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How do you handle Product Scheduling?

9:55 pm on Mar 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

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So how do you handle product scheduling? By this I mean you either have some subcontractors or employees that work for you, and you have clients that want products done. How do you keep that all together.

When a new client comes how do you answer the question "when can we start".

And how about when a project goes long, how do you handle pushing all products back accordingly.

I'm looking for what software solutions you might use, or maybe you don't use software. Maybe you use a pen and paper and a calendar.

So how do you deal with Product Scheduling in your business?

I've been looking for a software solution. But i haven't found anything. It seems like a simple idea, but everything I find makes it very complex with gantt charts all sorts of resources and to do lists. Some systems deal with the scheduling of one products, not doesn't look at the big picture. Your overall product schedule.

I'd like to be able to enter in my contractors availability week to week, and my own. then when a new product comes in, say it needs 80 hrs of work, i enter it into the system, and it automatically schedules the project based on everyone's availabilities and other products that are already scheduled. It would tell each person how many hours on each project they should work each week.. etc.. etc..

Anyways i'd like to get a discussion going. Maybe i'll find the answer i'm looking for. Maybe i'll find out that it just doesn't exists and lots of your are in the same situation as me and just can't find a simple solution.
4:39 pm on Mar 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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When a new client comes how do you answer the question "when can we start".

Answer: How soon can you cut a check? :)

All joking aside, I've found that the clients most eager to get things started are often the ones most likely to not pay on time and/or the ones who drag their feet when you ask them for the content/answers you need to go to the next step of the project. There are always exceptions, but that is what I have found.

As far as scheduling software, we don't use any. Most of our projects are in-house- our "out-house" projects don't tend to be that large. I believe there is some free/inexpensive project management software out there, but I can not comment on which ones are the best.

And Welcome to WebmasterWorld [webmasterworld.com], danjfoley!
6:52 pm on Mar 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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This kind of planning software with automatic scheduling and rearrangements of tasks and resources exists, but I have seen it only in the high end planning systems for enterprises. You often pay 6 figures for it. Automatic rescheduling of tasks is often only possible if you are quite sure of the capacity and capabilities of all systems and humans involved. For machinery this can often be computed. For humans it is most of the time impossible. Some tasks may cost one person 40 hours, the other person only 10 and a third person may not be able to complete the task at all. You may have two projects which are so similar that you can assign them to one person at once and they will cost only a little bit more than the time of one project to complete. But other projects can be difficult to schedule together with other projects because they need a specific mindset.

When it comes to planning I often try to determine the critical path. Which tasks can only be executed sequentially and which factors (often delivery times of external suppliers) will have the largest effect on delaying the project? I then monitor the critical path closely. The other less critical tasks will often automatically complete within schedule and need less attention.
7:17 pm on Mar 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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very good point about how long it takes each person to do the same task. I have decided to make such a system myself, and haven't thought of this.

I will have to rely on each persons estimate of how long it will take them to do something, and continue to track each persons estimates to actually time spent.

And of course going over estimate can be caused by many things. Anything involving client changes etc.. should not count as the estimate being wrong. Such things will be tracked as something like "how often is a client's project, or a project of this type not on time due to them making changes".. tracking the average factor it is off by.

With all this information, over time projects will be scheduled on the time estimated plus these additional factors.

I am not going to write it and wait until it's perfect, but rather just write it and let people use a free version for 1 user, or a 30 day free version for any number of users, then after that will figure out the pricing.

As people use it they will let me know what they might like to see. I myself NEED this product and will be making it work for myself first and foremost. Assuming others have the same issues i have.

Of course while it goes beta I think i will let everyone use it for free for a while.

So far its an idea, but i am going to start coding it soon.
7:20 pm on Mar 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Come to think of it, i'll have to first put a project into the estimate stage, letting any subcontractors that want to be a part of it put their estimates in. Only after I choose who will be doing what work will the project estimate be finalized. Then only after the client accepts the estimate will it be scheduled.
11:12 am on Apr 2, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I have watched a friend's company that has this same situation. They use the squeaky wheel principle -- the squeaky wheel gets the oil. They take on more and more work until enough clients complain about delays, then they hire more staff.
11:22 pm on Apr 3, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Maybe you use a pen and paper and a calendar.

I hate to be all anti-climatic here, but I have been doing this for 6 years now and I still manage all of my projects with a legal pad and pen. I have 2-3 contractors that work for me on an as needed project basis. I coordinate with them by phone and email and occasionally drag one of them to a meeting with me. I suppose I could come up with a far more sophisticated system or software, but I subscribe to the "if it ain't broke why fix it" school of thought and found my legal pad and pen seem to do the job just fine.

I once read a book about billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson. His empire includes airlines, cell phone providers, entertainment companies, and billions of dollars being moved around annually. I was shocked to discover the guy manages the whole thing on a legal pad! He said he doesn't use a lap top and found his pad of paper worked great. I figured if it worked for a billionaire it would probably work for my little enterprise :)