Improving Manufacturing Operations from the Inside Out

Few manufacturers have the internal expertise and resources to address every problem or opportunity. Outside assistance is often required, which can be both good and bad: a consultant can provide insights and tools to solve an urgent problem (good), but the manufacturer may remain unable to solve similar problems on its own — with the consultant becoming a well-paid, long-term resident (bad).

ALM Intelligence, a leading expert on the consulting industry, recognizes this challenge by including a “Client Capabilities Development” score in its annual rankings of production operations consulting. ALM defines this as how individual consulting firms work to develop “client technical skills … and mindsets and behaviors adapted to execute and sustain the solution.” In 2019, Performance Solutions by Milliken (PSbyM) was one of just two consultancies rated as “Very Strong” in the Client Capabilities Development category.

We at PSbyM — the consulting division of Milliken & Co. — are grateful and overwhelmed to be recognized in this way. We’ve always believed that operational excellence can’t be bolted on to an organization by an external party; improved methods have to be developed on-site that address urgent problems but also increase knowledge throughout the organization — changing its culture and improving employee job satisfaction and performance. That’s how Milliken & Co. reinvented itself, and how we at PSbyM work with clients.

PSbyM practitioners — all of whom have held multiple production leadership positions at Milliken & Co. and other high-performing operations — work closely with client leaders by jointly conducting a corporate assessment to define overall strategic clarity and establish a vision for the future of each individual facility or location (e.g., goals, competitive advantages, gaps in current performance, allocation of resources). Client leaders and PSbyM practitioners follow up by identifying levels of performance and proficiency achieved at comparable world-class facilities, and then evaluating how each client site measures up. From this assessment, a master plan is developed that sequences improvements by location/facility.

Within each facility, our practitioners collaborate with client staff to:

  • Present an overview of the transformation process and anticipated outcomes;
  • Describe the roles and responsibilities of plant leaders and managers in the changes to come;
  • Select a model area or line in the plant where improvements will begin; and
  • Implement cross-functional steering teams (e.g., hourly operators, management sponsor, and specialist, such as EHS) to investigate problems and apply problem-solving tools.

These teams address problems in the model area by encouraging frontline associates to assume ownership of processes. As the model area is perfected, management and teams develop their own standardized practices and tools, eventually replicating those standards and improvement results throughout the facility. Managers and supervisors move from traditional command-and-control roles to coaching/mentoring; their goals are to engage, train, and empower frontline associates and to strategically explore operations opportunities for the facility.

This is critical: At PSbyM, we expect our practitioners to gradually reduce their own roles within facilities as clients’ in-house practitioners emerge. In our next blog, we’ll look at the system we use to make our exit possible — by helping clients develop training and knowledge that sustains transformation and continuous improvement (another category for which ALM ranked us highly).

Is your company or plant looking for assistance with operations improvements, but worried about taking on a life-long consultant? Performance Solutions by Milliken offers a different approach. If you’d like to learn more about it, sign up here to receive more news and analysis, and begin achieving improvements from the inside out.

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