New Tool: ProSource
Checkout our packaging and processing solutions finder, ProSource.
Start Your Search

Seven Reasons Why Packaging Projects Fail

Not to imply that any project can be carried out without a hitch, but avoiding these causes for failure gets you closer.

Sterling Anthony, CPP
Sterling Anthony, CPP

A project fails simply by not achieving its objective(s) within its specified limits of scope, cost, and time. A project can fail to the point of being abandoned, however most failures are less spectacular. Packaging projects fail for a variety of reasons, but those that I’ll discuss here have evidenced themselves time and time again.

Late start. For a new launch in particular, the start of a packaging project should coincide with that of the product. For the most part, thankfully, industry has progressed beyond sequential projects, i.e., product development completed, followed by package development. A packaged product, by definition, is composed of two components: product and package. The interdependence of the two should be acknowledged at the concept stage, which precedes project work. At that stage, references about the packaging need not be detailed, but sufficient to allow personnel to start visualizing and brainstorming.

Parallel paths. A packaging project should proceed along a path that intersects with those of other involved disciplines. It’s a requirement that’s consistent with packaging’s inter-disciplinarian nature, in addition to a systems approach. There’s a dynamism and fluidity to projects, with matters in constant flux. Not only does the right hand need to know what the left hand is doing, but that knowledge might need to extend to the finger-level.

Wrong expectations. Packaging performs the overlapping functions of containment, protection, communication, convenience, and utility. Any expectations outside those functions are wrongly held. If, for example, the requisite quality, performance, and value are missing in a product, changing the package won’t solve the problem, beyond, perhaps, a temporary increase in trial purchases. Stated differently, if the packaging is not the problem, it can’t be the solution. On the other hand, for a product of requisite quality, performance, and value, the packaging can be the competitive difference.

Poor vetting. A packaging project is rarely, if ever, totally an in-house undertaking. To the contrary, it typically involves external parties, e.g., suppliers, designers, testing laboratories, contract packagers, etc. They are partners, and as go their performances, goes the performance of the partnership, and by extension, the performance of the project. It’s always an advantage when partners are of proven reliability. When, however, a project requires the recruitment of new partners, there should exist a framework for their efficient vetting.

Overinvolved stakeholders. After a packaging project is underway, stakeholders sometimes request changes. Potential problems are two-fold. First, stakeholders are product development, production/manufacturing, marketing, distribution, legal, and procurement, among others, so requests can be multiple and of random sequence. Secondly, no requested change can be implemented in isolation; instead, they trigger a ripple effect requiring tradeoffs. It’s essential that stakeholders establish their needs prior to the start of the project and only request changes that can be justified.

Inadequate risk management. Packaging can pose risks, in addition to being subject to risks. Project participants should not be myopic about potential hazards posed by the packaging. Being proactive and willing to engage in wide-ranging “what ifs” can prevent personal injury lawsuits or recalls. In its other capacity, packaging is a strategic asset that should be safeguarded. Some projects generate proprietary technology, intellectual property, and the like. In those instances, tight controls and sharing information on a need-to-know basis minimize the chances that the packaging will be co-opted, infringed upon, or pirated.

Wrong person at the helm. A successful packaging project requires a manager who possesses a certain skill set. The person must be adept at reconciling the dueling wants of teammates. The person must be able to stroke egos while remaining true to project objectives. The person must be the envy of a circus juggler, maintaining balls in the air without dropping any. And yes, the person must be a master communicator. A manager can be dedicated and hard-working, yet ill-suited and over his/her head. That can happen if the manager is not the resident expert in the involved aspects.

Having discussed the seven reasons for project failure, a few concluding remarks can lend additional perspective. Industry-wide, the frequency of project failures and their severity is underreported. That’s because companies, understandably, are disinclined to such disclosures. Perfection is illusional and failure is relative. Therefore, it follows that package products can (and do) end up in the marketplace, despite operational missteps.

It comes down to potential sacrifices and potential penalties. When, for example, speed-to-market is critical, recovering from a missed launch date can take an extended period. As another example, cost overruns can force a decision between a reduced profit margin and a higher price (which might negatively impact demand). As a final example, there are the damaging effects that failure has on esprit de corps. No one craves association with failure. Team members might engage in recriminations and might be reluctant to work with certain others in the future. That’s worrisome because a corporation’s people are its most valuable assets. PW

Discover Our Content Hub
Access Packaging World's free educational content library!
Unlock Learning Here
Discover Our Content Hub