Business success often hinges on making the products that customers want in a timely and cost-effective way. Production planning helps companies achieve those goals. It maps out all of the processes, resources and steps involved in production, from forecasting demand to determining the raw materials, labor and equipment needed. Production planning helps companies build realistic production schedules, ensure production processes run smoothly and efficiently, and make adjustments to operations when problems occur.

What Is a Production Plan?

A production plan describes in detail how a company’s products and services will be manufactured. It spells out the production targets, required resources, processes and overall schedule. The plan also maps all of the operational steps involved and their dependencies. The goal is to design the most efficient way to make and deliver the company’s products at the desired level of quality. A well-designed production plan can help companies increase output and save money by developing a smoother workflow and reducing waste.

What Is Production Planning?

Production planning involves developing a comprehensive strategy for making the company’s products and services. Initially adopted by large manufacturers, production planning has since become more popular among small and midsize businesses in multiple industries — largely because technology has made it easier to plan and track production processes with less effort. Production planning covers many different aspects of production, from forecasting demand to determining the raw materials, workforce, equipment and steps needed to make the company’s products.

Production Planning vs. Production Scheduling

While production planning provides an overview of what the company plans to do, production scheduling creates a more detailed view of exactly how the company will do it. The production schedule describes when each step in the production plan will occur, as well as the workers, machinery and other specific resources assigned to the job. Production scheduling can be extremely complex, especially when there are many interdependent production steps and the company is making multiple products simultaneously. Production scheduling software can help businesses create complex schedules, monitor progress in real time and quickly make adjustments when necessary.

Key Takeaways

  • Production planning describes in detail how a company’s products and services will be manufactured.
  • A production plan defines the production targets, required resources and overall schedule, together with all the steps involved in production and their dependencies.
  • A well-designed production plan helps companies deliver products on time, reduce costs and respond to problems.
  • Technology has made it easier for small and midsize companies in multiple industries to use production planning to optimize operations.

Product Planning Explained

Production planning is a broad discipline that involves much more than a focus on manufacturing process efficiency. It is intertwined with nearly every other aspect of the business, including finance, sales, inventory and human resources. Production planning activities include demand forecasting to determine the right mix of products to meet customer needs, as well as selecting the optimal approach to building those products. Production planning also assesses the resources needed to meet production goals and lays out in detail all the operations in the production process. Production plans must include the flexibility to make operational adjustments when problems occur — such as machine breakdowns, staffing shortages and supply-chain problems.

Why Is Production Planning Important?

A well-constructed production plan can help to boost revenue, profit and customer satisfaction, while a poorly designed plan can cause production problems and perhaps even sink the company. Specific benefits of production planning include:

  • Knowledge. A production plan provides a framework for understanding the resources and production steps required to meet customer needs. It also helps companies understand the potential problems that may occur during production and how to mitigate them.
  • Efficiency. Detailed production planning reduces bottlenecks and helps minimize costs. It also helps ensure the high quality of a product, and it keeps expenses on budget.
  • Customer satisfaction. Production planning helps ensure that the company can make and deliver products to customers on time, leading to higher customer satisfaction and a greater likelihood of repeat business.

Types of Production Planning

The design of a product plan depends on the production method that the company uses, as well as other factors, such as product type, equipment capabilities and order size. Here are three of the main types of production planning:

  • Batch production planning.

    Refers to manufacturing identical items in groups rather than one at a time or in a continuous process. For some businesses, batch production can greatly increase efficiency. A bakery creating items for sale the next day might first make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, then move on to oatmeal raisin cookies followed by loaves of semolina bread. A clothing manufacturer making goods for the summer might first set up its cutting and sewing machines to make 500 navy-blue T-shirts, then switch to red fabric and thread to make 400 tank tops. A good production plan for batch processing should look out for potential bottlenecks or delays when switching between batches.

  • Job- or project-based planning.

    Used by many small- and medium-sized businesses, job production planning focuses on the creation of a single item by one person or team. Job-based planning is typically used where the specificity of each client’s requirements means it is difficult to make products in bulk. Many construction businesses use this method. Makers of custom jewelry and dresses are other examples of businesses that may use job production planning.

  • Flow production planning.

