In that case, I still try to get more information and also a little more time. This is very uncomfortable and because of this, I try not to get into this position.

When there are meetings that the rest of the team is underprepared, I reiterate what the meeting was for and find out when they will have the information. After knowing this and acknowledging the miss we had on this meeting and set up the next one. If this happens twice, I should be moving up the chain but I usually wallow for another meeting or two before I bring in someone else. This is probably my pride getting in the way of progress.

The worst one is the one that after an hour and a half nothing is decided, there is no insight into the deeper issues, and nothing is resolved. This happens when it is not clear on what the purpose of the meeting is and there should not be any FYI meetings.

For all the bad press, I have been in good meetings and led a few as well. The scary meeting are usually caused by no clear agenda, unprepared participants and vague or no set goals.

 

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Nothing hurts plans and processes like change. Well, there may be another one. That is the illusion of knowing the future. Having a forecast is almost always helpful. It is when you believe that it is the future that it becomes an issue. One area that is very relevant is in sales and production organizations is mix and volume, especially when looking near the end of a product life cycle or limited time offers.

Mix can always mess up the works for a site or sales organization. When mix changes in manufacturing, it can mean that the products that were easy and high margin are now difficult and though the margin may seem higher, the conversion cost per unit or raw material costs go up as well. Can Continuous Improvement, CI, help? Maybe but it will also need engineering, CapEx, and other support to protect the facility from the next “great idea.”

Volume is another item that CI will need more support. When volume is greater than 120%, there are certainly CI projects that can help, especially related to Standard Work and basic troubleshooting skills that can ramp up new employees quicker than traditional OJT. What happens when you are 80% of plan? That is more difficult. The business needs to be flexible to the change in volume and CI projects should keep employees finishing projects and making improvements as long as possible before “right sizing” the workforce. This takes some discipline and rules for making the right choice.

Continuous Improvement can help mitigate impacts of volume and mix but the process needs a commitment to the process and help along the way when the market or the business changes. Changes come in various forms but volume and mix can make or break a site or process. CI will need all the organizations resources to move fast enough to mitigate changes and support the process when things look the worst.

I have worked with a company related to TPM and engineering activities. While I was doing this, unknown to me, they were also moving from a localized forecast and scheduling model to a centralized model. I started asking questions when site after site I went to had inventory in the production areas, outside warehouses, and Lunch rooms. Well, the last one’s a stretch but anyway I started asking about the issue. I figured the move to central forecasting was obvious since everyone was filling up but I was surprised about the central scheduling part. Corporate governance was driving a schedule attainment metric (moving from a day to hours) may make sense in some situations but it was creating havoc in the warehouse and operation side.

I get trying to save money on SKU level forecasts out 12 to 14 weeks. Using the resources that are doing that should be used to find better signals and help the plant react or produce at the rate of consumption , not predict the future. But at least give the local sales and marketing group as well as scheduling the ability to change the schedule appropriate for what they are seeing. Taleb in Anti-Fragile, discusses this phenomenon in depth and what I take from it is two-fold. Some items are not scalable. Going from sales reps who are talking directly with the direct customers, they come up with fancy algorithyms. My first question is how much better is your system compared to naïve or other simple models run on a smart spreadsheet?

The other issue brought up by Taleb is when one makes a system bigger, the bigger the errors. This may seem simple but it actually gets worse mathematically as connections cross disparate fields. This makes risk management not just difficult but bordering on the impossible.

What is the knee jerk reaction to this inventory growth? I have seen the following:

Sales gets pushed to make the numbers either now or in future periods / quarters.

Operations get shuddered at some point due to low market demand to plan. Read Reality did not line up with the guesses.

CapEx gets squeezed, either from the infrastructure or productivity budget. The emergency CapEx balloons as the creative writing begins.

Discount the stuff that the customer didn’t want anyway.

Tweak the math in the black box so that it “better” predicts the future.

I have not seen a company dismantle the system they are currently using for forecasting for a simpler model. I have had sales / sites / and mid-level leadership to go do what they want instead of worrying about what is coming out of the black box.

I am a grown-up and know that companies, even small ones, have to spend some portion of their time forecasting demand. I would use the simplest model that got 60-70% of the demand and then use tribal knowledge or local expertise to tweak as see fit and let operations work with scheduling to make the most of their operations.