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Pay It Forward

Michael Roman - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Guest Blog by Lee Ellis:

Looking back, 2013 was a very busy year for most of us—what a blur of activity! Some of my closest friends were worried that I wouldn’t be able to sustain the pace of traveling, speaking, book signing, consulting, coaching and even working on a new book. There were challenging moments, but amazingly my energy and spirits remained high. I attribute this not to a special energy drink but to the infusion of generous encouragement and affirmation that I received from so many people throughout the year. Not only did I receive much more than I gave, but I’ve never felt so free to be myself. This giving from others brought me a new level of freedom and made the difference in my year. 

As a former Vietnam POW, you can imagine how meaningful freedom is to me and how sensitive I am about the concept. As a leadership consultant and coach, I see that we all have mindsets from our past that are like shackles holding us  back from being our best self—hence the tagline for my consulting company  that says “Freeing Leaders To Lead Higher.”

Now in reflection, I can see how others freed me to climb higher in 2013. With this fresh perspective, I’m making a commitment to pay it forward in 2014. To do that I’ll need a spirit of giving not just at the holidays, but I’ll need to be a giver every day of the year in three specific areas: personhood, performance, and potential.

Give affirmation. This is about personhood. We all want to count, to be valued, to know that we are important in this life. In our daily interactions with others, we have a choice to be a giver or a taker; it’s much healthier to give than to be needy taker. My goal is to authentically lift others up and not add to the burdens of self-doubt that we all carry. I’m going to be more intentional about affirming their uniqueness, recognizing their talents, and helping them see how special they are. 

Give encouragement. This is about performance. Positive feedback reinforces mental and muscle memory, and it also energizes the recipient. That’s the energy that was propelling this old fighter pilot to light the afterburners and soar rather than fizzle in 2013! I want to encourage others, but sometimes my old habits as an Air Force instructor pilot kick in. Grading every maneuver against perfection was required in that job, but it’s not very helpful in leadership (and most relationships, for that matter). I need to raise my awareness and emotional intelligence to quickly and consistently recognize small successes and good execution.

Give others a vision for their future. This is about potential. From my early years, I had a few people who saw something in me that I didn’t see. In small and large ways, they communicated that vision to me—subtly calling me out to reach my potential. During the difficult years in the POW cells, those messages echoed through my mind and inspired me onward toward the day when I would finally be free again. For years I’ve made it part of my mission to pay back the bank for this great investment that was made in me by so many.  This year, I want to take the risk and double down in expressing my faith in others because I personally know how valuable it can be.

We all have times when we fight the demons of discouragement and doubt, but focusing on ourselves usually makes us needy.  Instead of being takers, let’s commit to become better givers.  It’s a freeing behavior for the giver and the receiver, and it’s mutually beneficial for both parties.  Will you join me in my effort to free others to live and lead higher in 2014? Share your comments and plans for the new year in this forum.

As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, human performance, and succession planning. His media appearances include interviews on networks such as CNN, C-Span, ABC World News, and Fox News Channel. His latest award-winning book about his Vietnam POW experience is entitled Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Learn more at

Keeping Faith & The American Dream

Michael Roman - Sunday, November 10, 2013

This is not about ERP - A Guest Blog by John Del Vecchio Managing Member of Charlie Foxtrot Entertainment, LLC and a Vietnam Veteran.

On Saturday, November 9, 2013, the Johns Creek Veterans Association held a ceremonial Ground Breaking for its Veterans Walk.  John Del Vechhio made these remarks.

Wayne, John, Robby, Gerry, members of the Johns Creek Veteran Association, and town administrators, thank you for allowing me to participate in this dedication.

What a lovely memorial. I can picture it completed, see citizens coming here, walking through, or sitting, contemplating the plaques, the names, the events, the meanings.

And what a lovely country we live in. What an exceptional country we’ve inherited. Memorials remind us that this has been at great cost.

I would like to tell you some of my thoughts on The American Dream, and on Keeping Faith with those who have gone before us, with those who have sacrificed so much, with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and from whose hands we’ve taken the torch to hold high.*

I am thinking of friends who did not make it back. Thinking of advice heard many years ago. “There is a reason why you are here and they are not. It is your duty to find the reason, and to live your life in such a way as to make their sacrifice not in vain.”

We have been given days, and years, and decades which others have not. How do we Keep Faith with them?

What responsibility, what duty, do we have--not just those of us who made it back, but we, The American Citizenry—what duty do we have to those who made it possible for us to be here today in this wonderful nation?

Does Keeping Faith mean more than saluting the flag and standing for the national anthem before a ball game? Is saying, “Thank you,” enough? Or does Keeping Faith mean something more?

