Skip to main content
  1. Learn
  2. Project management
  3. Posts
  4. What is production scheduling, and why is it important?

What is production scheduling, and why is it important?

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

May 21, 2024

We’re so used to going to the store and seeing the stuff we need in abundance because, over time, manufacturers have gotten very good at getting the right materials in, manufacturing on time, anticipating demand, and shipping it off to the store. When you do see empty shelves, it’s usually because someone has struggled with procuring materials or work orders — or there’s been a natural disaster or pandemic. It’s nearly impossible to predict certain events, but for everything else, there’s production scheduling. It’s a handy process that helps your business meet customer demand more efficiently.

What is production scheduling?

A production schedule lists every single product that’ll be manufactured, including where and when they’ll be made. Creating a production schedule includes every detail, from raw materials to logistics. It also incorporates various processes designed to make production run smoothly while helping managers spot potential issues — like bottlenecks — and stop them before they explode into something bigger. For this reason, it’s a flexible, changeable document that you’ll need to update and check regularly.

The production schedule helps managers plan ahead and also serves as a line of communication between the production and sales teams. Sales inform the manufacturing team about the levels of demand, and manufacturers tell sales when the product is ready.

What is a production schedule used for?

The production schedule is a versatile and important document for planning, forecasting, predicting, and meeting demand. It helps keep your operations working on time and under budget, which helps you keep your commitment to your customers. Its main functions include:

  • Planning: Predicting demand and matching that to labor, materials, and equipment capacity
  • Scheduling: Assigning workers and detailing contingency plans for when unexpected delays happen
  • Stockout prevention: Planning to maintain output, even if materials are delayed or a swell in orders increases demand
  • Improved efficiency: Spotting bottlenecks and looking for areas of improvement — resulting in improved lead times and smoother demand flows
  • Improved communication: With one master document detailing every element of the production workflow, communication is standardized across the entire business
  • Utilizing production scheduling software: Automating scheduling tasks, optimizing resource allocation, and providing real-time visibility into production activities

How to create a production scheduling process

Your production schedule is a big, evolving thing, and without a formal process in place, it could become unruly. Various production scheduling techniques, such as Infinite and Finite Capacity Planning, can be employed to enhance the process.

Here are five key steps to follow.

1. Planning

Begin with your demand plan. How much raw material will you need, and when? You can do two types of planning here: static and dynamic. Static planning assumes nothing will change, whereas dynamic planning assumes everything could change. Both involve collecting information about resources, timelines, and team availability.

A master production schedule can help link demand determined by sales to the company’s production capacity, ensuring timely delivery of products.

2. Routing

Identify where your raw materials will come from and how they’ll be delivered to your production or manufacturing team, with a focus on the most cost-effective route.

3. Scheduling

Develop a schedule that sets out how you’ll meet requirements — including contingency plans.

  • Create a master schedule that encompasses the entire process, from start to finish.
  • Set up a manufacturing schedule that covers raw material routing.
  • Plan a retail schedule that covers how products move from manufacturing to the shelf or eCommerce store.
  • Implement lean manufacturing principles to optimize production scheduling, maximize efficiency, and minimize costs.

4. Communicating

Share the production schedule with everyone involved and make sure it’s understood.

5. Dispatching

Plot the process of items and people moving around — including when and where throughout the entire process. Effective dispatching ensures that the production line operates smoothly, with tasks and resources allocated efficiently.

6. Execution

This is the process of putting your plan into action.

7. Maintenance

Keep your schedule updated regularly as demand changes.

What to include in your production schedule

Your production schedule will include these elements:

  • A product inventory that lists all of the products you make
  • A variation sublist (size, color, type)
  • Demand and delivery dates
  • Production quantities (the number of units you’ll produce each week)

The benefits of using a production schedule

Your production scheduling will help with demand planning, supply, and your customers’ changing needs. It should also help you better anticipate the ebb and flow of work and give you a framework to use when things don’t go quite as planned.

Here’s a summary of what your production schedule does:

  • Gives you an inventory of your entire stock, so you always know what you have and where you need to replenish items
  • Helps HR know in advance how many staff you’ll need at any given time
  • Allows you to navigate risks and prevent issues from bringing production to a standstill.
  • Avoids stockouts because you know how much raw material you have, how long production will take, and how much you’ll need.
  • Optimizes the manufacturing process by coordinating tasks and resources effectively.

How to optimize your production schedule

Your production schedule will be a large document that you will regularly update. Not only that, but multiple people will need to be told about that change as soon as it happens. Advanced techniques and tools, such as finite capacity scheduling and Gantt charts, can be used to optimize production schedules.

Here are some tips on how best to manage that:

Create a dynamic schedule

Flexibility is the name of the game, so make sure you create your schedule using something that’s easy to edit in real time. Project management software is the gold standard here, and wiki features are also helpful.

Prioritize tasks according to delivery dates:

Your schedule might prioritize an order that’s due in two days’ time, but if you know there’s an order due in 10 days and it won’t make its deadline if you don’t see to it now, then focus on that first. Having a dynamic schedule makes it easier to reprioritize those orders.

Use project management tools

With a project management tool, you can create your schedule using a Gantt chart. This is essentially a virtual diagram that helps you schedule tasks and resources across a timeline. As the project evolves, individuals can enter their data, and the chart automatically updates in real-time — meaning everyone’s on the same page at once. If there are delays in raw materials or staff are off, the team can edit it, and the new data is turned into an updated schedule with recalculated times, costs, and other metrics. No more manual adjustments, no more update emails — just the entire team working like a well-oiled machine.