    In flow production, also known as continuous production, standardized items are continuously mass-produced on an assembly line. Large manufacturers use this method to create a constant stream of finished goods. During production, each item should move seamlessly from one step along the assembly line to the next. Flow production is most effective at reducing costs and delays when there’s steady demand for the company’s products. Manufacturers can then readily determine their needs for equipment, materials and labor at each stage along the assembly line to help streamline production and avoid delays. The automotive industry and makers of canned foods and drinks are among the companies that use this method.

5 Steps to Make a Production Plan

Production planning is a robust undertaking that starts with forecasting and includes process design and monitoring. Here are five typical production planning steps:

  1. Forecast product demand.

    Estimate how much of each product you’ll need to produce over a designated period. Historical data can help with forecasting, but you’ll also need to pay attention to other factors that can affect demand, such as market trends and the economic situation for your customer base. Demand planning software can help companies make more informed decisions about the right amount of product needed to meet demand.

  2. Map out production steps and options.

    This step determines the processes, steps and resources needed to produce the required output. At this stage, the company may also examine different options for achieving its production goals, such as outsourcing some stages. The production mapping identifies which steps are interdependent and which can be performed simultaneously. Let’s say the job is to produce 1,000 children’s bicycles. Manufacturing the bicycle frames consists of a series of steps that must happen in sequence — cutting metal tubes, welding and painting — while other activities like assembling wheels can occur in parallel. Do you have all the right equipment? What happens if a machine breaks down? Are your suppliers able to meet your demand?

  3. Choose a plan and schedule production.

    Select a production plan after comparing the cost, time required and risks for each option. Sharing the selected plan with all necessary stakeholders typically helps assure a smoother production process since all the stakeholders are aware of what’s needed. Create a detailed production schedule that lays out in detail how the company will execute the plan, including the resources and timing for each step.

  4. Monitor and control.

    Once production has begun, you’ll need to track performance and continually compare it against the targets described in the production plan. Careful monitoring helps the company to detect any issues as soon as they pop up, so they can be quickly addressed.

  5. Adjust accordingly.

    It’s almost inevitable that production will be affected by events that you can’t plan for or predict. Those events can include changes to client specifications, supply chain lags, equipment failures and worker illness. You may also see ways to improve the production plan after seeing it in action for a while. So it’s vital to keep production plans flexible enough to allow for adjustment when needed. Football coaches often make adjustments to their game strategy at halftime — and the same holds true for production planning.

3 Common Product Planning Mistakes

Being aware of potential pitfalls ahead of time can help companies avoid or mitigate problems once production has started. Here are three of the most common production planning mistakes.

  1. Not anticipating hiccups along the way.

    In any complex production process, plans can go awry. Production planning should therefore include risk management strategies, including backup plans companies can rely on in the event of problems. Failing to do so can result in serious problems. For example, if a machine breaks on the line and you didn’t budget for repairs and workforce overtime, the issue may strain the company’s financial resources.

  2. Keeping your distance.

    Though production management software can provide real-time visibility into a company’s production status, it’s a good idea to supplement that information with in-person visits to the production line. Those visits can provide valuable insights into how production works in practice — insights that you might not gain if you’re stuck behind a desk.

  3. Failing to maintain equipment.

    There’s a tradition in football that the quarterback buys presents for his offensive linemen at the end of each season. Why? Because they protect him and enable him to do his job. Your manufacturing equipment is your company’s offensive line, so don’t neglect it. Tracking usage and paying for regular preventive maintenance helps ensure that your machines can keep your business functioning.

Production Planning KPIs

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are important metrics that help companies track the health of their production processes. By monitoring KPIs and comparing them to target values defined in production plans, businesses can determine whether production is on track and pinpoint problems that need to be addressed. Typical production KPIs include:

  • Downtime.

    This key efficiency metric tracks the percentage of time that production is not occurring during scheduled operating hours. Causes include machine breakdowns, tool adjustments and accidents. Some downtime may be necessary for functions such as machine maintenance, but generally, the less downtime the better.

  • Setup time.

    Also referred to as changeover time, this is the amount of time it takes to switch between jobs. Setup time impacts overall productivity because production is halted during these periods. Production schedules should consider how much time and effort it takes to reconfigure production for each job, including changes to the equipment, raw materials and workforce. Designing production schedules to minimize changeover time can increase efficiency.