Does it perhaps mean understanding our Rights and Freedoms as American citizens? Does it perhaps mean being vigilant and protecting those Rights and Freedoms when they are being attacked from without or being eroded from within?

Does it mean overseeing national decisions as to how our current military is used, and ensuring that it is not being abused?

Our troops—soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and the coast guard, in Viet Nam, in today’s wars, throughout our history—have been the will to defend, the will to pull the trigger. Without that will no nation can survive. Keeping Faith with them requires of our leaders, and of all of us, that we do not waste the will.

Let me back up.

As you know, I am a veteran of the fight opposing Hanoi’s war of expansion which sought communist hegemony over all of Southeast Asia. In 1970 and 1971 I was an Army combat correspondent with the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). Our area of tactical responsibility—we referred to this as our Area of Operation or AO—was northern I Corps, below the DMZ, from the South China Sea west through jungled mountains and across the A Shau Valley to the Laotian border. Our mission was to provide security for the civilian population in the densely populated lowlands by engaging a heavily armed, infiltrating force in the sparsely inhabited mountains.

When I was writing The 13th Valley in the latter part of the 1970s, the media was filled with negative stories about American troops. I wanted to tell the story of what I’d seen, of amazing soldiers doing impossible things in this unforgiving terrain. I wished to set the record straight for the 101st. I knew the media definitely had it wrong about my unit—and assumed they were talking about the Marines. I did not know, at the time, about Dai Do. For me that came later…John Kachmar**... (Mr. Del Vecchio presented him with a copy of book)… you’ll find a story of Dai Do beginning on page 115 of Carry Me Home...   The Marines, too, were pretty awesome.

How can we keep faith if we don’t know what these men did; why they fought; what was the cause; who was the enemy, and why did we oppose that enemy? Why did we engage in the fight in the first place? Who are we, We Americans, to go on extended excursions to foreign lands?

To answer to those questions would, of course, take semesters, but allow me to mention a few seldom recalled details about the origin of the war; and let me also mention that knowledge—truthful knowledge, not politically correct propaganda—is a miracle elixir… It lifts the spirits, and ameliorates the suffering of PTSD.

Let’s go back to I Corps—before America showed up. And to Hanoi. In January 1959—more than five years before the Gulf of Tonkin Incident—the politburo of the Communist Party of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Viet Nam [North Viet Nam], met in secret session in Hanoi and declared war on the South. During that month-long meeting three logistic routes from the north to the south were authorized. These were known as Routes 559, 759, and 959, for the month and year of their inception. Trail 959—September 1959—went west from Hanoi into Laos, then south into Cambodia; 759 was a series of sea lanes and landing areas, including the circumnavigation of the Ca Mau peninsula to land men and materiel at the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville; and 559 became the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail in eastern Laos with spurs crossing the DMZ, running south, down through I Corps, through the A Shau valley and the mountainous jungles west of Hue.

The first waves of communist fighters using these infiltration routes were political terrorists. One should make no mistake—our involvement, though not known at the time by this term, was a War on Terror. By 1960 communist terrorists from the north were assassinating between 50 and 100 South Vietnamese hamlet, district or province officials—including school teachers—each and every month! The terror grew to 100 assassinations and approximately 800 kidnappings per month by 1962. Terrorists terrorize! Hanoi dubbed this policy the ‘Elimination Of Tyrants’ campaign. Tyrants, I guess, meant to them hamlet chiefs and school teachers!

The 1962 numbers for South Viet Nam would be the 2013 equivalent of terrorists killing or kidnapping more than 250,000 American. A quarter million victims! And this was happening before the war “heated up.” At that time U.S. forces in Viet Nam numbered 900 in 1960, 12,000 at the end of 1962.

So were we right to engage in this fight?

Could anyone knowing and understanding what was happening question whether or not our forces were on a humanitarian mission?

The next six years, to Tet of 1968, received the far more, but not necessarily far more accurate, attention from our media.

Some less known but interesting facts and figures: Following the 1968 Communist Tet Offensive, the South Vietnamese citizenry, previously untrusted, was armed. Over the next three years, while US forces were reduced by 58%, communist terror attacks (assassinations, abductions and bombings) on villages and hamlets dropped 30%, small-unit attacks dropped 41%, and battalion-size attacks dropped 98%!

At the same time, rice production increased by nearly 10%, war related civilian injuries dropped 55%, and enemy defections increased to the highest levels of the war. Armed, the South Viet Namese citizenry became an effective force in protecting themselves and their property from an organized terror campaign.

Ahhh… but were we ever told this?

Or had our national focus shifted? In the pursuit of freedom errors and abuses had been made. Our attention was no longer on the pursuit, but only on the errors and abuses.

For those of you who served in later wars, feel free to extrapolate this scenario. Some things have not changed.

