What is Forward Scheduling and How Can It Help?

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Forward scheduling is a type of planning designed to finish a project as soon as possible, starting now and ideally finishing before a set date. Many businesses use forward scheduling when they want to get the most efficient use of their workforce and other resources.

How Forward Scheduling Works

Forward scheduling is the scheduling of a project moving forward from a defined start date. The goal of this production process is to complete each task on the schedule as soon as the necessary resources are available, with little or no waiting between individual tasks. When resources are available, the task is completed. If resources are not yet available, the task is put on hold – and the project on pause – until those resources are ready. Each new task is initiated as soon as the previous one is completed.

Creating a forward schedule is relatively simple. You line up all the tasks in order and allocate resources to each task as soon as the appropriate resources come available. You don’t assign dates to each task; save for perhaps the first one (today). The schedule is totally dependent on the availability of resources and available capacity. In many instances, the customer is not given a due date. In other instances, you take the start date and add to it projected times for each task (assembly, pick/pack, transportation) to calculate the estimated shipping date.

Because tasks are not planned for specific dates, forward scheduling takes advantage of all available resources to potentially finish projects early. This production process is a good way to fill in the spaces between other projects that may be waiting on resources.

As an example of forward scheduling, consider a business that receives an order for 100 printed t-shirts. This job can begin as soon as the blank t-shirts arrive in inventory; if the t-shirts are already in stock, the job can start immediately. When the t-shirts are in stock and the printer is available, you can begin printing the shirts. When all the shirts are printed, you schedule delivery on the next available truck. The customer receives the merchandise shortly thereafter; the only possible delays come if the blank t-shirts are not readily available or if the printer is operating without the excess capacity to take on new orders.

6 Advantages of Forward Scheduling

There are several advantages of forward scheduling, especially in certain circumstances. Here are a half dozen of them.

What are The Advantages of Forward Scheduling?

1. Easier to Plan

Creating a forward schedule is much easier than creating a backward schedule. In essence, all you have to do is line up all the tasks from beginning to end, recognizing key dependencies. The tasks don’t necessarily have to have dates associated with them, although the projected time to accomplish each task is worth nothing. Start the schedule today and let it flow forward. It’s that simple.

Contrast with that creating a backward schedule, where you start on the due date and assemble the tasks in reverse order from there. In a reverse schedule, not only are dependencies important but so is the timing of each component task. Only when you add up the time to complete each task do you get the total time to complete the project – and, working backward from the due date, the drop-dead date you need to start.

Where you may need complex scheduling software to create a backward schedule, a forward schedule can be created with a simple online calendar app. That said, logistics scheduling software, such as Upper Route Planner, can make creating either time of schedule much easier and should be considered if your company has a large number of projects.

2. Better Utilizes Labor Force

Forward scheduling does a good job of utilizing your existing workforce. Laborers idle between other jobs can be reassigned to forward-scheduled jobs, thus minimizing downtime. Likewise, workers on forward-scheduled jobs can be redeployed to other, more urgent projects if necessary. Labor is not permanently fixed to a forward-scheduled job, which gives you maximum flexibility – and a high labor utilization rate.

3. Minimizes Slack Time

Because resources can be redistributed when workloads change, forward scheduling helps to minimize slack time. It’s similar to the way this production scheduling process maximizes the use of your labor force; it makes the best use of your company’s fixed resources – warehouse space, supplies, machines, and so forth. Resources don’t have to sit idle when a forward-scheduled job is available. In addition, this process allows you to redirect resources when orders increase, thus maximizing capacity.

4. Enables Slotting of Additional Work

When you’re using forward scheduling, it’s easy to slot in additional work – and thus earn some incremental revenue. This form of scheduling gives you more room to accommodate more jobs. Unexpected projects can temporarily displace less-important forward-scheduled jobs without impacting promised finish dates. It’s a matter of redirecting resources as needed to take on new orders, which forward scheduling enables you to do.