Best practices for production scheduling

  • Use real-time data: Ensure your production schedule is based on the most current information to improve accuracy.
  • Maintain flexibility: Be prepared to adjust your schedule as needed to accommodate changes and unexpected events.
  • Foster communication: Encourage regular communication between all departments involved in production to ensure everyone is aligned and informed.

Production planning vs. production scheduling

In manufacturing, both production planning and production scheduling are essential processes that ensure the efficient and timely production of goods. Although they are closely related and often overlap, they serve distinct purposes and involve different activities. Understanding the differences between these two processes is crucial for optimizing production operations.

Production planning

Production planning is the strategic process of organizing and optimizing all the elements required for manufacturing goods or services. It involves long-term decision-making and focuses on preparing for future production needs.

Key activities in production planning:

  • Demand Forecasting: Estimating future customer demand to align production capacity with market needs.
  • Resource Allocation: Determining the necessary raw materials, labor, and equipment required for production.
  • Capacity Planning: Ensuring that production capacity can meet anticipated demand without causing delays or bottlenecks.
  • Inventory Management: Managing inventory levels to ensure materials are available when needed while minimizing overstocking.
  • Quality Control: Implementing measures to maintain high-quality standards throughout the production process.

Production scheduling

Production scheduling is the tactical process of assigning specific tasks and resources to time slots within the production process. It focuses on the short-term execution of production plans and ensures that daily operations run smoothly.

Key activities in production scheduling include:

  • Allocating resources efficiently
  • Sequencing tasks to optimize workflow
  • Monitoring progress and making adjustments as needed
  • Utilizing production scheduling software: Automating scheduling tasks and providing real-time visibility into production activities

Key activities in production scheduling:

  • Task Assignment: Allocating specific tasks to workers and machinery.
  • Timeline Creation: Developing detailed schedules that outline when and where production activities will occur.
  • Contingency Planning: Preparing for unexpected delays and disruptions by creating backup plans.
  • Coordination: Ensuring that all production activities are synchronized to avoid bottlenecks and downtime.
  • Monitoring Progress: Tracking the progress of production tasks and making real-time adjustments as needed.

Key differences between production planning and production scheduling

  • Focus: Production planning is strategic and long-term, focusing on preparing for future production needs. Production scheduling is tactical and short-term, focusing on the day-to-day execution of production tasks.
  • Scope: Production planning encompasses the entire production process, including forecasting, resource allocation, and capacity planning. Production scheduling deals with the specific assignment of tasks and resources to time slots.
  • Flexibility: Production planning requires flexibility to adapt to changes in demand and market conditions. Production scheduling requires flexibility to handle unexpected delays and disruptions.
  • Output: The main output of production planning is a comprehensive plan that outlines how production will be managed over the long term. The main output of production scheduling is a detailed schedule that specifies the timing and sequence of production tasks.

Integrating production planning and production scheduling

To optimize manufacturing operations, it is essential to integrate production planning and production scheduling seamlessly. Here’s how:

  1. Develop a comprehensive production plan: Start with a strategic plan that includes demand forecasting, resource allocation, and capacity planning.
  2. Create detailed schedules: Break down the production plan into specific tasks and assign them to time slots.
  3. Utilize a free production schedule template: Use a free production schedule template to create efficient production plans and track inventory levels.
  4. Use project management tools: Leverage software tools like Gantt charts to manage and synchronize production planning and scheduling.
  5. Maintain flexibility: Ensure that both plans and schedules can be adjusted in real time to handle changes and disruptions.
  6. Foster communication: Keep all stakeholders informed and engaged to ensure the smooth execution of production activities.

By understanding and effectively managing production planning and scheduling, businesses can achieve greater efficiency, reduce costs, and more reliably meet customer demands.

What is a production timeline?

A production timeline is a crucial tool in both production planning and scheduling. It provides a visual representation of the entire production process from start to finish. It outlines the sequence of activities, key milestones, and deadlines, ensuring that all tasks are completed in a timely and organized manner.

This chronological chart maps out all the steps involved in the production process. It includes key events, deadlines, and milestones, giving a clear overview of how the production will unfold over time. Production timelines are often created using Gantt charts, which visually depict the start and end dates of each task, along with their dependencies.

Key components of a production timeline

  • Tasks: Individual activities that need to be completed during the production process.
  • Milestones: Significant events or checkpoints that mark the completion of critical phases.
  • Deadlines: Specific dates by which tasks or milestones must be completed.
  • Dependencies: Relationships between tasks that dictate the order in which they must be completed.
  • Resources: Allocation of labor, materials, and equipment required for each task.

How to create an effective production timeline

  1. Identify all tasks: List all the activities required to complete the production process.
  2. Determine dependencies: Identify relationships between tasks and the order in which they must be completed.
  3. Set milestones and deadlines: Establish key events and deadlines to track progress and ensure timely completion.
  4. Allocate resources: Assign labor, materials, and equipment to each task.
  5. Use project management tools: Utilize software tools like Gantt charts to create a visual representation of the timeline.
  6. Monitor and update regularly: Keep the timeline updated with real-time data to reflect changes and ensure the production stays on track.

Final thoughts

Production scheduling is a complex yet essential process that involves coordinating various tasks and resources to meet customer demand efficiently. By implementing a dynamic production schedule and using modern tools like project management software, businesses can improve their production processes, enhance communication, and ensure the timely delivery of products.

If you’re looking for a tool that offers more than a typical APS, that automatically updates schedules, sends out notifications, and operates in real time, then Backlog — our own project management software — may just be what you’re looking for. Give it a try today.

This post was originally published on September 17, 2021, and updated most recently on May 21, 2024.



Subscribe to our newsletter

Learn with Nulab to bring your best ideas to life