Critics of the War in Viet Nam called all tactics into question. You may recall Ted Kennedy condemning U.S. military operations in I Corps, in the A Shau valley, at Dong Ap Bia, at Ripcord and Khe Ta Laou. Seemingly he had forgotten that terrorists were infiltrating via this very route.

His focus, along with that of much of the media, had shifted. Recall the My Lai massacre: from exposure of that incident in 1969, to 1972, 473 nightly TV news stories focused on that one atrocity, yet not a single story was aired about the 6000 communist assassinations of South Vietnamese,  non-military government personnel in 1970 alone.

If we perceive American troops as barbarians—as undisciplined baby killers or drug addicts; or if we are ignorant of the foes atrocious acts and ultimate aims—can we say we have kept faith with those who fell?

Errors and abuses were addressed; American ground forces were withdrawn by early1972; the armed southern population carried the bulk of their own local defense; yet America’s focus remained on “the American atrocity.”

This political momentum led to the abandonment of our allies, and the people of Southeast Asia. The abandonment can be inferred by economic support. The US budget for the war, adjusted for inflation, fell by over 95% from 1969 to 1974. Weapons and ammo in the South became relatively scarce. In comparison, the final communist offensive which toppled the Saigon government employed 500 Soviet tanks, 400 long-range artillery pieces and over 18,000 military trucks moving an army of 400,000 troops down the Truong Son Corridor—that is through western I Corps below the DMZ, past Ripcord and Dong Ap Bia, through the A Shau Valley, and south. 400,000 troops!

U.S. abandonment of the South Viet Nam lead directly to 70,000 executions in the first 90 days of communist control; to the death of millions in Cambodia, to a half million Boat People fleeing the new oppression—many of those dying at sea; to more than a million people being incarcerated in gulag re-education camps; and to the communist ethnic cleansing of Laos.

Keeping Faith means knowing these things. It means remaining vigilant when the propagandists are stressing the errors or abuses that we as a nation have committed; yet simultaneously omitting the good, the honorable and the valorous we accomplished. Even worse, when they ignore the evil which we opposed.

Let me digress.

America the beautiful: it has been miraculous. Exceptional. A beacon… the shining light on the hill guiding those seeking freedom.

This is not genetic. We are the great Melting Pot, a land which has welcomed the diverse, huddled masses… a land which once celebrated the diverse aspects of all cultures, but that also subordinated diversity to unity—e pluribus Unum, Out of Many, One.

So if not genetic, could it be the system established by our Founding Fathers?  A system derived from concepts of the High Renaissance, forged in the rough environs of the new world, and perfected in conflict with tyranny?

Is it not that which we defend; which we proffer others; for which we risk our lives, the lives of our countrymen, the lives of our sons and daughters?

A number of years ago I came across the following thought, but I have rarely seen it repeated.

American Exceptionalism begins with the phrase: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of -------- Property. Yes, property! That was the 1774 wording from the Declaration of Colonial Rights drawn up by the First Continental Congress.

The concept of happiness, as you might suspect, was quite different 240 years ago… you know, back before TV, Movies, X-boxes, NASCAR or Atlanta Falcons. At the time Property and Happiness were almost synonymous. The hot topic of the day was Citizen versus Subject… A citizen could own property; a subject could only use the property of the sovereign, and then only with the sovereign’s permission.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of property: this is the American Dream. The pursuit of property means a person has the unalienable right to earn, to build, and to keep much of the fruits of his labor, ideas and diligence—without them being taxed to the extent they are taken away. This standard exhorts all to go forth and excel; it tells us that from our exertions we can, and should, benefit. The American Dream is not the house with the white picket fence, but the freedom to build, to have, to own and to be secure in that house.

This culture which the founding principles foster—through all the ups and downs and bumps and warts of the centuries—has provided not just the highest standard of living in human history, but the greatest liberty to develop self and family, ideas and ideals, associations and institutions.

Academics have interviewed infantrymen to discover why they fight. Scholars tell us that soldiers fight for their buddies, for the guys next to them, for the team. But they tend to miss the fact that motivation is not singular, nor is it always understood by the individual. The academic view, beyond a doubt, is accurate, but it is also shallow.

Protecting Mom, apple pie, and The American Way against all enemies foreign and domestic are all elements of that motivation. Yet the last may be subconscious. It is certainly more difficult to express. After all—my guys, Mom and apple pie are tangible; the American Spirit and a constitution establishing a government given rights by citizens, versus a regime in which subjects are given rights by a ruling elite—that’s a bit esoteric.

We fought and fight for all these reasons and more; but if we contemplate the sacrifice of so many, if we truly believe they did not die in vain, apple pie (and I love apple pie) comes up short.

So… when we—those of us given years others have not been given—judge ourselves, the criteria must include how true our lives have been to the great founding documents of our nation.

