michale-muilenburgMichael Muilenburg is the Operational Technology Manager and Strategic Planner for the Film Manufacturing and Supply Chain Operations Division of 3M Company. He currently leads a team of continuous improvement specialists that support manufacturing and supply chain operations in nine US locations and twelve international sites. In addition, he coordinates the division annual strategic planning process and is active in business analysis and modeling, benchmarking and understanding the competition.

During his 30-year career at 3M, he has worked in manufacturing operations, process development, product development, Lean Six Sigma and supply chain.

In his spare time, he is an active performing, recording and teaching guitarist, plus he enjoys outdoor activities including skiing, cycling, sailing and fishing.


A Lean Story:
A few years ago I met a man on an airplane who was also traveling on business.  I shared with him that I was traveling to a manufacturing plant to work on some improvement projects.  He asked, “Are you going to go and do one of those KaiZANs?”  He then explained, “We do those too! We put together a team and go and work on a problem from some list. We don’t buy lunch, we don’t cover the workers’ job duties (so they have to catch up when they are done with the team), and we have to make a big PowerPoint presentation to management at the end of it all.”

I smiled, and nodded, and quietly went back to reading my newspaper.  After about ten minutes, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  I said, “Do you know what KaiZAN means in Japanese?” He looked puzzled but answered, “Continuous Improvement?”

I replied, “I don’t claim to speak Japanese, but I have learned that KaiZEN means to continuously improve, usually in small steps, however KaiZAN means “to cook the books, falsify, or make things appear better than they really are.” Some people might say you can go to jail for doing KaiZAN.

I went on to explain how we had been doing KaiZEN at 3M – we use a team-based approach, we free up team members to participate, we do some training if needed, we sometimes provide lunch or snacks, and we summarize the work in a simple four-blocker that we can post on the Glass Wall.

He paused again and thoughtfully said, “I guess we are really doing KaiZAN and not KaiZEN.”

The 3M Film Manufacturing Division Culture:
Our manufacturing plants have ramped up their Kaizen efforts in the past year to a level never seen before. Large and small improvements are being made every day. Projects are being led at all levels of the organization. Sometimes Kaizen Events are planned in advance and sometime they are more spontaneous. Often we don’t even called them Kaizen.

There is an old saying, “Dust accumulates to form a mountain.” While I am not sure that this has ever happened in real life, it carries a truth that all Lean practitioners will recognize. Taken positively, this is the essential spirit of Kaizen. Many small changes repeated over time result in massive improvements.  That is what we have seen this past few years year in our organization.

Improvements have been made through hundreds of projects and Kaizen activities that are impacting safety, changeover, yield, quality, material flow, inventory, and many other categories. Some of these efforts have resulted in measurable savings, while other simply improve the work and drive out more subtle forms of waste. They are ALL part of continuous improvement.

Adding to the improvement mindset, conversations have changed from “Who’s going to work on that problem?” or “Let’s put that idea in the hopper” to “How can my team solve this problem as quickly as possible?”

The culture has become a place where improving the work is the work!


What’s next?
In order to sustain our continuous improvement culture, we have looked at a model from Own the Gap by Mike Martyn and Bryan Crowell.  Simply stated, they describe a system that keeps the problem-solving engine running at maximum capacity.  We may be achieving success today, but adding the Strategy, Visual Management, and Standard Follow-up pieces will ensure sustainment of our efforts.

    1. Strategy – what does it mean to win (or lose)?
    2. Visual Management – Are we winning or losing?
    3. Kaizen (Problem Solving and Continuous Improvement) – If we are not winning, what are we doing about it?
    4. Standard Follow-up – what can we do today to help you win more often?

Our Lean Management System and tools such as Tier Boards and Daily Accountability are part of this system, but a deeper look and further standardization will drive out even more waste from our processes.  Asking these four questions consistently is the key.

As we build on our continuous improvement success, we keep these things front of mind:

      • Be safe – the standard way needs to be the safest way
      • Engage the power of the team – everyone is a problem solver, or at least a keen observer
      • Be scientific – look for creative solutions, evaluate alternatives, experiment
      • Share – put your stories out there to inspire others and speed up improvements across the organization
      • Celebrate – recognize creativity, speed, teamwork, and results

Do not do KaiZAN – focus on real, sustainable improvements (KaiZEN)

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