4Ms of Operations Management


4Ms of Operations Management

Author : Scott Houston


Most manufacturers face at least one of these common barriers to agility. The good news is that none of them are insurmountable — even those associated with aging capital equipment. Performance Solutions by Milliken has helped hundreds of companies overcome these obstacles, dramatically increasing the agility of their plants, and improve their operational excellence. How? By implementing best practices that address the 4Ms of Machines, Manpower, Methods, and Material.


Why the 4Ms Work

We understand that complexity can sometimes be used to create the illusion of greater depth or value, but it is often the simplest of tools which aid us on our journey to make every associate a confident problem solver within their organization. We can apply these methods to address the issues they face as the front line of operations.

This can be hard to accept when a company has invested significant time and money in more complex tools and highly skilled specialists, yet we still find it to be true.

One such tool is the 4Ms of manufacturing, and most organizations we work with are familiar with the concept to some degree. Whether they know it as the 4Ms, the 5Ms, the 6Ms, Cause and Effect analysis, Fishbone diagram or Ishikawa, the basic definition is there.

What is often a surprise to many people is how powerful this simple approach can be in solving operational problems by identification and eradication of the root cause(s) by those associates closest to the issues when and where they occur.


The 4Ms

Over time, additional M’s have sometimes been added to the traditional 4Ms. Whether to direct more industry specific thinking, to demonstrate evolution or improvement of the tool, or to simply make it more complex as part of rebranding. However, the big 4 are still the same:

  • huMan (Skill, Technology, Organization, Resources)
    • Do our associates have the skill (and the will) to do what is expected of them safely, consistently and effectively?
  • Machine (Equipment)
    • Are our machines capable of safe and reliable output at the desired quality and rate? Do breakdowns, defects or unplanned stoppages inhibit their ability to meet that goal?
  • Method (Process, Schedule, Procedure)
    • Do we have standard work methods in place which ensure and support consistent, safe production?
  • Material (Information, Raw Materials, Consumables, Quality)
    • Do they meet the required specifications – are there no defects and shortages? Is excess handling or movement reduced or eliminated? Are they stored appropriately?

Exploring these 4Ms provides us with a structured framework for root cause analysis by helping us to understand how each one may have contributed to a particular issue.

4M thinking finds a place in all of our Total Productive Maintenance pillars to some extent but is most widely used as a root cause analysis mechanism. The structure it brings in identifying sources of variation, root causes of problems or improvement opportunities is invaluable as a core element of problem solving

  • Safety: The 4Ms play their part in identifying root causes and improvement opportunities within the safety sub-committees.
  • Focused Improvement: We use 4Ms to help structure the team’s thinking within the analyse phase of our standard DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) framework for focused improvement.
  • Daily Management System: It is often the routine application of the 4Ms in a simple one page format that best engages and enables the problem solving capability needed to unlock the full potential of the organization.
  • Planned Maintenance: The 4M framework is instrumental in reducing breakdowns by restoring the equipment, correcting basic weaknesses, and preventing issues from coming back. Working together, 4Ms helps the pillars to understand where the weaknesses are and address them through restoration and prevention.
  • Quality Management: 4Ms Analysis is used to better understand our QA Matrix and address those factors which can most likely influence the generation of defects within the manufacturing processes on our journey to zero defects.
  • Continuous Skills Development: A 4M analysis pinpoints improvement areas for “huMan” and “Method,” which drive CSD projects to cultivate a flexible, highly skilled workforce working and creating consistent procedures.

Of course just as a TPM implementation relies on leveraging people, process and leadership working together, the pillars working together ensures variation is reduced across all 4Ms, and there is rarely a situation where you cannot draw a link from each pillar to all 4 of the Ms.


fishbone diagram

4M Analysis

The 4M analysis is a method for evaluation which of the 4M conditions is responsible for a defect mode. Most commonly practiced is the Fishbone / Ishikawa Diagram. This is a tool designed to identify, explore, and graphically display the possible causes related to a problem or condition. This approach allows teams to focus on content of the problem, creates a snapshot of the collective knowledge and consensus of a team, and focuses the team on the cause rather than the symptom.

At Milliken & Company and other organizations guided by Performance Solutions, dramatic operations improvements are commonplace. Through implementation of the Milliken Performance System, execution of the daily management practices that support it, Zero Loss Thinking to prioritize improvement projects, and an emphasis on culture change and employee empowerment, manufacturers in many industries — automotive, chemical, aerospace, food and beverage, consumer-packaged products, paperboard and packaging, plastics and rubber, etc. — have tapped into unknown potential and agile capabilities within their organizations.


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