Without knowledge of our founding principles, without an accurate understanding of our foes and why we engaged in battle, we are at peril of losing the way—not simply for ourselves but for future generations. Let this be a challenge—a gauntlet thrown at our feet.

It is the preservation of American Exceptionalism that is worth fighting for, worth living for, worth risking life and limb for. It is the perpetuation of that Exceptionalism—built upon the dreams, aspirations and labors of free citizens—which makes the ultimate sacrifice of so many not in vain.

We have been given days, and years, and decades which others have not. Have we lived our lives in such a manner they would approve?

To those who have not had the years and decades, I wish to say: From your failing hands you threw us the torch to hold high; and you said, “If ye break faith with us who die; We shall not sleep…”*

To you, dear brothers, and dear sisters, I wish to tell you that there are many here, and millions across this beautiful land, who have not and will not break faith with you.

Rest easy. We have your backs.

*From: Flanders Fields by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD

**Kachmar: Marine, 2/4 @ Dai Do; highly decorated; Purple Heart

ED - John Kachmar is the City Manager of Johns Creek, GA

ED - Here is a link to Mr. Del Vecchio's Book - The 13th Valley

ED - You may contact Mr. Del Vecchio at



3 Ways Older Leaders Can Renew Their Value

Michael Roman - Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Guest Blog by Lee Ellis

“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” As we celebrate Veterans Day this month, it made me think about this quote from General Douglas MacArthur. For the most part, U.S. citizens are very respectful and enthusiastic about honoring the sacrifices of our military veterans. But do veterans (and older leaders) offer more than old stories of past battles and successes?  

Whether you’re a military veteran, a business veteran, an academic veteran, or a veteran in any sector of society, you sense the strong pressure that the world wants to cast off the old as irrelevant in our modern, youth-driven culture. Leaders today that once had influential power and influence are being replaced by seemingly younger, vibrant, more innovative next generation leaders that can do it better, faster, and smarter. Older leaders inevitably begin looking over their shoulder wondering when they’re no longer needed.  

Here’s the challenge for you, older leader—renew your value by sharing your legacy of experiences, battles, successes, and failures. Otherwise, future generations are doomed to repeat what you’ve already learned in your personal and professional life.

Here are three unchanging principles that will renew leadership value for yourself and others –

1. Preparation – Share it and Use it

Think of times in your past when you’ve been most successful. It was likely a time when you created a plan, took the necessary training, and worked hard to fulfill the steps to make it a reality. These experiences created a unique set of training principles that would be invaluable to next generation leaders. Elevate your value by helping prepare them to take your place. Teach them the ethics, character, and tactics of great leadership.

Alternately, you also have to use these skills to plan ahead for your own future. Fall back on your own wisdom and training, and choose to prepare now where you want to be in five to ten years. Otherwise, someone may choose for you.

2. Commitment is Foundational

If you’re a child, spouse, or parent (I think that’s all of us), you know that commitment is critical to the important things in life such as relationships. Likewise in the area of work, as a young leader you soon realized that need to look for an easy way out when a situation got really difficult. If you didn’t choose to stay committed to the goal, you would’ve given up. Your seasoned values and character kept you daily engaged in the battle. Next generation leaders may not have a clue what they will face in their professional futures, but you can help equip them with the right perspective, tactics, and attitude to successfully commit and stay the course.  

And, you should keep those skills on hand for your own future. The types of battles may change in your twilight years, but your experience will provide the level of resilience you need to confidently move forward.

3. Live and Lead with Honor

To live and lead with honor sets one apart in every area of life. Honor is about integrity, decency, principle, morality, character, nobility, respect, dignity, and high values; see one of my interview videos below for my personal definition of honor. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”* If you think on these things, you’re more likely to live as an honorable person. But, an older leader like you can tell a next generation leader that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Fear is always lurking around the corner, and it will take you out. Just look at the dis-honorable behavior we see in our culture, and it comes from greed which is a manifestation of fear.

The antidote to fear for all leaders is courage—leaning into the pain of your fear to do what you know is right even when it doesn’t feel natural of safe. Your continued growth in courage will inspire everyone around you. If there was ever a time our country needs courage, it’s now. We need courageous leaders and citizens of all ages. You can play a powerful role—take the courage challenge**.

