Microsoft Project is a tool for managing any sort of business project, including product planning. Whether you want to prep for a new product launch or retool your production schedule, MS Project helps map out the process and can adjust to unexpected developments. Production planning has different needs than other business projects, but MS Project is still a useful tool for the process.
Scheduling production is one of the challenges of project manufacturing: deciding which job to run on each machine at what time, then making adjustments if machines break down, customers tighten the deadlines or the machines don't work as fast as expected. With MS Project, managers can schedule more than 3,000 operations for several hundred orders with different delivery deadlines and break down the schedule so that everyone knows his specific work assignment. It's possible to do this by hand, but nowhere near as easily.
Project Planning Differences
Work in MS Project typically involves a start date, an end date and a critical path mapping out the tasks that have to be done. Production planning is different: Tasks and production jobs constantly overlap, so there's no fixed start or stopping point. Different batches of products have different deadlines. ProCAM, a production-scheduling consultant, solved the problem on one job by starting all production over in MS Project each day. The consultants wipe out the previous day's schedule each morning and restart scheduling based on the work that still needs to be done.
Even if a manufacturer suddenly needs extra workers, she may not be able to use them. If every machine is working to capacity, for instance, no job may be available for extra staff to help with. Resource smoothing or leveling is a method of adjusting so that the demands on resources -- machines, materials, staff -- flow evenly throughout the production process. According to ProCAM, MS Project is inefficient at resource leveling, so manufacturers should consider using other software in conjunction with Project if resource leveling is important.
By giving management tighter control of the schedule, MS Project makes it easier to reschedule jobs. If a customer requires a rush job, managers can use Project to analyze the workflow and find resources they can divert. Schedules show employees with free time which jobs can use added manpower, resulting in greater efficiency. Operating costs go down, more orders meet their deadlines and customers have more confidence that the factory will deliver what their requests.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.