Guest Contributor – George Jones, CSCP, CPIM, Planning Manager, Wedgewood Compounding Pharmacy

Editor’s Note

Our recent article on What is High Flexibility Scheduling? earned a spirited response from George Jones. As a Production Planning Manager, George coined the term “High Flexibility Scheduling” when he led the transformation of planning and scheduling processes at Sweetheart Cup Company.

Please enjoy the following insights from a warrior who led the charge and converted old-fashioned techniques into highly flexible processes that leveraged lean manufacturing capabilities.

The Times Are A Changin’

In 1995, I received a promotion to manage the Planning Department of the second largest production facility of Sweetheart Cup Company in Chicago, IL.

Prior to that role, I managed the planning team of a small facility in Riverside, CA that was just 5% of Sweetheart’s business.

The timing of my promotion dovetailed with a company-wide lean transformation effort called Business Excellence.

Insights into High Flexibility Scheduling
Insights into High Flexibility Scheduling

Combining Forces

In some ways, the two events had nothing to do with each other. However, as I learned about Business Excellence, I saw that certain aspects of my planning techniques at Riverside fit in philosophically with the effort.

In a successful move to get more support, I repackaged many of the planning insights I had been using as “learnings” from Business Excellence. This provided a highly synergistic boost to my efforts, which I knew would be successful because of their track record in Riverside.

Thus, by linking my approach to the Business Excellence strategic initiative, I immediately received goodwill from the Project Team, as well as key individuals through the company, including significant support from company President Bill McLaughlin.

Adopting High Flexibility Scheduling

In some ways, it could be said that I used the Business Excellence effort that was temporarily engulfing the company as a cover to implement planning practices in Chicago that I knew to be highly effective. One unintended side effect was that the success immediately created a need for me to present these planning practices to the all of the other facilities in North America. This was seen as a sharing of best practices.

I worked with several key members of the Business Excellence Project Team, most notably Mike Loughrin, to build these practices into a packaged set of ideas that could be shared with the other facilities. In addition to my insights from planning at Riverside and Chicago, we where also able to leverage many of the dramatic lean manufacturing improvements being made all of other the manufacturing facilities.

We branded our practices as High Flexibility Scheduling or HFS.

The effort received a great deal of support, but was unevenly implemented by the other plants – in some cases failing due to passive resistance and unwillingness to change.

Some veterans felt that if they laid low and did nothing, they could stay under the radar until HFS “blew over”. They were temporarily right, and many were able to avoid change for a few more years.

Applying High Flexibility Scheduling

So What Are These Practices?

The High Flexibility Scheduling package included many things, but the most critical points were as follows:

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1. Point of No Return

Reduce the scheduling freeze period by understanding the point in the manufacturing process where the product is differentiated and committed to becoming a specific finished good. Coordinate with the plant to provide the shortest possible duration for this part of the schedule. This dramatically reduces the probability of making a wrong decision with finished goods inventory.

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2. Planning Bills of Materials (PBOMs)

Beyond the short term horizon, some mechanism was needed to drive materials requirements. I found that even the primitive software being used by Sweetheart was able to support the creation and use of PBOMs. These provided a means to drive all material requirements while having to maintain only a fraction of the planning records normally required.

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3. Aggregate Planning

Over the duration of the Master Production Schedule, organizational energy and attention was focused on the things that really matter. Those rough cut capacity questions included critical issues such as how many machines will we need, how many people should be employed, will overtime be required, and when will we build or deplete inventory required for seasonal variations in demand?

None of the critical capacity resources required a detailed schedule. This also eliminated the need for a detailed forecast, which was always a pipe dream and unrealistic expectation that hindered the old approach.

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4. Eliminate Non-value Added Transactions

When I took over, a great deal of time was being expended on maintaining work orders in something called DOS (Detailed Operational Scheduling.) Updating numerous DOS records was consuming a lot of hours for my team. But, it didn’t appear to be adding any value. Whatever rationale was used to start using DOS, it was clearly no longer a need for the organization.


The package of improvements incorporated in the HFS approach leveraged the new lean manufacturing capabilities of the company and delivered tremendous benefits:

  • There was a room that stored work in process (WIP) in the form of very large rolls of printed paper. Before HFS, the room was packed, and it was sometimes difficult for the production floor personnel to even find the printed roll of paper they were looking for. After implementing HFS, the WIP inventory in this room was tremendously reduced. This saved over $1 million in inventory investment! It also served as an extremely impressive visual marker of the effectiveness of HFS.
  • Inventory mix was always a problem at Sweetheart Cup. When setting schedules weeks in advance, the odds were high that conditions may have changed by the time production occurs. But after HFS, differentiation did not occur until you were just days away from the demand signal and the number of wrong decisions was greatly reduced. We got the most out of our aggregate inventory.
  • Schedule changes were almost nonexistent. Because the schedule was set so close to the demand signal, there was rarely time for things to change. Thus, the time lost documenting and communicating such changes was regained. Planners had more time to focus on the right issues.
  • Customer service levels soared. Make to stock items in need could be run well before safety stock levels were consumed. Make to order items could be inserted into the detail schedule and run in a few days.
Lean Planning Scheduling

Guest Contributor – George Jones

George Jones
George Jones, CSCP, CPIM
Planning Manager, Wedgewood Compounding Pharmacy

George is one of the Founders of High Flexibility Scheduling and was it’s first practitioner as a distinct body of knowledge. Prior to his current position at Wedgewood Pharmacy, a compounding facility, he has served as a Supply Chain Consultant for Manugistics (now JDA), and has managed Demand and Supply Planning Teams at Sweetheart Cup Company and Campbell’s Soup Company.

Known in some circles for his dry wit and deadpan delivery, George has helped dozens of supply chain management colleagues throughout his career. He can distill arcane planning concepts down to their essence. His approach is to emphasize process over software, stressing that the former can succeed without the latter, but not vice versa.

George can be reached at: George Jones.

Want More?

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Take our hybrid supply chain management course to learn more about high flexibility scheduling.

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