By Jenna Peltier, PMP, Former Director of Supply Chain, BevSource
At any given time, our team is managing dozens of beverage projects ranging from developing a commercial formula to overseeing the production of 30+ product SKUs at multiple facilities. Tracking milestones, creating progress reports, and updating timelines are regular activities for many involved in creating a beverage.
Most beverage companies don’t always have one designated project manager, but success depends on how well you can organize and manage the activities required to go from beverage idea to production and beyond. While there are many project management tools and principles, there are several that are especially pertinent in the world of beverage development and production.
1. Start with open communication and attentive listening
We always start a project by gathering as much information as possible. The more details we have upfront, the clearer the project definition and scope will be. Knowing expectations helps us set parameters around things like budget and timeline. While developing a beverage, you will most likely have to adapt to slight changes as you progress towards production, but identifying the larger decisions upfront helps outline the project accurately. Discussing these topics requires industry knowledge and experience, but more than anything, it involves listening. It’s vital to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding next steps and the end goal. Good listening helps us identify unanswered questions and call out unmentioned assumptions.
2. Break it down into phases
The decisions you make while developing and producing your beverage are all interconnect. Each one can affect your next step forward as well as your estimated costs and timeline. It’s an iterative process that should be broken down into manageable phases. After developing your formula, for example, you might have an estimate for production costs in your mind. However, after you talk to co-packers, you may discover that a slight change to your plan could save considerable time or money. Understanding how all phases are connected and impact the full project cycle is crucial to making the right decision the first time and ultimately leads to project success.
A phased approach allows you to outline a clear scope of work, milestones, and checkpoints. The checkpoints at each phase serve to keep everyone in the loop as decisions are made that could ultimately affect your end goal. The phased approach keeps a project moving and ensures that there aren’t any big surprises at the end.
3. Build in cushions to mitigate risks
At each phase, it’s essential to identify areas of your project that might shift or go wrong and how they could affect your process or assumptions. Anticipating potential issues gets easier with experience, but it is still a balancing act to figure out what you can plan for and what is ultimately left to chance. Some of the areas we often see affecting projects are changing trends, ingredient costs, supplier manufacturing issues, and regulation changes.
4. Stay diligent and focused
Focus is a significant part of good project management. There are a lot of moving pieces that need to be monitored and brought back into the big picture to make sure things are on track. It is key to manage the details and relate them back to their impact on the end goal. Mistakes happen most often as a result of multi-tasking or losing sight of something that may have seemed small at the time but ended up having a big impact on the project as a whole. It takes discipline, concentration, and dedication to see a project from start to finish successfully.
5. Get better every time
Every project is an opportunity to build on your knowledge and skills to make the next project go a little bit smoother. Documenting your lessons learned and integrating them into your overall project management process is where real success lies. No two projects are the same, but you’ll be surprised by how much your previous experiences will help you succeed with future projects. Your project management knowledge becomes even more relevant and memorable when you take the time to share what you’ve learned with others.
Successful beverage companies are built and maintained with excellent project management. However, not everyone thrives in the detailed and disciplined world of project management. There are several options available, including books, software, and courses designed to help you hone your skills and master project management. Finding a partner or outside resource to help manage and master your beverage projects can also help free up your time to focus on areas you do thrive in.