Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

Addressing Food Production Planning and Control Issues through Information Visualisation: An Agile Development

Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

Addressing Food Production Planning and Control Issues through Information Visualisation: An Agile Development

Article excerpt

Acknowledgement: This project was partly funded by a Government supported Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) and subsequent Short KTP (SKTP) in the UK. The funder had no direct involvement in the design, interpretation or writing up of the project.


The food manufacturing industry is an important sector with approximately 6000 food manufacturers in the UK alone (Food and Drink Federation, 2011). These organisations account for over 15% of UK manufacturing turnover worth approximately [pounds sterling]10bn of exports per annum (Institute for Manufacturing, n.d.).

Advances in information technologies and increased competition are impacting supply chains and production planning processes in the sector (Mangina & Vlachos, 2005). As a result, food manufacturers need to be adaptable as variation in demand makes it difficult to predict the production quantities. Producers need to be able to respond to changes in customer orders with deliveries due within hours of the order being placed. Whilst complying with these demands, businesses have to address the challenges of ensuring products are of high quality, low price, and achieved with low wastage. Consequently, the "demands on the decision makers to rapidly interpret complex data are challenging" (Sackett, Al-Gaylani, Tiwari, & Williams, 2006, p. 690). Wrong decisions by managers and operatives due to a lack of understanding have a direct impact on the efficacy of the production process. Output volumes and quality are affected through the under/misutilisation of resources, unnecessary mitigation for the anticipated late jobs and excessive job production time from the wrong prioritisation of orders.

Whilst planning is one of the mechanisms that can aid flexibility (De Toni & Tonchia, 1998), planning practice is often not able to make the most of the available flexibility in the food production processes because existing planning systems only partly resolve this issue (van Wezel, van Donk, & Gaalman, 2006). Ramirez, Morales, and Aranda (2012) highlight that:

  One very important element of flexibility is the flexibility of
  distribution of information. It is vital to the processes of
  knowledge creation and improvement of organizational
  performance, because it enables the firm to enhance
  the options available to reduce uncertainty and to improve

To address these issues, this paper argues that one means of supporting communication across different levels of the organisation, and thus achieving flexibility, is through the visualisation of information of the current tasks. Through an action research project we address the paucity of work that considers how visualisation of information can be applied in production management (Sackett et al, 2006; Sacks, Radosavljevic, Barak, 2010). In addition, we add to a newly emerging body of work that combines agile development and user-centred design.

The paper begins with a literature review of the application of information visualisation in food manufacturing. We then explore the complementary nature of agile development methods and user-centred design as a means of designing such systems. The action research approach adopted for this project is outlined. The remainder of the paper follows the action research project beginning by assessing the issues in production planning systems and action taken to address them at Freshcut Foods (FF), a UK-based small-medium enterprise (SME). Finally, we discuss the impact on the organisation and our interpretation of the underlying basis for that impact.


To address the problems of complexity and volatility in the production environment, it is necessary to improve communication in order that members of an organisation have a shared understanding of the current demands and priorities. Communication about the plan is necessary to ensure current constraints and changes to orders are known and the production team are aware of any unusual situation that needs their attention. …

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