Outsource or keep in-house: How to make your next package engineering project a reality

  • February 10, 2021
Shot of people at work in a large warehouse full of boxes

Revamping your packaging systems? You may be weighing the pros and cons of outsourcing. Bringing in consultants, especially for the first time, has its own set of considerations. Yet finding the ideal partner can raise your package engineering game quickly and help you realize gains that much sooner.

If you’re struggling to balance your packaging investments and satisfy competing demands, you’re not alone. With all the details to consider, you may wonder how to bring together the resources to make it happen. Today, companies are increasingly considering an alternative investment strategy: hiring a specialized packaging engineering firm to help develop these capabilities on your team or own them entirely. If you’re evaluating this “make versus buy” decision, there are several considerations to factor in when selecting your partner.

When to reach out and when to leverage internal resources
Outsourcing has become a standard business practice for many world-class organizations, particularly where packaging is concerned. However, deciding when it’s right for your business can be complicated and fraught with doubt. When do you focus your efforts and resources on building out your internal competencies? In what cases does outsourcing or leveraging external resources — supplementing your internal team — make the most sense?

Top operational leaders usually focus on building an internal team while outsourcing critical projects. They tend to bring in consultants to provide benefits such as:

  • Meeting a critical business deadline by providing short-term burst capacity
  • Minimizing the risk of failure on priority projects
  • Leveraging proven experience
  • Augmenting capabilities gaps within internal teams
  • Gaining access to best-in-class software and engineering tools

Key considerations for selecting a packaging partner
When outsourcing, you have every right to expect more. The following are some factors to evaluate when considering whether to outsource a packaging project or keep it in-house. Every team is different, and not all scenarios apply to every case, so consider your current team’s capabilities.

Can the consulting firm fully implement the solution it recommends while providing packaging expertise? Many packaging consultants struggle to take a project from strategy through to execution. The gestation period between identifying an opportunity and implementing the recommended solution can be months. This timeframe is excruciatingly long for many manufacturers and retailers. After a significant strategic engagement, many a senior executive has been heard saying, “I need another consultant like I need another hole in my head.”

Examine your candidate consulting firm’s capacity to support execution. This capability will play a significant factor in deciding if you’ll be able to leap from strategy to implementation with that provider.

Today, “consulting” should be more than giving advice. Identifying gaps and opportunities in your supply chain is the “easy” work. Executing change management, project management and implementing practical solutions are where things get real. You’ll find that about 40% of strategy — and packaging strategy is no different — requires modification once put into practice. Why pay for gold-standard consulting that one of your junior staffers can undo during execution? That’s why implementation support is a crucial part of a consulting firm’s total service offering.

Think about it: A consultant who stays to support the execution of their recommendations is more likely to propose a strategy that works. When you need to deliver, it disciplines you to think through the specific issues at hand. You can’t simply spout esoteric techno-speak from the mountaintop; you must make it happen. The net benefit to the client is grounded recommendations.

Your selected consultancy should carry the lion’s share of the weight on a project. They’re there to extend the capacity of an overburdened internal team. However, outsourced projects do require the devotion of additional staff time for activities like internal stewardship and contributing subject-matter expertise. Demands on your staff will increase when the packaging project enters the execution phase. Also, make sure your proposed consulting firm has good documentation discipline. Properly capturing conversations for use in immediate tasks and future efforts is essential.

In the end, a worthy outsourcing program will prove to be a force multiplier. The resulting organizational improvements will boost your team’s effectiveness for many quarters to come.

An experienced outsourcing firm should be able to complete any project in less time. This isn’t their first rodeo; they should know how to do it better and faster than your internal team. Their resources, directed at the project at hand, can make steady progress without the day-to-day interruptions your team faces. Also, a consultant’s business model motivates them to reach billing milestones on time. A typical in-house project will take anywhere from 150–200% longer than an outsourced one. Speed is well worth considering when a high-priority project is at stake.

The relative expertise of internal talent, when compared to what’s available through a consulting firm, triggers many outsourcing projects. Often, the on-staff lead is taking on a project at a level they’ve never dealt with before. You need to take inventory of the skill sets of your internal staff and assess their experience with comparable projects. It’ll help you quantify the new skills and information your team needs to develop. Also, compare how many successful packaging projects a consulting firm has completed, as opposed to your internal team. Evaluate the experience of its team members compared to that of your internal staff.

A battle-tested and proven leader is essential, too. They’re empowered with cross-functional access. Because of that, they can navigate various organizational structures, siloed communications and other unforeseen roadblocks that can derail projects. You can’t overestimate the value a seasoned professional adds to the execution of your project.

Of equal importance is the industry working-level background of the outsourcing firm’s team. Ask yourself if they’ve walked in your shoes. Will they understand what you’re trying to accomplish? Can they relate to the challenges involved? Or are you dealing with a group of “business analysts” who have never spent time in the trenches? An experienced team composed of seasoned practitioners is your best bet for seeing a tough assignment through.

It's essential to sort through these four areas when deciding how you’ll accomplish a packaging system reboot and advance your business goals. Focus on selecting the right consulting partner for your business. They should be a resource you’ll be able to turn to, time and again, to help “level up” your organization.

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