*Source: The Holy Bible, the Book of Philippians, Chapter 4 Verse 8 (New International Version translation)

**Join Lee Ellis’ “Courage Challenge” movement and get free resources. Learn more at

Lee Ellis is founder and president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting company. He consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, leadership and human performance development, and succession planning. He is also a speaker and the author of the award-winning book, Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton, in which he shares his experiences as a Vietnam POW and highlights leadership lessons learned in the camps. For more information, please visit


Do You Really Need a Lawyer

Michael Roman - Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Uh-oh, Mike, guess what day it is! Come on, you know… yup, like it or not, it’s…Its jury duty day. So, summons in hand, into the dark of an early Georgia morning I go. An hour-and-a-quarter in horrific traffic later, I exit the car and board the shuttle to the Fulton County Courthouse. Then it will be about 10-1/2 hours of sit, wait, listen, think, and speak… then sit, wait, listen, think and speak… and all of that again, until finally we finish, board the shuttle, and – exhausted from the day – head out into the early evening darkness for the ride home, which is now even longer because of horrific traffic.

But that gives me time to think, and that usually means I think about my work. With the complicated, frustrating legal system still very much on my mind, the thought hits me that, all too often, ERP consultants are lumped into the same category as lawyers. Both are deemed by their clients as necessary evils! The truth is, like 'em or not, lawyers do indeed serve a valuable role as adviser and advocate in the courtroom. After seeing court cases from the jury box, I assure you this: Do not try to represent yourself in court, because there are a thousand nuances to the judicial system that can only be learned only through experience. Abraham Lincoln said, “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client and a jackass for a lawyer.”

If you want your attorney to represent you well, you need to trust him or her enough to share everything! The same is true with your ERP consultant. Hiding the facts, out of embarrassment, or protecting someone, or any other reason, will only slow the process down. In the courtroom, when those secrets emerge in the cross examination, you might lose the case; in your operation, your ERP implementation could stall or fail when one hidden issue becomes known.

The reality is that Manufacturing Practices finds that company owners often do not fully understand the business system in use at their organizations. As a result, they often set goals and objectives that run counter to the goals and objectives delivered by the ERP system setup.  Education about the ERP system addresses this issue for them; and education serves as the base to understanding the button-pushing that occurs in the ERP System. Educating owners is that missing first step that prepares a company for the ERP journey, and owners do well to own up to those issues that they might otherwise keep to themselves.

At the same time, users often do not receive the education necessary to understanding why they should use the system. For the ERP system to work as it should, they must actually use the system so the business owners can review the ERP System reports and more effectively manage the organization from the input data. In an effort to get the job done, users often think they are helping by taking the short cuts that bypass the ERP System.  So educating users is also a required step for success.

In the courtroom, anything can happen, but an experienced lawyer can win the day by helping his client understand every detail of the case and prepare for anything the opposition might throw their way. The client relies on the lawyer to guide him through the complexities of the legal system. In your business, a skilled, experienced consultant can advise and educate both owners and users to accomplish each group’s independent goals. That is our role at Manufacturing Practices, to serve as mentors to both parties to guide the project to its successful conclusion.

Science of mrp

Michael Roman - Thursday, October 17, 2013

There were some interesting discussions in LinkedIn subgroups recently.  Someone asked about how to accomplish scheduling using MRP, MRPII, ERP and spreadsheets. Manufacturing Practices, Inc. has witnessed some interesting spreadsheet use over the years, but none more than a large manufacturing company that came to us for help. They were using a spreadsheet to create procurement and production scheduling for their ERP System – and it was not working.

So what did we discover? First, let me give you a little background about ERP, MRPII, MRP and mrp.

Material Requirements Planning (mrp) is part of a formal system, used for MRP, MRPII, or ERP systems. That process plans the material requirements for a shop regardless of whether that procurement is for material or service (like anodizing aluminum). Let’s call those POs. Early mrp functions also calculated production orders, and let’s call them WOs.  A Master Production Schedule fed early mrp functions and used Bills-of-Material (BOMs) and Bills-of-Operation (BOOs) and lead-time from Part Numbers (Items) in the calculation process.

In the evolution of formal business management systems, MRP came first.  MRP systems used the mrp function and had perpetual inventory, sales orders and little else. MRPII Systems were next and added functionality to the MRP System including the accounting side of the business and a few other activities to help to manage an organization with limited capability. ERP Systems came next, in the early 1990s, and they had all of the capability of MRPII and a few more bells and whistles; i.e., Customer Relationship Management, Supplier Relationship Management, Asset Management, and a few other business management aids.

Meanwhile, back at the customer site... I found it interesting that they performed mrp on a spreadsheet by exporting data from their ERP System, and the process went like this:  On Monday, on-hand balances from the inventory system were loaded into the spreadsheet. Sales Orders came to the spreadsheet on Tuesday, which now had inaccurate inventory. WOs, BOMs and BOOs were loaded into the spreadsheet on Wednesday that now had inaccurate inventory and inaccurate sales orders. Calculations for the spreadsheet ran on Thursday, which had inaccurate inventory, inaccurate sales orders, inaccurate WOs, and (possibly) inaccurate BOMs and BOOs.

