What is Capacity Planning?

What is capacity planning, and why is it critical to growing a business efficiently?

Between surplus and shortage, overstaffed and understaffed is the sweet spot where businesses meet customer needs without being wasteful or falling short on demand. It’s a balancing act where you need to juggle internal resources with external factors from your customers, industry, and other variables.

Unless you like to live (and operate your business) dangerously, it’s best to lean on capacity planning to put as much quantitative and qualitative information behind resource allocation when building daily, weekly, quarterly, annual, or even longer-term strategies for your operations and business.

What is a capacity planning strategy?

Capacity represents the maximum yield of a resource or operation. Capacity planning is how businesses tap into machinery and staff to optimize operations.

Optimizing in this context could be getting as close to 100% capacity as possible, or it could be scaling output to meet demand in a specific period. Sometimes it’s both — it all depends on your goals. Capacity planning builds the model for how you want to leverage resources to meet demand.

Machinery breaks down. People burn out and resign. Markets shift. Customer trends change. In short, there are a lot of variables inside and outside the business affecting day-to-day operations.

Capacity planning is the chess match where you strategize, forecast, and adjust resources to stay at least one move ahead of demand. The three kinds of capacity planning strategies are lead, lag, or match strategies.

  • Lead capacity strategy
    Here, you’re anticipating growth and investing in increased capacity to keep up with demand before it hits.
  • Lag capacity strategy
    This approach, also known as following capacity, aims to maximize existing resources before investing resources to scale capacity.
  • Match capacity strategy
    A match strategy falls between a lead and lag capacity strategy, where you moderately scale resources to increase capacity. It is also called a tracking capacity, which makes sense since you scale in lockstep with demand.

Almost any business model can apply capacity planning. A capacity planning strategy would project output from manufacturing equipment and labor to produce, move, store, and maintain materials for those with physical products. In professional services, the model could help the business understand staffing needs to keep up with sales projections and account management.

Why is capacity planning important?

When done well, capacity planning keeps the business in front of customer demand, resulting in greater efficiency and profitability. By understanding the efficiency and untapped potential of resources through capacity planning, decision-makers understand how to invest in additional resources to scale the business and pick better times to make those changes.

A comprehensive capacity strategy helps businesses stay ahead, giving powerful insights into the short-, mid-, and long-term vision for resources.

Short-term capacity planning

Businesses often think of resources — be it equipment or staff — in terms of pure productivity. But, maxing out machinery and people can backfire.

For example, running machinery to the max may lead to extra maintenance or a shortened lifespan. Then there’s overproduction leading to higher warehousing costs and wasted product — especially for perishable goods or products with short product cycles (such as consumer electronics).

For staff, there’s the saying, “You can have it fast or good, but not both,” meaning that over-utilizing your team could lead to lower quality work. On the other hand, understaffing could result in lost opportunities to close new business or properly service existing customers.

To avoid these circumstances, capacity planning in the short-term helps you understand where to accelerate or ease off the gas for manufacturing schedules, labor shifts, seasonal fluctuations, and other considerations as well.

By aligning capacity and production down to quarterly, monthly, weekly, or even daily targets, you get the best of both worlds — high-quality output without overproducing, burning out resources or leaving too much idle time that diminishes profitability.

Mid-term capacity planning

There’s always an element of unpredictability, but businesses still need to plan for the future. Mid-term capacity planning forecasts approximately three years, but this cycle may differ based on the business model or industry.

Capacity planning in this context addresses staffing increases, facility updates, less-intensive machinery upgrades, new product launches, and growth projections, among other things.

Long-term capacity planning

If a short-term capacity plan puts operations under a microscope, long-term capacity planning is the telescope looking to the horizon. Having a grasp of capacity helps you understand how much more you can get out of resources — leading to more informed decisions to grow the business or adapt to significant market swings.

Companies use capacity plans and production data to understand how they can support strategic initiatives such as expanding to new markets, machinery overhauls, breaking ground on new facilities, or other long-term transformative moves.

Two ways to Implement Capacity Planning

Putting data behind capacity planning is the best way to know if you can get more out of existing resources or if you need to beef up your operations. Businesses use two basic equations to generate these insights:

Utilization calculation for capacity planning

Utilization shows how close you are to achieving 100% of your resource’s maximum potential. To do this, you compare actual output (which factors real-world conditions from work changes, interruptions, and other variables) to what the resource was designed to produce.

While you should have a good sense of the maximum designed output of equipment, personnel won’t have exact hard figures (unless they’re robots). Ideally, you will have optimal production in mind based on productivity goals within your operation.

The equation to generate a utilization percentage is:

Actual Output / Designed Capacity x 100

Maybe you won’t hit 100% utilization, and that’s okay. Workers are different every day based on which side of the bed they woke up on, job satisfaction, the morning commute, and other factors. Even machinery rated for certain productivity levels shouldn’t be expected to reach those top speeds due to everyday inefficiencies every business faces.

The key is to compare average productivity with the ceiling of a resource to understand if there’s room to get more out of resources through continuous improvement, training, or process changes — or if it’s time to bring in additional resources.

Efficiency calculation for capacity planning

Efficiency lets you know how close resources get to the productivity goals you set. (Your productivity goals should be more realistic than the designed output numbers offered by equipment manufacturers).

Here, you measure what you planned for a resource to produce based on your operations (i.e., effective capacity) against the actual output a resource achieves within a time period.

The equation to generate an efficiency percentage is:

Actual Output / Effective Capacity x 100

Knowing your efficiency, you may discover that some resources perform above expectations, meaning you can scale back on production to save money or make other adjustments to your business model. If efficiency falls below 100%, you need to either find the root cause for issues or adjust expectations.

Use Causal for capacity planning and forecasting

Capacity planning helps you accurately forecast output, improve resource yield, and make smarter decisions for near- and long-term growth. Now all you need is a tool that allows you to build these models, update them as your needs change, and create more visibility into capacity across your organization.

Causal’s platform allows you to produce complete capacity calculations, analyze models, and share results with your teams on the fly based on simple inputs. You can also model different market conditions like staff changes or machinery downtime to measure the potential impact on your capacity to deliver.

Get started building your capacity-building models in Causal for free - click the link below to learn more.

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