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Master Scheduler - The key to improved performance......

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

By Ian Shirley

The Master Scheduler - like the conductor of an orchestra

Why is the role of Master Scheduler so often undervalued when so much is riding on this role being effective? From internal manufacturing operations and right throughout the supply chain, this role can have a dramatic effect on overall supply chain efficiency.

Think of the Master Scheduler as a conductor of an orchestra. He/she doesn’t have to know how to play each of the instruments but does need to know what each instrument and each musician is capable of and how they could play better.

They need to understand the music, how it is structured, where the difficult passages are and how to keep the orchestra in time throughout each movement to the end of the music, then start over again to understand how it can be played even better. - Why is it then that the role of Master Scheduler is often so undervalued?

Why does my company need one? - Many manufacturing companies, were they to be able to hear the sound of their production plan as though it were music, would hear a cacophony of sound with instruments and players each playing their own music to different tempos. Some individuals may be playing a good tune but it is no good if everyone is playing a different tune or not playing their part of the same music well.

“Our company has a Master Scheduler/Planning Manager but however hard we try we still cannot get our delivery performance above 90% On Time In Full (OTIF), we underutilise our assets and employ too much cash in the business.”...... This is not an uncommon statement as for many, the role has unfortunately become a Senior Progress Chaser, working with key departments such as manufacturing, purchasing and engineering to drive the next delivery out of the factory, then the next and the next, leading to ineffective team working and not having enough time to rehearse with the orchestra to get them playing the same music, in tune, as a team.

The Master Scheduler has responsibility for the manufacturing plan and the load, whilst advising the Manufacturing Manager how to make best use of current capacity and develop new capacity given current and forecast market demand. If the Manufacturing Manager’s team work closely to an achievable plan, this supports the business to develop a good delivery performance and to be as profitable as it can be. With profit comes the confidence and ability to reinvest into better facilities, new capacity and new products.

The Master Scheduler needs a deep understanding of the manufacturing planning systems and how to get the best out of them to create and maintain a deliverable plan. This involves ensuring the customer demand is managed effectively, the system and data is correctly set up and maintained in order that the right materials arrive at the required time and can be translated into finished goods delivered to customer on time and utilising minimum cash employed with optimised manufacturing costs.

This requires a passion and belief that the company can be better than it is and be an interesting place to work whilst offering achievable personal challenges and job satisfaction to those employed in order to retain the best staff.

What does “good look like” in your industry, what do others do well and what we can we learn from that?

…but you don’t want someone too analytical or who gets buried in analysis as developing good working relationships with the production team, operators, stores, engineers, purchasing and sales is just as important to understand what they need to do to make things better. A good team that share the same motivations for the best for the company is the biggest asset you can develop.

The Master Scheduler should never forget that the key driver for instability in the production plan is accepting customer demand change within manufacturing lead time. He should work with the Sales Order Administration team to ensure customer contracts are managed so that it is not allowed to happen. If your market will not accept that the company will need to shorten lead times and/or consider making batches in the most effective way to finished goods stock, then ship ex-stock.

He/she should be disappointed if implementing positive change doesn’t work out first time and keep trying through the team to encourage support to do things right. Getting smart is better than getting angry. The role is not about getting the company to play their music but encouraging the company to play the music they all agree is best that creates an effective and profitable business.

How do you develop someone to become a Master Scheduler?

Train a few interested people in the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) methodology and get them qualified, then look for the most suitable candidate.

Encourage a good understanding of the manufacturing planning system in so much detail that there is a good visualisation of its strengths and weaknesses, how the data gets to be wrong through poor business processes (then work with colleagues to fix them!) and how to make sure the underlying data is set up and maintained correctly (such as parts, bills of material, routings, lead times, machine setting and operation times).

Most systems have issues where they do not work as well as you would like them to. The most promising individual needs to learn how to spot the impact those issues have and agree with the team how the company should work with them rather than complaining about them. How many times have you heard “the system is the problem”? In reality it is most likely to be a combination of the team not understanding how to use it and poor business processes.

Don’t push to change the system, do the best with what you have and get the business to be as effective operationally with it. Almost all systems have issues and the “Grass is not always greener in the next field”. Changing a system is disruptive, extremely costly and a risk to the business. A new system implementation is the last thing any company needs if it does not already have good control of its processes and data.

Doing these things well will help the most promising candidate for the Master Scheduler role to start to write the melody of the “tune” that the company needs to learn to play as an orchestra.

Ian Shirley is a manufacturing supply chain specialist with over 35 years of delivering operational improvements in the aerospace, automotive and electrical engineering sectors.

The Procurement Doctor blog ( has been designed for procurement and supply chain professionals to share best practice in order to improve both our profession and its reputation. Come and join the debate – contributions, articles and editorial content always welcome

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