Why is linear production so important? It's simple; "It's where the money is!" Scrap, rework, overtime and poor quality are all non-value-added costs that increased as a function of the famous "Hockey Stick Syndrome". That is, as we delay our production schedule completions toward the end of the month (or worse, to the end of the financial quarter), there is a tremendous pressure put on Manufacturing that produces shop floor chaos that generates significant non-value-added cost. We usually end up making the production plan and financial forecast because the "Knights in shining armor" come through with a last minute, heroic performance. But, at what cost? Some companies actually give up 10 to 20% of their potential profit margins because they have developed and fostered a manufacturing team that perpetuates the "Hockey Stick Syndrome".
Companies that continue to live with the end-of-the-quarter "push" will never achieve their full growth and profit potentials. How do you smooth schedules and achieve linear production? The challenge is in how to keep daily pressure on the critical path of schedule achievement. We need to have the visibility of all critical tasks and milestones from day one of the quarter and create team awareness and commitment to their timely achievement. Our manufacturing team must become sensitive and proactive in the execution of early production planning details and they must learn to apply their creativity and energy in a linear style. To be sure, up front planning and execution can yield amazing manufacturing results and lead to profitability beyond expectations.
The most effective production manager I've ever known used a huge magnetic board to schedule production planning details and monitor production linearity. An early focus on details, corrective actions and recovery planning was his management style. He would hold early morning meetings every day to status yesterday's progress on the magnetic board and to establish the daily challenges. He was an expert at team dynamics and his people always new what they had to do and they were always provided the tools to get the job done. The combination of the magnetic board, the morning meetings and his team dynamics skills made this production manger an effective leader and an expert in achieving linear production.
Today many production managers are still trying to solve their linear production problem by pursuing a sophisticated computer software solution. Most companies are now using MRPII / ERP manufacturing systems to control their production environments. These systems do not provide a focus on the detail, up front tasks and milestones that are critical to linear production and consequently have not presented a solution to the "Hockey Stick Syndrome". On the other hand, using an old magnetic board in this day and age of computer sophistication may not be an acceptable alternative. A good trade-off might be to develop a simple computer spread sheet specially designed to plan critical production milestones and to measure / monitor production linearity.
Using this daily schedule as the "bible", the next step would be to retrain the "Knights in shining armor" to gradually shift their manufacturing paradigm from end-of-the-quarter "fire fighting" to daily proactive problem solving.
Finally, it is important to differentiate between shipment linearity and production linearity. In a widget, make-to-shelf manufacturing company that build substantial finish goods inventory and in highly engineered capitol equipment manufacturing companies the two linearity measurements will not be equal.
Shipment linearity may be more of a function of Sales' bookings and customer's preference rather than nonlinear production. Consequently, the measure of production linearity must be developed to measure the performance of the manufacturing process and not be influenced by Sales bookings or customer related shipment delays.