Production Planning

Before you receive an order it is important to know what your production capacity is, meaning how much of a product you can make in a given time.  Production planning will help you to make the best use of the resources you have, including your time, and will help you to produce quality products by the required date.

The best place to start with production planning is to understand everything that happens in your production process. What are all of the steps in making the product? Who is involved? What materials and tools are needed? How long will it take to acquire the raw materials? How much time is needed for each step? When will quality be checked?

Production Flow Chart

A good first step to analyze your production is to map out the process so that each step is clear.  One way is to make a flow chart. This can be done as a flow chart or in a table format. Here are two examples. one as a flow chart and the other in table format:

Production Flow Chart

Flow Chart in Table Format

Make a flow chart for one of your products. Once you have mapped out your production process, answer these questions:

  • How long does each step take?
  • Are there any areas where problems or delays tend to occur?
  • Are there steps that could be improved?
  • What are the factors that limit your production capacity – labor? materials? quality control? money?  tools or equipment?
  • How could these limitations be addressed?

Having a flow chart helps show how the steps in the production process are interconnected. If problems occur in one stage in the process, it will affect the steps that follow. This is why quality control in many stages along the production process is important, to catch and correct costly errors before they occur.

Add to your flow chart when quality will be checked and what will happen to products that fail quality inspection.

Production Calendar

Another useful tool for organizing production and making sure deadlines are met is a production calendar. Once you receive a purchase order, you will know the expected delivery date. A production calendar will help organize production so that it is completed by the delivery date and will help keep the different steps moving forward on time. It is important to program extra time into the process, since obstacles are likely to arise and things may not go as smoothly as hoped. It is important to be flexible, and to find alternatives when things don’t go as planned.

View a sample of a production calendar:  Sample Production Calendar_0-1

Work Orders

For many organizations that sell handcrafts, orders are made by small producers who work in their homes. They might make the product from start to finish, or they might do one step in the production process, like the printing of cloth or the embroidery after the product has been sewn. Work orders are one way to communicate clearly to the artisans who will be making part or all of the product what work has to be done and the date it needs to be completed.

When writing a work order, be as specific about what you need as possible. Give detailed descriptions with exact sizes or measurements; include swatches, thread samples or photographs so colors and design are exact. If you save a counter sample of all samples sent to a potential buyer, the counter sample can be used as a control to compare against items produced for an order. The control sample is the easiest way for the artisan to see if the details and quality are exact. Another useful tool is to ask for a production sample from the artisan once they begin to produce the order. With a production sample, you see if the product is being made correctly and make any corrections before it is too late.

Make sure the group has sufficient time to make the products and that their deadline to complete the products is well in advance of the shipping deadline in case production is delayed. It is also important to know the needs and capacity of the group. Training might be needed to learn a new technique, or to learn to make quality consistent.

Sourcing Materials

Before you accept a purchase order, you should make sure that the materials you need to produce the order are available and that you will be able to get them on time to produce the order. Having a reliable source for your materials that will deliver the quality you need is an important aspect of your production planning. It is good to have multiple suppliers, in case one goes out of business, or runs out of the materials you need. Organizations that have funds often keep a stock of raw materials that they use regularly. Purchasing in large quantities lowers the cost of materials and insures a supply of needed materials. Careful planning is needed, however, to not purchase materials that won’t be used.


An organization received an order for baskets and sent a work order to a group of women basket makers. The work order included the exact dimensions that the baskets should be, but when the order was finished, the baskets were all too small. When asked why this happened, the women explained that they did not have any rulers or tape measurers in their village to measure the baskets, so they made their best estimate. The women were given tape measurers and trained to use them, and the problem was resolved. Another group of basket makers was having difficulty replicating a basket pattern requested in an order. Not all of the women were able to make the new basket pattern and they were worried they would not be able to fulfill the order on time. The group organized a training where the more experienced basket makers who could weave the new design taught the other women how to do it. This cooperative helped the women to learn the new pattern and they were able to complete the order.


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