The result was expected. BOMs exploded, plant personnel screamed BOO, and managers expressed their WOs to the spreadsheet creator. (Couldn’t resist… please forgive!) Everyone thought the problem originated with the calculations used by the spreadsheet user – and not with the inane application of spreadsheets.

The problem could be explained this way: Systems contain Planning, Execution, and Control activities.  Without each of these activities in place, and properly deployed, the whole thing turns to PO and the organization turns to drinking BOOs. (Dang, did it again!)

When management better understood the problem and piloted the proper use of their ERP System, the system did its job as it was designed to do and we had a very satisfied client.

Washington Speak

Michael Roman - Wednesday, October 09, 2013

In grade school, our hockey team competed for the parochial league hockey championship for a number of years. Our coach taught us well, and we executed the basics well. He preached team play and we followed those principles. We were successful as a team, largely because our hockey coach always delivered a clear message. We knew what was expected and we knew how to implement.

Unlike the hockey coach, Washington seems incapable of delivering a clear message about anything. Lately, I have been trying to decipher the Washington speak about how well businesses are performing in the USA.  We hear that the unemployment is dropping, then we hear that there are fewer people on the government lists of “unemployed” because scores of job seekers have given up looking for employment. We hear that GDP is declining and companies are having a hard time keeping people employed, but then we hear that productivity is up in the manufacturing sector.

So what is the truth? 

Honestly, it does not matter how EVERYONE is doing; it only matters how YOUR company is doing. There are business strategies for every company’s status. Moreover, when orders decline, and there is still money in the bank to pay employees, that is the time to employ a strategy that will prepare an organization for the future upturn. First, educate people in the organization about business improvement activities, and once they learn how to prioritize those activities, then assist them to perform those key business process improvements that will pad the bottom line. When properly educated, people performing these practices save jobs and deliver the expected results.

Such a strategy prepares organizations to hit the gas when the light turns green. (That is the mantra of a close relative of a famous racing champion, and a man who led the charge for selling an ERP package for a former employer… thank you, Mark E!).

When it comes to prioritizing business process improvements, I learned a long time ago that the question you need to ask is very simple: “What is next to improve?” The answer is also simple: “Which process, when properly functioning, contributes the best cost benefit for your Business Management System (ERP)?” Again, a basic question that is easy to answer with a properly functioning ERP System. 

My playing number on our hockey team was 13, because the other players on our line were 12 and 14, and I played between them. There is another “famous 13” who practiced, practiced and practiced until the basics of auto racing were automatic to him. When the light turned green for Bill Elliott, he hit the gas and often finished first or among the leaders. Manufacturing Practices, Inc. can help your organization learn to perform those necessary improvements, as we have done for others for the past nine years, so that when the light turns green, your company is fully prepared to speed ahead of the competition as well.

5S Can Hone Leadership Skills

Michael Roman - Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guest Blog by Maryanne Ross CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, CDDP

Are you a leader, or hoping to become one? Did you know that the same 5S techniques – sorting, straightening, shining, standardizing, and sustaining – that are used to improve the workplace also could be used to hone your leadership skills?

Let me explain. A leader who is significantly out of balance in any of the seven life areas (health/fitness, relationships, finance, career, recreation, spirituality, and personal growth) will be less effective in the leadership of others, and the 5S techniques will help you restore that balance. I see leadership as a role of giving of service to others. The leader acts in such a way as to motivate and inspire others towards the achievement a common goal. However, a leader cannot give to others from an empty well.

Let’s take a look at the first of the 5S steps, sorting. In the workplace, the sorting step is one of the easier steps. Individuals and teams work to rid the workplace of any items that are not needed to accomplish the intended work. Items are identified as unnecessary by the team, and decision makers give direction on the disposal or reassignment of the items. 

As this applies to our life areas, sorting is a bit trickier. In order to improve in our life areas, we must search our souls to identify the wasteful activities that are keeping us from making continuous improvements in each area.  Examples might be spending too much money, overeating, spending too much time watching TV, playing video games, or using social media. Another example might be limiting and negative thoughts. Some experts estimate that we think anywhere from 40 to 70 thousand thoughts per day and that 80% of them are negative. Do any of these thoughts sound familiar: “I can’t do anything right,” “My boss hates me,” “I’ll never get promoted,” or “I’m too short, tall, fat, thin, old, etc.?” The difficulty with sorting these out is that you have to recognize them first!

The next step is to straighten out those thoughts and actions by replacing the negative ones with their positive counterpart. For example, if you catch yourself thinking, “The boss hates me and I’ll never get promoted,” replace it with a positive thought that could be more or equally as true.  Since you can’t possibly know for sure that the boss hates you, why not think a thought that steers you in the direction you wish to go? Replace other bad habits with positive ones. Seek out mentors and ask them what they did to succeed and follow their advice. If you cannot find a mentor, do research to get the advice you need.

