In my career of over four decades, one of the most valuable management concepts I have witnessed is the Power of Modeling. Leaders that are looking to create a long term sustainable advantage would be well served to give modeling a thorough study.  Few are understand it and even fewer are practicing it.

Modeling is far more than sticking a toe in the water. At a high level, modeling is a designed experiment to demonstrate a process and measure potential impact.

That’s right, modeling is not about the results, but more about the process. Maybe this is a key reason why most don’t practice it. Modeling does take longer and works on a smaller scale.

The Power of Modeling starts for the ground up. It’s not big and it’s not sexy. Modeling done correctly not only demonstrates the process, but creates buy-in. When you can take one operation and bring it up to world-class operating conditions, it gets noticed. Momentum moves from a “Push” to a “Pull”, because now people like what they see. The equipment is not breaking down. Folks are not going home dirty and greasy. They want more and others start to notice. They want to know when you are going to model their equipment.

The Power of Modeling Lies in the “IF”

  • IF you can bring one line up to world-class operating conditions, then you can bring the entire operation up to world-class operating conditions.
  • IF you can bring one operation up to world-class operating conditions, then you can bring the entire organization up to world-class operating conditions.

This simple recipe creates organizational breakthroughs on a very large scale. Everyone understands it because it is practiced on a smaller scale. The results are sustained because they are based on robust processes, not programs.

Learning Modeling the Hard Way

My career was spent with Milliken & Company, a 151 year old company manufacturing textiles, floor-covering and specialty chemicals. Milliken had to deal with the hyper-competitive environment of the 1980’s and 1990’s which they did very well. As VP of Quality, I was tasked with uncovering best practices to change our competitiveness. This was more than something ‘nice to do’, it was something we had to do.

Milliken was very much an initiative-run company.  Roger Milliken, Chairman and CEO for over 60 years, would personally drive the latest initiative from the top. We did not have the luxury of small scale trials. At least, we thought.

In the mid-90’s we discovered the robust, system-based, processes being practiced in Japan. The results we saw, study mission after study mission, were mind-boggling. There was great hope that this could be applied quickly to all Milliken operations, 56 at the time. We invited Chairman Suzuki of the Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance (JIPM) to our headquarters in South Carolina. Roger Milliken told Mr. Suzuki he wanted JIPM to do all the Milliken plants.  Mr. Suzuki told Mr. Milliken that they believed in the process of modeling and they did not have the resources to do all 56 plants.

So, we chose 5 model plants, and identified the next 5 plants to follow. Each model plant identified a model machine to demonstrate the new process. Milliken was told they would only work on the model machine for 6-8 months. This did not go well with leadership who thought we did not have time just to work on models for over half a year!

Learning to Believe in “Modeling”

Then it started to happen. The breakthrough results seen on the models were now being quickly replicated throughout the model plants. Hourly associates liked the new process and were asking when they were to get involved. In addition to the next 5 model plants, more Milliken plants were asking when they could be a model. The “Pull” was happening.  The results Milliken was seeing were fantastic.

  • 5% gains annually in improved manufacturing productivity
  • 88% improvement in breakdowns
  • 80% improvement in defects
  • 30% improvement in process reliability/OEE
  • 36% improvement in safety

In retrospect, Milliken was operating like most other organizations. We wanted (and needed) the results now. The historical approach did get results, we just could not sustain them. And hence, more initiatives. It was only because we physically could not do the entire company at once, did we learn to model.

 Coaching CEOs

I have been fortunate to coach other CEOs in modeling. It’s not the easiest thing to do. I find most CEOs do want the results above, but they are just not sure how to do it. Here are the major points I make:

  1. “Process” First, Results Next.  Leaders are not the most patient folks. Being told to wait for results is not easy. The reality is for long-term, sustainable results, the process must be ingrained in the organization and modeling is the best approach.
  2. Choose “Models” of Significance. The lesson here is don’t pick your most difficult plant or line. Likewise, don’t pick the ones that just don’t matter (low volume & utilization). The challenge is to choose models that will earn the respect of the organization when they see the improvements.
  3. Provide Resources. It’s important to make certain the models have the time and money to do the work required. Since the scale is small in the beginning, this is usually not an issue.
  4. Leadership Support. I like to tell CEOs they need to be cheerleaders. I want CEOs getting excited about the process. The good ones get it.

Done right, everything else will follow.

Good Luck.

Performance Solutions by Milliken brings a unique, practitioner-based value proposition to our clients and has helped companies achieve substantial and sustainable improvements in their operations and safety excellence efforts. Read more about the Milliken Safety Way and our Performance System.

Craig Long spent the last 40 years with Milliken & Company in many different roles. For over 20 years he was VP of Quality. More recently, Craig started the consultancy Performance Solutions by Milliken, now operating in 400 operations in 23 countries.

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