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Lessons learned from your worst projects

Packaging professionals share their worst project experiences and what they learned.

We received about 100 responses to a survey posted in April 2009 asking packaging professionals about their best and worst packaging projects—and what they learned. In the July issue of Packaging World, we highlighted their best. Now, we highlight their worst experiences, with the idea that you learn more from your mistakes.

Project: Upgraded bottle-packaging line to increase efficiency and speed.
Lesson: Pay attention to small details; that can be the difference between success and failure.
Luis Diaz-Vega, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Co.

Project: A major brand initiative that failed miserably.
Lesson: Poor leadership without a foundational understanding of the project's scope can be detrimental to the success of any program.

Project: Revalidate packaging that was developed before the latest revision to ISO 11607.
Lesson: When revalidating product in production, perform a full-scale pilot with a large sample size. A Plan B needs to be handy before revalidation.

Project: I inherited a blow/fill/seal line in the Philippines designed by others and not well planned—every start-up step became a challenge.
Lesson: Take nothing for granted when you inherit a project.
Ralph Dillon, Compliance Surety Associates

Project: Packaging a product that realized only a 50% success rate.
Lesson: Upper management doesn't always know what works on a production line.

Project: Leadership was waning as the direction and scope of the project was continually changing. All parties felt frustrated about what was actually being accomplished and what, if any, was the goal.
Lesson: Plan and focus on the goal for all involved and follow the plan set by those given project management.

Project: Unfortunately for me, over my long career, there have been dozens of projects that can be placed in the "worst project" category.
Lesson: There were several lessons. First, slow down. Don't take shortcuts, no matter how tempting to try to ease the pain. If you do, those shortcuts will certainly raise even more barriers in the near future. Tough it out by thinking twice at each decision point to anticipate and eliminate potential bad outcomes. To be successful in those situations, you must work both harder and smarter to overcome mistakes and reduce personal and team negativity.
Closure vendor

Project: Auto loading of medical products.
Lesson: Check out vendors carefully.

This last respondent agreed to divulge more about his project in a follow-up interview: It so happened that after a successful project with a particular vendor, the engineer looked to return to the same vendor for this new project. However, he never received a quote. He then selected an alternative vendor before his boss pointed out that the vendor was apparently using trade secrets from the packager.

He then sought a third vendor that was acceptable and started the project. Unfortunately, that vendor began experiencing employee layoffs and went out of business midway through the project. "It was just ugly," he says. "We ended up bringing the system in-house and keeping the robot, but the rest of the [equipment and components] were thrown away."

The respondent subsequently heard back from his first vendor, who provided an easily explainable reason why the engineer had not heard from them before this. The vendor took on the project and completed it successfully.

Thus, a satisfying ending to an otherwise unsatisfying experience.
As it's said, it's not how you start, but how you finish.

We hope that your next project will be free of problems—if that's at all possible. If not, we expect you'll learn a lesson or two for the next one.

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