Improvement of a model area can turbocharge replication of best practices — and better performances

Manufacturing executives are often flummoxed at the start of improvement initiatives by a fundamental question: Where do we begin? Getting started is the hardest part, as a number of factors complicate decision-making:

  • Lack of resources: Few organizations have the resources or staff to embark on a company-wide improvement initiative. Yet without a rigorous prioritization process, many programs stall quickly as leaders debate what should be addressed now — and what can wait.
  • Improvement activity without bottom-line impact: Instead of prioritizing, some organizations apply some kind of improvement to all activities. These earnest but superficial efforts may look like change, yet they rarely resolve root problems and issues. Even worse, without sufficient support and tools, employees will struggle to implement even simple techniques. For example, work teams may develop current-state value-stream maps for their production lines, but they don’t know how to address the problems that the maps expose.
  • Lack of standardization: Without overall structure and guidance, managers and teams will develop one-off solutions. Each work area optimizes its own solution — without regard to what’s best for other areas, the plant, or the company.
  • An “It won’t work here” mindset: Managers and frontline associates often mistakenly view their industry, work, and processes as unique — and therefore not compatible with improvement methodologies used in other settings. Typically they need to see it work in their environment before they’ll commit to change.

There is a better, incremental way to change, which can drastically enhance the effectiveness of a continuous improvement effort and swiftly achieve performance and best-practice objectives.

Management begins by selecting a model line or area based on criteria such as urgency for improvement, capacity to replicate standards to other areas, and the ability to completely improve the area. It’s neither the easiest area to improve (i.e., no low-hanging fruit) nor one that will require excessive time or investment. The model area or line will achieve gains that benefit the plant while proving the improvement methods and process changes to others in the organization.

The model establishes internal benchmarking of practices and performances, and instills confidence in management and the workforce that the improvement methods are viable. Once the model is transformed, the concepts and standards are deployed to and replicated in other areas of the plant. As more workers learn how to transform an area and transfer that knowledge to others, the plantwide effort grows. For example, standardized technical sheets, work sheets, equipment guides, etc. are transferred to other lines and processes for when those areas begin improvement.

This model and replication approach will:

  • Establish a proof of concept that creates believers: Instead of dreading change, managers and frontline staff ask: “When can we improve our area?”
  • Inspire improvement-minded workforce capabilities: Managers and frontline associates see and replicate model behaviors.
  • Focus on new practices and levels of performance: Many plants have multiple but similar product lines that can rapidly copy new best practices.
  • Continuously innovate new standard work for future improvements: Each replication holds the promise of even better standards.

Performance Solutions by Milliken uses this methodology to help manufacturers build credibility for the revised process, develop best practices, and roll out a plan for replication throughout the plant. Performance Solutions by Milliken has helped others apply this methodology for quick wins that demonstrate how the different pillars of the Milliken Performance System interact to form a foundation for ongoing improvements.

Does your organization need a metered — but faster — approach to improvement? Performance Solutions by Milliken and its practitioners can help.

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