The Momentum of Operational Excellence: Revitalizing the Milliken Performance System

“When we connect activity to improved performance, it generates momentum and cultural change.” - Cara Thompson, Director, Corporate Milliken Performance System

How do you achieve excellence, and then maintain it on a daily basis?  

For athletes, musicians, and yes, manufacturers alike, achieving excellence requires planning, assessing, and refining until you can consistently produce superior results each time, every time. It becomes second nature to excel at a high level, create exceptional work, and produce quality outcomes.  

At Milliken, we call it operational excellence, and our commitment to operational excellence has elevated Milliken with the global industries we serve for decades.  

After years of dedication to this ideal, we formalized and structured our approach to become the Milliken Performance System (MPS), Milliken’s award-winning systems approach to methodologies that achieve operational excellence. For more than 25 years, MPS has served as the backbone of our manufacturing process, delivering positive business results and quality improvements.  

The Case for Milliken Performance System
As a systems-based methodology that builds capabilities, drives cost competitiveness, and supports aligned growth with the company, MPS brings our operational excellence to life by embracing leadership and problem solving in pursuit of sustainable organizational growth.  

To Cara Thompson, Director, Corporate MPS, operational excellence offers a range of benefits to both customers and associates. “Operational excellence enhances our reputation beyond supplying quality products,” Cara shared. “Internally, our operational excellence culture creates safer and more efficient manufacturing work environments where all associates can engage in process improvement and contribute to Milliken’s success.”  

MPS was built on the foundation of Milliken’s safety and quality revolution in the 1980s and 1990s. Milliken began prioritizing safety and quality in every aspect of the business and developed a leading reputation for excellence, supported by OSHA VPP-certified manufacturing facilities and winning the coveted Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award.  

Leveraging this momentum, Milliken embarked on its operational excellence journey in 1994 with trips to Japan to benchmark and study Japanese manufacturing methods. What we witnessed provided Milliken with systematic methodologies to eliminate various types of losses within our plants, expanding our definition of what excellence looked like in a manufacturing setting.   

To stay relevant in a changing market, however, we know that we must evolve ourselves. It is with this spirit of continuous learning and continuous growth, that we take our next step in refreshing and revitalizing MPS to once again expand the boundaries of what innovative manufacturing can accomplish. With this, this year we modernized MPS to drive us to new levels of operational excellence.  

Practical Methodologies Tailored to Achieve Operational Excellence
MPS maintains the same core foundation, but the refreshed MPS takes a customized approach. Each methodology in the MPS infographic is a lever designed to address specific losses—locked potential that can be delivered back to a business by improving the manufacturing process. These levers can be used individually or in combination, so each Milliken plant designs their approach to best achieve specific business goals.

“When we originally built MPS, we required all plants to deploy all methodologies, which drove deep process understanding,” Cara noted. Manufacturing built the system from the ground up. “Our MPS strategy now is to leverage practicality to achieve operational excellence. This enables our divisions to deploy the right combination of methodologies to achieve specific performance objectives.”   

The revitalized MPS moves from a simultaneous deployment of methodologies to custom deployment plans, and the result empowers Milliken associates to make changes and improvements that are strategically important to their unique business.  

“Our aspiration is for the organization to pull on the right method at the right time to drive results,” shared Cara. “Plant teams are empowered to leverage MPS methodologies based on their current situation. This approach allows plants to prioritize their resources to achieve the greatest impact.”

Harnessing Unique Momentum
Just as no athlete has the same training program, the revitalized MPS encourages our manufacturing teams around the world to think differently about deploying operational excellence.  

As Cara explains, “Our operating system is a framework that is built and improved over time based on MPS improvement methodologies. As we grow and learn, we apply those takeaways to new situations.  

“MPS truly emphasizes a plant’s ability to harness their unique momentum, capitalize on engaged associate culture, and expand their individual definition of excellence. Within the MPS framework, we hope to unlock and realize untapped potential as we achieve greater impact.”