Are You Ready with “Boots on the Ground”?

Once again we are faced with a natural disaster, this time an earthquake in the impoverished island nation of Haiti.  Once again the world has responded with open arms to an unprecedented event in which nearly all of the in place infrastructure has been destroyed.  Not to mention the loss of lives of those very individuals whose job it was to coordinate the emergency response.   The stories we hear after each disaster are accounts of almost superhuman effort, immense organizational challenges and, especially in the early stage of rescue, personal frustration.  I am filled with admiration and respect for those people who put their personal safety and comfort aside to do the right thing and represent those of us who can only watch the news reports and contribute our dollars.

I can identify with the frustration those individuals must feel when supplies rest at the airport because there is not a way to clear a blocked roadway.  Or an individual cannot get medical help because there is no way to locate and communicate with the facility that can treat her.   When the reporters ask the questions about why these conditions exist and how they get resolved we frequently hear the response,”It all comes down to boots on the ground”.

It seems there are some key characteristics regardless of who describes the term.

Here are my observations:

The responders are already on site or available immediately, as needed.

They have knowledge of the local customs, geography, language or other relevant conditions.

They are able to work with the permanent residents.

They have the skills and tools to solve problems quickly, in cooperation with local resources.

They can take independent action if necessary because they understand their role in the larger scheme.

They can integrate with the overall organization, phasing in and out as directed.


So what does this have to do with manufacturing?  Everything.  Remember, it will be the non routine conditions that present the highest potential for disaster and the highest potential for improvement.  Our problem is, these are the conditions that we are not staffed to meet.  Let’s face it.  Any manufacturer still in business in 2010 does not have underutilized manpower, on staff, that can be deployed at will.  If you disregard this fact, you may miss some great opportunities for improvement.

In all of my past positions as operations manager, I kept a list on the wall of available resources for any imaginable non routine occurrence. 

Here are a few examples:

Facility problems such as plumbing, electrical, etc.

Machine breakdowns.

Critical clerical, accounting functions.

Technical help such as CAD operators, designers, engineers, CNC programmers.

Special production skills such as welding, finishing, other hard to find.

Business consulting.

Manufacturing technical consulting.


In all cases, those on the list were pre-qualified because they met the manufacturing equivalent of the “boots on the ground” criteria.  We had a track record with each of these people and they were positive contributors in smoothing out the ups and downs of the business cycle.  And, they provided on call capability to take on improvement projects or corrective actions as required.

In the coming year, there will undoubtedly be non routine events in your operation.  We hope that many will be positive challenges such as a massive increase in sales.  Maybe it will just be a re-occurring problem that never gets fixed due to lack of resources.  Regardless of the cause, make sure you are ready to put your “boots on the ground”.  That’s Manufacturing Made Easy.

Your Comments are always welcome.

Bill MacDonald is an experienced Operations Manager/Technical Director and owner at

 JLS Consulting of Midland, Michigan. 

For more information visit the web site or Email Bill’s Email

One Response to “Are You Ready with “Boots on the Ground”?”

  1. I was studying something else about this on another blog. Interesting. Your perspective on it is diametrically contradicted to what I read before. I am still mulling over the different points of view, but I’m leaning to a great extent toward yours. And irrespective, that’s what is so great about modern democracy and the marketplace of thoughts on-line.