The Operational Agility Requirement

During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand volatility has reached unprecedented levels. Some manufacturers have seen demand evaporate overnight, leaving them with warehouses filled with unwanted inventory. Others experienced demand spikes that overwhelmed their ability to keep pace.

The solution for both types of volatility is the same: operational agility.

Agility — both within a facility and across a plant portfolio — allow manufacturers to adapt their operations as demand requires, today and tomorrow. This year the coronavirus disrupted demand expectations; next year it could be a technology advance, regulatory actions, and/or the next health crisis to emerge.

Economic growth and steady demand often hide problems within manufacturing. Why? Because as long as products sell and customers receive orders, many executives aren’t motivated to look for invisible profit leaks such as excessive rework, reliance on expedited shipments to meet customer commitments, or sloppy cost controls. But production issues that seem like annoyances during good times can turn into crises during bad times — threatening profits and jobs.

Don’t wait for another crash to change things – it’s time to reimagine and reinvent your operations.

How to Implement Operational Agility

At Performance Solutions by Milliken, we believe that agility is founded on the basics of operational excellence, including:

  • Adapting standardized yet adaptable processes and workflows:

    Managers often get comfortable with their own processes and workflows, tweaking them for each facility, product, or function as necessary. But without standardized processes and workflows across an entire company, the ability to shift production from site to site or line to line is limited (e.g., plant tooling won’t accommodate product specs used at other locations). We’ve helped many organizations develop the one best way and then replicate those processes throughout their facilities — reducing costs and increasing agility companywide.

  • Leveraging flexible equipment:

    Many manufacturers limit their own production capacities with poor maintenance practices, inadvertently idling equipment via minor stoppages and breakdowns. At the same time, long changeover times can transform a potentially agile line into a monolith dedicated to a single products. Emphasis on rapid changeover techniques can dramatically improve performance and enhance agility, creating production lines that flex to meet demands. We’ve helped some manufacturers achieve equipment changeovers without any downtime.

  • Developing responsive supply chains:

    Manufacturers are only as agile as their supply chains. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies struggled to find or replace supplier materials and components. For some, goods were stuck in plants, warehouses, customs, or in transit. At others, executives thought they had backup vendors, but found that their supply chains were overly reliant on a single company somewhere upstream. Supply chains need to be tested for agility now and redesigned for redundancy in the future. Given current volatility, that may mean insourcing for some manufacturers.

  • Hiring and training agile associates:

    Multiskilled, engaged, and empowered associates: Agile processes, workflows, and production require agile workers — employees able to master an array of tasks, engage themselves actively in problem-solving, and empower themselves to implement resolutions.. We do that at Milliken and with our clients by encouraging high levels of engagement with associates — training, empowerment, coaching/mentoring, and development of a corporate culture that recognizes and rewards agile behaviors.

With the right tools, building an agile operation can deliver better performance and business benefits. Performance Solutions by Milliken helps manufacturers address and improve the “4Ms” of operations to achieve agility. What might you gain?

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1 Response
  1. J White

    Just a note from someone with extensive experience helping other companies embrace the Milliken philosophy. Company leadership teams “discover” this transparent, always-effective system, and name it as their own XYZ Philosophy.
    This step is important, because at every level of the organization, “ownership” is the key.
    Once management is on board, the wage operators are the most receptive to the new focus on agility in the workforce. They also appreciate the enlightened approach this methodology entails. On the front end of any planned improvement, this comprises the “Human Capital” side of the Balanced Scorecard. On the back end, the employees will consistently register their appreciation with a significantly higher score in “overall morale” in the soonest Employee Engagement Survey.
    Extra care must be taken to fully engage Middle Management. These key people are those who run the company on a daily basis. It is their ownership if the improvement process which is the most often overlooked, but absolutely necessary. They are the linchpin connecting upper management and the workforce. Ignore them at your peril.

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