Good Design Is Key to ROI

APS benefits & ROI tied directly to design process and software selected

Mike Liddell, CEO of Lean Scheduling International and Author of “The Little Blue Book on Scheduling”

Despite the fact that many Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) systems fail miserably, manufacturers are starting to understand that this exciting technology is starting to deliver phenomenal results. It appears that those who successfully implement APS go on to reap exceptional rewards and dominate their competition.

If we take a step back and look at the last twenty years, we can see a predictable trend. ERP vendors have been promising manufacturers that their software will drastically reduce inventories and spike vast productivity improvements. But, to be brutally honest these benefits rarely, if ever, materialize. However, the good news is that recent improvements in APS technology are starting to deliver even more than they promise… sometimes a great deal more. In recent years we have consistently seen improvements to productivity, on-time and inventory. Many times, these improvements are at least 25%.

After almost 20 years dedicated to implementing APS solutions, we now know what it takes to be successful… it is no longer a mystery. When it comes to reducing the time it takes to implement APS and the chances of failure, the two factors that have the biggest impact are a good design process and the selection of the APS software. If you get either one of these wrong, we can tell you, with absolute certainty, that your project is doomed to failure. The good news is that a good design process should make the software selection much easier. But what does a good design process mean?

Good Design Process Critical

Most APS implementations failures can be traced back to one or more confused objectives. Because there has always been a great deal of confusion about APS, few executives have a clear vision of how APS can help them and they don’t have the ability to articulate that vision to those who need to know. This is a problem because APS impacts so many functional areas.  Each functional area needs to know the role they will play in the new system. They need to know “what´s in it for them” and what they will be expected to do.

Creating a solid, realistic set of expectations for each functional area is extremely difficult but without it you open the door to chaos and confusion. Throughout the design process we use the 80/20 principal to identify ways of keeping it simple and delivering the most benefits in the shortest amount of time.

The first thing to understand is the best APS software is not something you can just plug in and turn on because the world of scheduling just doesn´t work that way. In the world of scheduling you are dealing with constant change, so you need a set of tools specifically designed to solve scheduling problems. It is no different than building a house, because you will always be limited by the capability of your tool set.

The critical take away here is to understand that, at the detail level, the way you manufacture is different than everyone else and the chances are that it will be constantly changing. Finite Capacity scheduling software must be able to model at the detail level otherwise it will never work. Although you share basic concepts with other manufacturers, it is the details that make you unique and why you need a tool that can model your world at the detail level.

You Are Unique

Your processes are unique, your data is unique, and it is impossible to create a detailed plan without a deep understanding of both these issues. An extra hour spent at this time can potentially save you several days or even weeks going down the wrong path.

Next you need to be clear about what you absolutely require, what you would like to have, and what you can´t have, at least in the short term. When done right, the payback is massive and relatively quick (usually 2 to 6 months). When done wrong there is no payback.

Too many APS systems fail because somebody in the organization becomes obsessed with optimization when in many cases this is not even possible. In the scheduling world, the search for perfection is always the enemy of a good business solution.

The design must include ways to measure progress. Measurable results will be the only defense you have to fight off those who don´t want change. It goes without saying that the design process needs to find the right person to drive the project because the wrong person will doom the project to failure.

The last major reason you need a good design document is to keep you on track. You will most certainly be tempted from time to time to add functionality during the project. But if your original objective was valid and well thought out, you risk extending the project and causing confusion. By keeping it simple and realistic you will complete the project, deliver measurable results and lay the foundation for the next phase.

You can find more about this topic and others in Mike Liddell´s book “The Little Blue Book on Scheduling”. Or contact Mike at mliddell@lean-scheduling.com.

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