Planning is all about making choices!

Planning will always be a thorny issue. Questions like, how is the planning going? Am I adjusting it on time? What if this order experiences a delay? If I am sick, can my colleague take over my work? I could have created an even longer list of questions, but I think I’ve made my point; these are questions that you come across at most (manufacturing) companies. As an ERP supplier, I am often accused of ERP not being a planning package, which is actually rather strange. In essence, ERP is a calculator that, according to needs, works out both what has to happen to fulfil the purpose, taking into account the availability of materials, available capacity and a whole host of parameters by means of which planning, the warehouse, shipping, etc. are supplied on time, in order to be able to fulfil the final need. I totally understand that the perception of planning brings out the best in many people when they see a graphic planning board (Gantt chart). Colourful bars with information that can be moved about using the Drag & Drop feature. All of this in order to manually influence an existing schedule, for progress monitoring or event, something which we saw in the past at a car garage, a card index file of the order that had to be fulfilled. A list of jobs (i.e. a handful of cards) that were neatly inserted on the correct day of the week and/or time of the day for the right mechanic. In the past, these types of tools were offered separately, in addition to an ERP system. These packages were known as ‘Best of Breed‘! The trick was to, from MRP, interface the proposed requirements plan and orders with the planning package, in which the final detailed schedule could be created and, once a completed notification has been received, to interface this with the correct information. Mmmm … you often see that this planning tool has a close relationship with an MES system (Manufacturing Execution System), but I will write about that in a future blog, because you could write an entire book about MES. A fix for all problems The difficult thing about an interfaced package is, of course, always the amount of information that has to be interchanged. And is this information real-time? Do people who require information about the schedule have to log into the planning package? Or are they able to retrieve this from their ERP system in which they work every day? What about a sales staff member who wants to see how his urgent order is coming along. Today you see that increasingly more ERP systems have included the functionality of being able to plan graphically. In this case, the interface is no longer required and the information can be viewed real-time by all staff. Great step forwards! With this system, the link to the requisite material supplies or availability is available, whereas a stand-alone planning package would usually not take into account material constraints.

If you have to decide whether to re-automate your planning, or, through an ERP upgrade, improve your production facilities, I think it is important to think about what can be expected of a package. Think of examples of stand-alone versus integrated. Graphical plans are sometimes interpreted as the ‘fix for all problems’ for planning-related problems. “I am now able to see exactly what effect it will have on everything else if I move an order.” This may be partly true, but if you process or plan an average of 100 orders a day, this can be quite problematic in terms of displaying the information. You might benefit from the functionality that allows you to see just the exceptions. You don’t want to become ‘exhausted’ by being able to to see the processes that are going well.


All in all, research is needed before a planning tool is introduced and it is important that you are clear what purpose the schedule must serve. It may be the case that different tools have to be used for different situations. I have seen many companies enthusiastically start to use the most advanced planning tool, which is able to provide you with information and recommendations based on all sorts of constraints. Ultimately, this resulted in this tool only occasionally being used, or not being used at all, for the simple reason that setting up constraints, managing the tool, confidence in an interface or the black box was unsuccessful. The Mercedes CLS might be a fantastic car to drive, but what if you want to transport refrigerators? The Vito will then probably be of more use. Familiar??