5. Increases Odds of Finishing Early

Even though forward-scheduled jobs can be moved around on the schedule to better utilize resources and capacity, the reality is that these orders quite often finish ahead of any promised due dates. You’re not married to a fixed schedule; because labor and resources can be used when available, a forward-scheduled job will likely be completed earlier than planned.

6. Easily Integrates with Other Platforms

Because forward scheduling is essentially calendar-based, it’s easy to integrate with any of your existing platforms and systems, such as SAP and Salesforce.com. You can even do your forward scheduling on a simple online calendar, such as Google Calendar.

How Forward Scheduling Differs from Backward Scheduling

Forward scheduling differs from the other common type of project scheduling, backward scheduling. In forward scheduling, you work forward from the start date. In backward scheduling, you plan backward from the desired completion date.

How Backward Scheduling Works

With backward scheduling, you might not start a job immediately, even if capacity is available. All tasks are planned from the end date backward. Estimating the length of time it will take to complete each task, you generate a schedule that tells you when you need to start each task and the entire project. There is little benefit to starting any task earlier than scheduled.

Backward scheduling gives you time to order all necessary components and plan work for each task. A forward scheduling system, in contrast, takes advantage of resources when available. Forward-scheduled projects are often completed before the due dates or as early as possible; backward-scheduled projects are designed to hit the due dates exactly.

Forward scheduling is about completing the job when you can. Backward scheduling is about completing the job when you have to.

With forward scheduling, you begin with the start date and add to it the time for all component tasks; this gives you the estimated due or shipping date. With backward scheduling, you start with the day in which it’s due, typically requested by the customer, and subtract from it the time for all component tasks to calculate the start date.

(See a good, although somewhat academic, comparison of forward and backward scheduling here.)

Forward vs. Backward Scheduling Example

One way to compare forward and backward scheduling is to consider a situation where a client asks a heating/cooling company to service his furnace sometime during the first week of November. A company using forward scheduling would plan the appointment as early in the week as possible to free up other slots for other clients. A company using backward scheduling would likely schedule the appointment on the last day of that week and plan backward for ordering any parts, like furnace filters, that might be needed.

Choosing Between the Two

Logistics coordinators can choose between forward and backward scheduling for different types of projects. Forward scheduling is ideal when the client is flexible about the due date or wants the finished goods as soon as possible. It’s also good if the most common resources are readily available. Backward scheduling is preferred when a customer has a firm delivery date for a delivery or project and when specific resources need to be ordered or capacity arranged.

If your business relies on SAP, it’s possible to set up forward scheduling in SAP. It’s also possible to set up backward scheduling or a mix of backward and forward scheduling.

When Forward Scheduling Doesn’t Make Sense

Forward scheduling isn’t suited for all types of projects. There are several distinct disadvantages to this process; certain situations favor backward scheduling instead.

For example, if a customer needs a definite due date, forward scheduling won’t ensure it; in this instance, backward scheduling is recommended. Backward scheduling is also best if you want to produce your goods at the last possible moment before the due date and save on inventory costs.

With that in mind, here are some of the more notable disadvantages of this scheduling process:

  • If a job is completed too far before its due date, you may incur inventory costs to store the finished product before delivery.
  • Using resources as jobs come into the pipeline could cause material shortages for jobs with a higher priority or shorter due date.
  • You can also run into materials shortages if demand increases before you can restock materials used from the forward-scheduled job.
  • Higher demand can also result in longer lead times that can adversely affect lower-priority forward-scheduled jobs.
  • While forward scheduling is good for filling the gaps in your capacity, too many of these jobs can make it difficult to shift resources when higher-priority jobs arise.

Implementing Forward Scheduling

Forward scheduling is infinitely better for your business than no planning at all. When used by itself or in conjunction with backward scheduling, you gain more control over your workflow, costs, and revenues.

Implementing forward scheduling is as easy as adding tasks to a calendar. You can also utilize the more powerful logistics scheduling software features, which can handle both forward and backward scheduling. Upper Route Planner is designed specifically for couriers and small businesses who need to quickly and painlessly plan deliveries and create delivery routes. This app, available for both Android and iOS, can help your business with its forward scheduling – and make your life a lot easier.