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Featured Story 1: Cherry Picking Your Way To The Top
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Story 1: Cherry Picking Your Way to the Top

This story is copyrighted by Spectrum Publishing. All requests to use it must be addressed to info@spectrum-pub.com

 THE STORY:  Susan was sitting through her third demo this month for scheduling software.  She was starting to get nervous because all three systems looked similar.  Upon accepting the promotion, she knew she had to get the shop under control or she would lose her job.
The previous Manager of Production Planning was fired over the fiasco where their biggest customer went to a competitor because he was fed up with late deliveries.  All the material for that last order was in the shop at the beginning of the month, but they just couldn't ship the completed parts in the promised three weeks.  As usual, it took more than five weeks, but they had always accepted that in the past.  Well, management looked for someone to blame and it turned out to be Jim.
Susan couldn't understand why the schedule seemed out of control two weeks into the month, and how any of the software systems could control it.  Customers would be yelling that if they didn't get their orders right away they would cancel them, so other orders would have to be moved out of the way.  Inventory and tooling were piled all over the shop and it took extra time later to find it.  Machines seemed to be running at breakneck speed with lots of overtime, yet products were never ready on time.  "Hopefully one of these systems will be a silver bullet and fix everything," she thought. "Yeah, right.  I've heard that before."
Before buying the software, Susan decided to investigate what was actually happening.  At the first operation, the operator was working on something that was scheduled for next week.  When she asked him why he was working on that one and not the next one in line, he said he was saving a setup.  He also volunteered a thank you for opening the window to four weeks so that he could do two other jobs and save a couple more setups.  "Why did we open the window?" she asked.  "We know what to run better than scheduling does," he said.
She also discovered that they bought a new press and that in order to get the efficiency numbers to the point where they could recover the cost of the machine, they had to open the lookout window from two weeks to four.  This would allow them to increase their units/hour and have less indirect labor.  The sight of the machine horrified her though because she saw late orders sitting in piles all around the machine.  "How am I going to schedule around this mess?" Susan asked herself.  "Even if I can, how long will it last?"

DISCUSSION:  What Susan was discovering was that each operator had the freedom to choose which order to run from the rolling four week schedule (which used to be two weeks).  What she also found was that each operator picked jobs to run according to his own taste within the general guidelines of how he was measured (i.e. efficiency, earned hours, variances, etc.).
The result was that since there was no coordination between operators as to which job each one worked on, there was no way to predict with any accuracy when a particular order would be completed.  She also realized that the schedule was nothing more than a listing of the jobs available for cherry picking.  Since each person was only held accountable to the work he did at his operation, the fact that some customers' orders were late was not important at any particular operation, and was treated only as a problem that everyone "was working on".  Susan saw herself in a no win situation:  if she forced everyone to adhere to the schedule daily, variance reports would go haywire; if she brought in software to automate the scheduling, the cherry picking would continue and the late deliveries would persist.  Unless she could get everyone (from Customer Service to the President) to leave the schedule alone, she was in trouble.

THOUGHT:  There is no magic pill.  How can software model your shop if you can't?  Think back when you installed other software products.  Your expectations were high.  The company that wrote the software sent in their people to help you get it on line.  Then they asked your people for the information to fill in the logic.  Didn't you think that was what the software was supposed to do?  Slowly but surely, your expectations were lowered.  If you think about it, software is written to work in many different kinds of companies.  It doesn't know your plant from anyone else's; it doesn't know your culture, management philosophy, material issues, or anything else.  It assumes you know what you are doing and then it can help you keep track of what you expect to happen.
What you will find is that if you continue to let operators pick and choose what jobs to work on and measure them on their individual productivity, a technology answer like a scheduling package will fail in the real world.  Unless a change in the management approach to customer concerns is embraced, things will remain the same.

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