In the shine step, you can take the best practices you have researched and develop goals and objectives for the things you want to accomplish. Essentially, your goals should indicate what you specifically want to accomplish and when you plan to accomplish it. A goal that states, “I want to learn a foreign language” is too vague to motivate you into action. However, a goal that states, “I will learn 20 phrases of French within the next month” is likely to generate the activity needed to accomplish it.

Now that you have established goals and objectives, you can begin to standardize them. Simple ways to do so include developing new habits that support your goals, practicing them every day for 30 days, and creating checklists to ensure that you remember them. A great way to develop an action plan is to borrow another tool from the manufacturing world, a quality tool called an Ishikawa or Fishbone Diagram. The diagram resembles the shape of a fish and the quality problem is stated in the head of the diagram, with possible causes radiating out as the branches from the spine. In developing your action plans, your goal would be stated in the fish head and actions to achieve it become the branches. 

Now sustain your momentum by taking before and after photos, setting aside five minutes morning and night to review your actions and results, working with an accountability partner who confers with you on your progress.

These are just a few of the ways to make steady progress towards your goals. You will want to develop plans for improvement in all life areas. Good leaders recognize the importance of life balance, and they take small steady steps to make their plans a reality. Remember the old adage: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!

Maryanne Ross is an APICS Master CPIM and CSCP Instructor and teaches APICS Certification courses for both the Washington DC Metro Chapter and for the Blue Ridge Chapter.  She is an APICS Master Instructor Development Instruct for APICS and is a member of the APICS District staff for the Mid Atlanta District.




Science just is

Michael Roman - Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I have been plowing through The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, who cover a lot of ground about the universe and our place in it. They explain that science has historically allowed interpretation based on experience, even when that experience proves later to be false. For example, Ptolemy’s experience led him to conclude that the earth was the center of the universe (geocentric), but centuries later, scientific experience taught us that heliocentric was more accurate. Then, just in the last century, Hubble gave us a new understanding of the vast universe that disproves heliocentric thinking and compels us to continue to explore and discover the deeper truths about who we are. In other words, for most of our civilized history, we have had an inaccurate picture of where earth exists in the grand scheme of things; and it is likely that we can improve on what we know now.

There are corollaries to this dynamic in the work Manufacturing Practices undertakes, because our efforts to assist organizations implement, find, or re-implement a business management system follow a similar path. Very often, in most small and midsized entrepreneurial organizations that are our main clientele, chaos seems to be the modus operandi. We refer to these clients as geocentric organizations since they believe that only they have the solutions to proper business management and insist that the organization must revolve around them.

Some clients believe that an ERP System works and insist that the primary task is to find the proper package that will automatically remove the chaos and replace with the best business management system. We refer to these clients as heliocentric, because there is some truth in their “theory”, but they mistakenly discount the role of proper education and its effect on the organization. No organization should stop rethinking and reevaluating their business practices just because they now have a new system.

The education that our consultants deliver is the Body of Knowledge (BOK) developed as the model for Operations and Supply Chain Management, i.e., APICS. This BOK defines what a proper business management system is.  Our role at Manufacturing Practices is that of a scientific explorer who takes client organizations on a voyage of discovery, exposing them to the proper tools, processes and procedures that will help the client’s user community to flourish and succeed on the world stage of manufacturing and distribution competition.

It’s not rocket science, but it is science at its best.

How to Avoid Two Dangerous Traps in Leadership—Listen and Engage

Michael Roman - Thursday, August 29, 2013

Guest Blog by Lee Ellis

We often read or hear in the media about leaders whose lack of courage reaped painful consequences. But these “spectacular” failures are just the tip of the iceberg. Doubts and fears of a much smaller magnitude have caused legions of leaders to fail in less obvious ways. Although these failures don’t make the newspapers, they nevertheless can suck the energy and life out of the people and organizations they affect. By learning to listen and engage in a healthy way, I believe that many of these less-obvious failures could be avoided.

Learn to Listen

Many leaders fail to listen to the ideas, opinions, and constructive feedback of others. Some go so far as to use intimidation to silence “threatening” ideas. Still others suppress ideas by dominating conversations and not allowing others to speak. These leaders may appear “macho” on the outside, but in reality their fears and insecurities send a loud message that they don’t want anyone to disagree with their view of the world. Unfortunately, most of us know how exhausting and demoralizing it can be to work for a leader whose tender ego must be carefully guarded. Usually there is a graveyard outside this executive’s office that’s filled with the bodies of messengers who had the courage to provide honest feedback.

