| Response Handling
Christmas Production Planning for our Order Fulfilment Service
Our Operations Director Phil Owen gives us an insight.
‘Christmas has always been our peak time of year with many of our clients having ‘giftable’ product ranges. Because of the influx of production staff needed and increased campaign complexity, we need to make sure that we plan with as much detail as possible to minimise the risk of things going wrong.’
How do you start planning for these peak months?
‘There are three main elements to production planning. First we have known business that has an uplift in volume; for these clients we look at previous history together with any changes made in the business. For example many clients have increased their customer base since last year, so we know that demand and volume will increase.
Some of our clients increase their product ranges so we need to factor in an increased number of SKUs. Although this is the simplest form of planning there are always unknown setbacks. With any new business that we have acquired over the year, we work with the client in order to gauge the fluctuations in activity that are likely to occur, and we then work backwards from there.
Probably the most complicated area to plan for is seasonal campaign activity as there are often so many different elements that are involved’
What makes campaign activity so complicated?
‘Well to start with, a lot of the activity is triggered by the media which, while briefed by the client, is completely out of our control. Campaign activity creates the highest volume, and as we may use direct mail create a call to action, order demand can fluctuate a lot. Planning for this is a challenge for our business.
What changes to you make to the production plan to deal with these issues?
‘Firstly we need to increase our work force, and recruiting people with the relevant skills and capabilities is a challenge. We must always allow time and budget to ensure the correct training takes place to maintain our quality standards.
Another issue is the management of natural ‘churn’ (replacing people working on the campaign on an unknown cyclical basis). We have two systems in place to manage this. Firstly we have a working database of family, friends and people that we can call upon to offer seasonal work. In addition, when we need a large influx of staff into the workplace , we work in close partnership with a recruitment agency which holds recruitment drives on our behalf to ensure that we have the right amount of workers on a specified date.’
How do you calculate when extra workforce will be needed?
‘Resource planning begins in September. We work closely with our clients and log all known information on volumes, type of items, packaging required and deadlines etc and our tried and trusted formulas deduce how many man hours are needed and how many additional staff are required from when to complete the job in time. That’s the point at which we contact the agency if we need to, to tell them how many employees we need with the relevant skills and when we need them by.’
What are the impacts on SLAs during the peak times of year?
‘This is why early resource planning is essential. We must work to protect the agreed SLAs with our clients irrespective of the time of year. We work closely with our couriers, carriers and suppliers to ensure that deadlines and collection routines are adhered to. Despite what you may think, it’s a very complex supply chain, and a very important part of our job is to manage all components~ not just the elements that we do.’