  • Production rate.

    In a manufacturing environment, this is typically measured as the number of units produced during a specific period. Comparing the actual production rate for each process with the planned rate can help businesses identify strengths and weaknesses and begin to address problems.

  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

    This is a measure of overall manufacturing productivity that takes into account quality, performance and availability. The formula for OEE is:

    OEE = Quality x performance x availability

    Quality is typically measured as the percentage of parts that meet quality standards. Performance is how fast a process is running compared to its maximum speed, which is expressed as a percentage. Availability is the percentage of uptime during a company’s scheduled operating hours. Increasing OEE can be achieved by lowering downtime, reducing waste and maintaining a high production rate.

  • Rejection rate.

    This is the number or percentage of products that failed to pass quality checks. Depending on the nature of the product and the problem, it may be possible to salvage some rejected items by reworking them, while others may need to be scrapped.

  • On-time orders.

    Production delays can be costly both in terms of money and reputation. Generating products on schedule means you’re less likely to need costly expedited shipping or other emergency measures to meet deadlines. And delivering orders on time helps keep customers happy, which means they’re more likely to keep doing business with your company.

Production Planning Tools

Businesses rely on a variety of tools to build production plans and track progress, ranging from visualization tools to sophisticated software that automates many of the steps involved. Typical tools include:

  • Gantt charts.

    A Gantt chart is a detailed visual timeline of all the tasks scheduled for a particular job. More than 100 years since its invention by mechanical engineer Henry Laurence Gantt, this chart remains integral to manufacturing and many other industries. Production planning involves coordinating and scheduling many tasks, and the Gantt chart visually represents when each task will take place and how long it will last. Manually creating and updating Gantt charts to reflect complex, ever-changing production schedules can be a time-consuming and error-prone job, however.

  • Spreadsheets.

    Small companies sometimes start out by tracking simple production plans using spreadsheets. However, for most companies, the inherent complexity of production planning quickly outstrips the capabilities of spreadsheet software.

  • Production planning software.

    Production planning involves a wide range of activities, including forecasting, managing the supply chain, tracking inventory and scheduling jobs. Those activities require information from across the company and beyond. Production planning information is integral to business operations and is used by other groups within the company, including finance. That’s a key reason many companies use enterprise resource planning (ERP) application suites that include production planning software and provide a single solution for managing the entire business.

gantt chart

Example of a Gantt chart.

Manage and Optimize Production With NetSuite

NetSuite cloud-based production management software helps companies maximize manufacturing productivity and minimize cost. NetSuite provides real-time visibility into each aspect of the production process, from inventory tracking and monitoring the production floor to fulfilling orders. Production scheduling capabilities let businesses create and update complex real-time production schedules with minimal effort. Because NetSuite production management software is part of an integrated suite of ERP applications, businesses can share production progress with the entire organization and link production processes to financial reports, inventory management and order management.

Conclusion

Production planning is an important function that can boost profitability and customer satisfaction as well as efficiency. It helps companies match output to demand, optimize production processes and determine how to overcome production problems.

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Production Planning FAQs

What are the 5 steps in production planning?

Here are five typical steps in the production planning process:

  • Forecast the short- and long-term demand for your product.
  • Map out the various options and processes for manufacturing these goods.
  • Choose the option that checks as many boxes as possible, and develop a production schedule.
  • Monitor production against the plan.
  • Adjust the plan where needed. In other words, if it’s broken, fix it.

What are the 3 activities of production planning?

Production planning activities can be divided into three main areas: Develop a production process and strategy; gather the resources needed, from raw materials to machinery and personnel; and select and train the necessary people.

What are the types of production planning?

Three of the main types of production planning are batch planning, job planning and flow or continuous planning. The choice depends on your resources as well as the nature of the product. Batch planning makes the same item in bulk before moving on to another item. Job planning, also called project-based planning, focuses more on custom design and single-item production. Flow production involves a steady stream of mass-produced items moving along the line.

What is the role of production planning?

Production planning is critical to ensure the production process runs smoothly and efficiently and delivers products on time. Planning allows a business to make certain that all necessary preparation is completed before starting production.