The Schedule Challenges Behind Manufacturing Projects



Scheduling challenges exist in every type of project, but manufacturing efforts bring with them some unique risks and obstacles. Outside influences and unexpected developments can impact timelines in surprising ways, putting the team in a difficult position. Frustration arises when a schedule goes off track, sometimes pushing PMOs to cut corners as they try to keep up with the frantic pace.

When executing efforts in the manufacturing sector, proactive strategies and contingency planning are key to overcoming these difficulties. Experience in forecasting activities and executing projects with similar challenges will prove highly valuable. Before your center of excellence tackles its next complex manufacturing effort, consider which scheduling hurdles are likely to appear, why they can be so tricky to address, and where opportunities exist to get in front of these potential issues so they don’t derail your entire project.

Some of the most challenging (and, unfortunately, most common) scheduling problems start at the top. The organization’s leadership team, with their own strategic imperatives in mind, can often impose difficult timeframe expectations on the PMO. Issues such as time-to-market expectations could put serious pressure on manufacturing project schedules. There may be requests to not only compress activities beyond any reasonable level, it may also be expected that tasks normally scheduled in sequence instead be completed in tandem to save time. Adding to the challenge is the common problem of evolving market demands. These can trigger a shift in expectations mid-project, taking the original schedule and requiring partway through that it suddenly be squeezed to accommodate an earlier completion date.

There could also be a host of complications around productivity expectations that create scheduling issues for the project team. Front-line supervisors may stipulate that any downtime windows must be kept unreasonably brief, for example, to avoid reducing their production capabilities. Production managers might also require that work disruptions occur only during times that are highly inconvenient or unnecessarily expensive for the project team—those that call for off-hours labor support or that incur similar cost overages. If productivity impacts can’t be coordinated in an efficient and budget-sensitive way, it’s likely PMs will find it difficult to identify timeframes for these activities that don’t create conflicts with other tasks in the project plan.

Because manufacturing projects are closely tied to both upstream and downstream pressures, scheduling difficulties can come from—and affect activities in—either direction. Materials procurement and storage practices may need to be revised to accommodate the changes the project will have on the overall process. Transportation and handling procedures for outgoing products might also need to be revisited, prompting potential timing problems if delays occur at any point along the logistics channel. Every one of these issues could create unexpected scheduling snafus, any of which may be capable of inflicting significant unbudgeted financial outlays, degrading the company’s position in the market, or even interfering with its ability to fill customer orders.

The sheer volume of tasks that must be compiled—their durations estimated, dependencies identified, accountability established, and sequences set—can make it extraordinarily difficult for PMs to plan the project timeline effectively in the first place. Add in the high likelihood that tasks could be added throughout the project, such as when efforts related to testing and quality control programs are conducted and the results released, and those in the center of excellence might suddenly find themselves struggling to reflow a large number of interrelated activities that require detailed labor schedules and work disruption planning. Without historical knowledge to help guide them, the project team ultimately may not be able to keep the timelines in sync and on target.