If you suspect that you are this type of person, let me encourage you to get a “leadership 360 assessment,” so your direct reports, peers, and manager (or board of directors) can give you candid, anonymous feedback. (Now, that will take some real courage on everyone’s part, won’t it!) If the results indicate a problem, don’t rationalize your behaviors or demonize the messengers. Engage the issues and grow into the leader you can be, the one that your followers deserve.

When the truth is courageously communicated, people and organizations flourish. But when doubts and fears hold sway, leaders avoid hard decisions and responsible actions, and instead look for a comfortable way out. At best, team energy drains away and people don’t grow. Too often, fear and doubt cause bad judgment that derails the leader’s influence.

The Leadership Engagement Model

Leaders who lack courage to engage problems usually veer off course in one of two directions: they will either seek to dominate, or they will seek to withdraw (fight or flight; violence or silence.) Both of these counterproductive behaviors have the same root cause: fears and doubts. I’ve found the Leadership Engagement Model™ depicted below to be extremely helpful for improving the cooperation and productivity of teams working cross-functionally, especially if a “silo mentality” is prevalent. It has also been beneficial for strategic partners who have competing interests.

For example, in most medical communities a natural tension exists between the hospital and the physicians and clinics that use the hospital. Typically, one party tries to dominate to get its way, which in turn causes the other party to become distrustful and combative.

Eventually, emotions can get so raw that one party withdraws, or they both do. To halt this vicious cycle, the two sides need to courageously commit to engage in productive dialog, identify common goals, and implement agreed-upon solutions. Meaningful engagement occurs when each party fights for its ideas in a healthy, constructive way, while still being open to the ideas of others. This type of dialog is evidence of humility, courage, and confidence. Doubts and fears are normal. You can’t avoid them, but you can manage them. You can choose to override your feelings and do the right thing. You can choose to lean into the pain for the good of others and yourself. Like the men in the POW camps you’ve read about, you can choose to be a strong leader by being courageous.

In what specific situations might you be dominating or withdrawing (e.g., by attacking or procrastinating) when you should be engaging? What choices do you need to make to engage issues you have been avoiding?


As president of Leadership Freedom® LLC, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee Ellis consults with Fortune 500 senior executives in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, human performance, and succession planning. His media appearances include interviews on networks such as CNN, C-Span, ABC World News, and Fox News Channel. His latest award-winning book about his Vietnam POW experience is entitled Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton. Learn more at

ERP is like growing tomatoes?

Michael Roman - Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Here is a repeat of a blog that follows the science bent.

A few years ago, I learned an important lesson when I read one of Gus Whalen’s books (The Featherbone Spirit) about a man whose claim to fame was growing tomatoes. Large, delicious tomatoes – and lots of them! Jesse, a 40-year employee in the cutting department of an apparel manufacturing company, planted 20 tomato vines just outside the factory on a patch of grass beside a busy highway. By the end of the season, those 20 vines yielded exactly 2,508 tomatoes, an average of 125.4 tomatoes per vine. And that’s after discarding 300 tomatoes because they were too small! By comparison, I would be thrilled with a yield of 20 or 30 tomatoes from one vine in my own garden.

How did Jesse do it? The short answer is… he measured everything! Before he planted, he measured the plot of ground and the space between plants. He calculated the amount of sunlight the plants would receive and the amount of fertilizer and other additives he would need for the entire season. At any point in time during the summer, you could review his notes and know exactly when and how much fertilizer he used that day, what days he watered and how much, and the weight of every tomato that he harvested, including those that were discarded. He knew every detail about every facet of the tomato growing operation, a “statistical process control” practice that he quite possibly had learned from his days in the cutting department.

ERP is like that. Essentially, ERP systems are designed to help you manage your business, but just as importantly, it is a useful tool to measure the effectiveness of your operation. Used properly, it will allow you to dip into the details at any given moment and measure every facet of the operation at a glance, and then make appropriate adjustments. The effectiveness of that is self-evident to owners and employees who are (hopefully) devoted to better performance; they should know from experience how important measurements can be.

Although the specific areas for measurement vary with the type of industry, there are a number of common measures for most manufacturing and distribution organizations. If your ERP system does not provide this fundamental information, it is not delivering a proper value; in other words, your ERP system is sick and needs a checkup.

In most organizations, an effective ERP system will have a pulse on the business in several critical areas including customer service, supplier performance, inventory valuation, shop floor control, and planning. Within those general categories there are key performance indicators (KPIs, as you in the industry may know them) that are vital to understanding where opportunity-improvement projects would contribute directly to the bottom line of the organization. KPIs provide an additional level of control that may not be present in your ERP system, but only because no one told you they were available.

So take Jesse’s advice and give more credence to those little detailed measurements, and then find an ERP expert who can help you get the most out of your ERP system.