Food for thought


James R. Schroeder, Hormel Foods Corp., Austin, Minnesota, USA


To be truly innovative in the food manufacturing business, you need the right recipe: a dash of creativity, a pinch of vision and a sprinkle of risk—all mixed with just the right amount of project management.

For Hormel Foods Corp., it's about trying to incorporate cutting-edge thinking into its core project strategy. The force behind brands such as Hormel chili and Jennie-O turkey, it was named the most innovative company at the 2009 American Business Awards.

Disciplined project management processes do not slow progress—they enable and support it.

“Disciplined project management processes do not slow progress—they enable and support it,” says James R. Schroeder, vice president of engineering at the company. “At Hormel Foods, our advantage is two-fold: Our innovative ideas allow us to stay ahead of the industry and our ability to execute those ideas is unmatched in our field.”

How does Hormel's approach to project management affect the company's innovation efforts?

Our project management strategy is designed to encourage cross-functional collaboration and communication. We structure each project to allow team members outside of the project team to provide ideas and input.

At the onset of each project, most departments develop formal project charters to define the project goals, measurements and deliverables. Stakeholders develop the charter together and sign off on the final document. Everyone associated with a particular project becomes an owner of the process and the outcomes. This step ensures each individual has a personal commitment to the success of the project.

As we finalize the requirements and start execution, we manage the process more formally, but at the onset of every project, we try to gather as many ideas from as many perspectives as possible.

Do formal project management processes ever get in the way of innovation?

Our core commitment to innovation drives what we do and how we do it. Although we face formal goals, such as deadlines and budgets, we always strive to think creatively and strategically about each project.

How do you measure the impact of innovation?

George A. Hormel founded the company on the mantra, “Originate, don't imitate.” And for 117 years, we have been executing that vision. To measure the ROI of our innovation efforts, our executive team set a goal for the company to reach US$1 billion in sales by the end of 2009 from products introduced since 2000. We met that goal two years early and our leadership has since set a new goal for growth through innovation that aims to achieve US$2 billion in total sales of products created since 2000 by the year 2012.

What advice would you give on how to incorporate innovative business practices into the way projects are selected and managed?

The disciplined execution of all projects demands teamwork and commitment. Every employee at Hormel Foods is a source for new ideas and innovation. Our president and CEO may be the ultimate innovation champion, but everyone must constantly seek ways to improve the processes and products they touch. PM




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