What Is the Difference Between Planning & Scheduling?

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Scheduling depends on planning. Before you can work out the final logistics regarding who is going to do the work and when it will be done, you first need to have all the elements in place so the project will flow smoothly without wasted time or effort. Planning lays the groundwork, while scheduling gets the job done.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

The difference between planning and scheduling is that planning addresses what will be done and how it will happen, while scheduling addresses who will do it and when.

Planning and Scheduling Jobs

Some companies integrate the jobs and functions of planning and scheduling in a single position. There are merits to this approach because a scheduler can't fully grasp when it's time to have personnel on the floor without also having firsthand information about when the puzzle pieces are in place so the work can move forward.

However, some aspects of planning and scheduling don't overlap. Elements of the planning process can involve skills and expertise such as purchasing and research and development. On the scheduling side, there are human resources and budget considerations such as which workers are available and when they begin to incur overtime.

When the responsibilities of planning and scheduling are integrated into a single position, there should be ongoing collaboration and communication between the planner and scheduling and co-workers who are more closely involved in the day-to-day details that affect both the overall plan and the weekly and daily schedules.

Planning and Scheduling Software

There are plenty of programs available to help you through the planning and scheduling processes, including Microsoft Project and Google Calendar. These programs provide templates that help you lay out and organize tasks and see timelines and schedules. However, planning and scheduling can't always be captured with a program that takes a one-size-fits-all approach, so many companies use programs like Excel to design custom work plans and schedules.

One potential difficulty with planning and scheduling software is that the details of a project may change once it's underway, especially if a company uses a lean manufacturing approach that emphasizes ongoing learning and adaptation. With such an approach, the strength of planning and scheduling software lies in its capacity to reflect adjustments that are made while work is in progress and to carry through the consequences of these changes for steps down the line.

Coordinating Planning and Scheduling

When planning and scheduling are seamlessly integrated, work flows as smoothly as possible, and everyone knows what he is supposed to do and when he is supposed to do it. When these two processes aren't well coordinated, individuals and equipment may be scheduled for double duty, or they may be scheduled in theory when they don't have the parts or resources they need to proceed. To effectively coordinate planning and scheduling:

  • Make sure all parts and resources are in place before scheduling personnel and equipment. Workers should have what they need to get the job done, or they should be scheduled to do something else.

  • Avoid overlap and redundancies. If two departments need to use the same machines, some employees will be standing around waiting for others to finish rather than doing work that will move the job forward. If two departments are tasked with completing the same work, you may have more than you need of some parts and not enough of others.

  • Plan for contingencies. It's a pretty safe bet that something along the line won't go precisely as you planned. The more flexible your plan and schedule, the better you'll be able to switch gears as circumstances unfold.

  • Communicate your work plan effectively. If your team knows what is expected of them, they'll be able to complete work on schedule, and if they don't understand the timing and expectations, they'll just be flying blind. Communicate both the initial plan and changes that are introduced along the way.