Supply Chain

Does your Company use Excel For Production Scheduling?

There’s a better way – and it’s easier and more impactful than you likely think. 

Many companies use Excel for production scheduling – a mission critical activity. Some believe that it is effective. Some realize that it is cumbersome and ineffective but don’t know where to turn.  Compared to specialized scheduling software, Excel is inefficient for both the planner’s time and the company’s production resources. Dependency on Excel for scheduling exposes a company to continuity risks.  

The good news: you don’t have to settle for Excel. Alternative solutions are out there, and they’re easier to implement and will have a bigger impact on your bottom line than you probably ever thought possible. 

You may be thinking…

Excel seems to be working just fine for us. Take a closer look at the day-to-day of your schedulers. Companies using Excel are missing out on opportunities to be more efficient and produce better schedules. 

But Excel is simple and everyone knows how to use it. This is not true of a complex planning workbook. It’s hard to understand all of the relationships, and errors can easily go undetected.  Writing an Excel spreadsheet to accommodate different production or transportation lead times for different products and locations is not easy. 

It’s too expensive and too much work to change our process. Does it cause a bit of disruption? Yes, change inevitably will. But the bigger, more important question is whether it’s worth it. From my perspective, there are almost no instances where a company wouldn’t see substantial benefit from transitioning to specialized scheduling software.  

Per Lora Cecerethe Supply Chain Shaman, “over 90% of companies depend on Excel spreadsheets. This is problematic in many ways. Excel spreadsheets are woefully inadequate to model a complex, non-linear system. The output– isolated, disconnected and out of sync with the business–spins endlessly. The lack of adequate supply chain planning systems drives maverick behavior in the organization”. 

Make better schedules in less than half the amount of time 

In Excel, a planner can spend all day making a poor plan. At a large petfood manufacturing site, I saw planners use most of their day to create a daily schedule in Excel.  Pet food making is a two-stage operation: a large processing unit makes kibble and puts it in bins, then packing lines pull the kibble from the bins and pack it into different sizes and language variations. It’s a tricky flow balancing problem. The schedule frequently overfilled the bins causing the upstream processing unit to shut down, or starved the bins forcing the packaging lines to shut down. 

Implementation of specialized scheduling software reduced the time to create the schedule to one hour, and it was released to the floor early each morning.  Two planners could now do the work that previously required three people! The schedule could be run as issued without bin locking or starvation. This in turn had a significant impact on production efficiency.

An inefficient schedule is like a leaky bucket – stop letting money slip through the cracks

The pet food manufacturing site isn’t an isolated example. Powdered detergent is similar to pet food in its scheduling characteristics. I was involved with a large detergent plant in the middle east that implemented scheduling software and experienced the same benefits in planner productivity and reduction of unplanned stops, increasing production efficiency by approximately 5%. Take a moment to think about how much money a 5% production increase could be worth to your site or business! 

Reduce the risks that come hand in hand with relying on a few key people

The typical scheduling spreadsheet is complex, with multiple sheets and macros. No one except the person who wrote it can completely understand it. A new scheduler must either write their own spreadsheet or continue to use one that they don’t fully understand. I’ve been there, I wrote a complex Lotus 123 (before Excel) three-dimensional macro driven spreadsheet that planned 70 diaper lines and had to train my replacement to use it.  

It’s not only when training a permanent replacement that this issue arises. It’s difficult to train a substitute scheduler for vacation or absence coverage, creating stress on planners for fear of letting the organization down when they take time off. It’s not easy for the replacement either; I once had to cover the medical leave of the company’s planner for diaper packaging using the model that they designed. I figure that I only cost the company a couple hundred thousand dollars in packaging obsolescence 

Put an end to using Excel for mission critical activity

The time is now! Stop spending significant amounts of time creating schedules that aren’t optimal using Excel spreadsheets that only a few key people can fully understand. Find an alternative solution. There is scheduling software available that’s easy to implement, simple to use and quick to deliver return on investment.  

On board to make a change but not sure what the next step should be? In my next post I’ll cover some key capabilities that, in my experience, are critical to the success of specialized planning and scheduling software. If you would like to know more, and prefer not to wait, feel free to reach me at to talk about how your company can move ahead in finding a better way to plan and schedule. 

About the Author

Mac Jacob, Head of Product, CPIM, SCOR-P, was a key contributor to building Procter & Gamble’s supply chain, ranked as one of the four best in the world by the Gartner Group.  He started in project management, production planning, warehousing, and shipping in a small manufacturing plant, and then became the planning manager for Luvs Diapers for North America.  He realized that it was the supply chain systems that were holding back the business and led a project that eventually became P&G’s global SAP/MRP II implementation. At one time or another, he was the business leader, developed the work processes, and wrote the original training materials for most of P&G’s supply chain planning systems.