Working with companies who are getting ready to try something new is one of my favorite parts of being a consulting engineer. The enthusiasm that goes hand-in-hand with an idea is energizing and infectious. As someone who’s “been there, done that” now with a number of clients, I also know how much hard work and preparation it takes to launch anything new and innovative: the realities of the process can take a toll on your energy and your willingness to see something through.
Balancing excitement and positivity with a practical approach are important. By following a few best practices, your excitement can fuel your project long-term instead of flaring up initially and burning you out in the long run.
"Breaking out of the mold of your normal operation can be intensely exciting"
Find a trusted resource. You have a great idea that might deliver an amazing return. You’ve also never done anything like this before. Set yourself up for success by finding a consultant or an industry insider who can guide you through the process and help you identify your blind spots. Find someone you trust, put the necessary protections in place to guard your intellectual property, and begin the planning process in a collaborative, growth-and-learning-focused manner.
Ask the right questions. Depending on your experience in the area, you may not know what kinds of questions to ask about your new product or production environment. Try to think through every aspect of a potential plant or new line:
• How are you going to handle capital procurement?
• Where’s your up-front capital spend coming from?
• Have you thought about capital interest?
• How are you paying for construction costs?
• What operational costs will you need to consider?
• Do your current employees have the required skills?
• What are your insurance needs?
• What OSHA levels and considerations will apply?
• What FDA regulations are in play?
• What changes does your building need to stay in compliance with state and local codes?
• Who maintains your GMPs? Who enforces them?
Using enthusiasm to work through this information now will save you expense and heartache later.
Break things into manageable chunks. Your mind is probably reeling by now, and what seemed like a totally doable project now seems overwhelming. Organize your to-do list into logical “buckets” and define the various phases of the project: procurement, working with local agencies for permits and approvals, your capital funding campaign, site selection. Each of these sections could (and should!) be the header for a “to do” list with many sub-actions. As you build out these lists, you can figure out where you may need support. This process will help you identify actionable pieces that you can work on or delegate to others on your team.
Document, document, document. Throughout the process, you’re going to have so many ideas and moving parts that it will be challenging to keep track. Write things down. Plan them out on paper. Develop organizational charts, programming documents, process flow diagrams, etc. A good consultant will help you create these critical documents and help you identify any flaws in your logic along the way (of which there will be none, naturally). At a minimum, make sure to develop the following:
• Project Charter: Defines what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the end goal of the project. At a high level, it defines the scope, schedule and budget for the project.
• Design Criteria List: Useful for identifying key decisions and tracking your team’s activities and critical elements of the project as it develops.
• Action Item List: Sometimes combined with the design criteria list, the Action Items List keeps track of “to do” items, responsible parties and progress made. It is another tracking tool to keep people focused and on task.
• Project Schedule: Defines where the project is going and by when. It creates the timetable that upper management will need to know.
• Budget and Budget Tracking: Your leadership will want frequent updates on budgets and cash flows. Save yourself trouble down the road; get that going right from the beginning.
• Project Flow Diagrams: Project Flow Diagrams are used to define the basic building blocks of the project scope. They depict how your product will flow through the system and define the elements, scope, and rates required.
Be patient, be persistent. Don’t lose sight of what inspired you in the first place. Patience and minor setbacks are all part of implementing any new idea. Don’t panic, and don’t let the amount of work and detail required scare you away. If you do the hard work and heavy lifting up front when your excitement is still high, you’ll save yourself feelings of anxiety and disaster down the road when those unforeseen challenges start to crop up. If you’ve planned well and answered the tough questions, the hard work will already be done.
Breaking out of the mold of your normal operation can be intensely exciting. The sky’s the limit if you can harness that innovation energy and do the heavy lifting early on. With enough focus and determination, you and your company will reap the rewards of navigating uncharted waters.