New-project best practices

Having just completed the installation of a completely automated 120 can/min packaging line, Melitta USA, Inc. plant manager Vincent Tagliaferro offers some sage advice on project management.

Pw 3711 Tagliaferro

Packaging World: What are some lessons you learned going through the process of installing a major packaging line at your coffee company (see

Vincent Tagliaferro:

We began with the end in mind. We knew what we needed to do in our process, and we developed a plan that would get us to the end point that we desired. We didn’t leave much to chance. We’re a smaller division of a larger company, but there isn’t a lot of room for wasted investment or inefficient use of our resources. So we really had to be methodical in our plan. If we had gone into it not knowing what we wanted the end product to look like, we would have made some wrong decisions along the way.

The other lesson is that in a company our size, resources are limited. You have to work as a team to accomplish tasks. We have a team environment. We kind of follow the Five Dysfunctions of a Team principle. We think that accountability is important. Conflict is necessary. If people aren’t engaging in constructive conflict, and if they are holding back ideas, then you aren’t ultimately going to get to the end result that you want. No one person has the right answer; it’s the collective group. From a team aspect, we view that as a large component of what led to our success. Where one manager has a weakness, another might have a strength, and that is how we complement one another.

The other piece is that we had an eye on the future with this project. While we knew what the end game was, we don’t have all the end-game answers, so we built in flexibility for future expansion.

I think we were also prudent shoppers. That was a lesson. We made vendors work for the business. We were prepared. And that is so important in the economic environment that we are in today.

What should a packager expect from a vendor in today’s economic climate?

One of the biggest things we looked for in the vendors that we talked with was whether they would provide support beyond the sales portion of the project. In a sense, you deal with a sales engineer, and usually they are very qualified, but they are not always the person that you are going to be dealing with in years two and three in some organizations. So we looked for depth of organization. We’ve gone to facilities where we’ve walked in for the Factory Acceptance Test, and the employees lined up and introduced themselves: “I’m the engineer that worked on your project.” “I’m the electrical engineer.” “I’m the customer service person that you are going to call for parts the in future.” “I’m the service support guy that you are going to call to schedule service.” And we looked for that level of commitment from our suppliers; that was so important to us. In addition, we made them work for our business. I think we got excellent pricing, and we didn’t compromise on any quality aspect of our equipment.

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