Please tell us a bit about your education and background.
I studied Economics and International Affairs at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. From there, I went on to do consulting for Capgemini for a couple of years in New York City. I then moved to Rochester, NY to pursue my MBA in Marketing and Strategy from the Simon School of Business. After my post-graduate studies concluded I started my work with Constellation Brands, originally working out of Rochester, NY but now I am based in Chicago, IL.
I do not see any direct parallels between International Affairs and Project Management per se. However, throughout my time as a consultant and in the Project Management capacity at Constellation Brands, I have worked with a variety of people from different parts of the world. They all have unique cultures of course, and ways of working, so my education has provided me a strong foundation in what it means to conduct business on an international scale. Most recently, I am partnering with our teams in Mexico as we look to innovate against our Mexican Beer Brands (Corona, Modelo, Pacifico and Victoria).
What is it about Project Management that appeals to you personally?
I would say that I am very solutions oriented. I like solving problems and tackling challenges and that is what projects are at the end of the day, they are each a challenge which needs solving. I would also consider myself a realist and I think that type of mindset positions me well within this profession. There is not much room for “fluff” and the best PMs get down to business quickly, they do not beat around the bush so to speak.
Historically, most of the projects I have been a part of do not necessarily have a clear resolution designated. There is some ambiguity in how we approach the challenge and design the solution, for me that is one of the exciting parts of the job! Another thing I enjoy about Project Management is that I get to work with multiple functional areas within the business and a wide variety of people and processes. It is fun to get a glimpse into the different areas of the company and figure out ways to operate more cohesively, as a team.
What do you like most about working at Constellation Brands?
There are two things that I like most about working at Constellation Brands. First, I would say it is the people I am working with. In today’s world, we spend most of our days in the office and hence interacting with our co-workers. So, it is incredibly important to me that I enjoy the people around me. At Constellation, we are a group that works hard, but we also know how to kick back and get together for a happy hour to enjoy a glass or pint of our products at the end of a hard day’s work.
I would also say, I thoroughly enjoy our company’s products. I am a consumer of our products, and that counts for a lot. But also, when I look at my role in supporting our Innovation execution, we are responsible for bringing the latest and newest things to the market. So, it is exciting for me to be at the grocery story and see our team’s work displayed on the shelves. I can pick some up for my friends and family and enjoy them together, it is rewarding to tangibly see the work we have been doing, and I take pride in that.
Tell us more about the types of projects in your portfolio and how your PMO operates.
My team is solely responsible for Innovation Project Management. That could be anything from a package change of an existing brand to a completely new liquid product. We run the gamut of products that Constellation offers. At the core, we are conducting New Product Development, but our projects encompass a wider range of functions related to those new products as well.
In terms of how we operate, we have a strict set of gates which are essentially our “Go/No-Go” moments, and between those gates it’s a “refinement” process. We may start out with only a concept but by the time we reach the gate, we would have a much more executable product or design. Our projects vary from multi-year development initiatives to quick product development sprints. We have anywhere between 100-120 projects going on at any time across the business.
One challenge that we face, and I am sure many other businesses do too, is simply the shifting consumer demands. If you look at the current landscape in alcohol, hard seltzer is something that has appeared very quickly and is still evolving. Everyone has their own version of this product within the past year or so. Consumer habits can change very quickly, and our industry is highly competitive of course, so that is a challenge and opportunity which my team enjoys because we are on the front lines.
You started as a PM at Constellation Brands, and now are the Director of Innovation and Portfolio Mgmt. What has that journey been like?
It has been an interesting journey. My first few years at Constellation were in what I would consider more general Project Management roles supporting everything from setting up a customer care center, to acquisition integrations to supporting build outs of our breweries. About a year and a half ago I moved into my current role, Director of Process and Portfolio Management, where my team is specifically focused on providing the Project Management and support needed to execute our Innovation initiatives across the company.
I saw this role as a great opportunity to combine my experience in Project Management, which I knew I enjoyed, with my educational background in Marketing and marrying that with my interest in Innovation. That has always been a passion of mine and why I got my master’s in Marketing & Strategy. This job pairs the two well and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. It also is a growing and learning experience for me as my team has grown significantly to support the needs of the business. I am thankful to Constellation for providing me with that opportunity to continue my professional growth.
What do the terms “Business Transformation” and “Process Innovation” mean to you personally? To Constellation Brands as a whole?
To me, business transformation is about big, impactful changes. For our business, I would say it takes the form of a new acquisition or something that is going to substantially change how we operate, do business or interact with our consumers.
We, on the Growth team, are looking to leverage Clarizen as that transformational platform. It will allow us to operate on a greater scale and execute on ideas faster and more effectively. We are also excited for the deeper insights and reporting which Clarizen provides. We are capturing and reporting on a much broader set of KPIs and data points. Through analysis of this new data, we can make more informed decisions, find where gaps are within our Stage Gate process and continue to further improve our processes.
At Constellation, there is a focus on continuous improvement, possibly this is a by-product of our competitive market and shifting consumer demands. That focus on improvement means that we are always looking to do things better and we are willing to take bets on things that we believe will make big impacts. For example, our joint venture arm has grown significantly in the past few years and they are always looking for new ways to expand our business through new brands, products, or technologies.
When you are not working, what do you like to do for fun?
I just love being outside. There is lots to do in Chicago such as boating, golfing, hiking. I appreciate any activity that gets me outside and active and I am trying new ones whenever I can. I also have the travel bug, whether I am traveling for business or pleasure I have always enjoyed seeing new places and exploring our world. I do a fair amount of travel for work to Mexico and the West Coast these days.
One of my favorite cities I have travelled to would have to be Barcelona. I equally enjoyed the outstanding architecture from Gaudi in the city as well as the food and culture.
I am also a big fan of Cape Town, South Africa. Within a few hours drive, there is so much to see and do – beaches to mountains, vineyards to safari’s as well as learning about the history of the country.
How does Clarizen fit into Constellation Brand’s larger business transformation?
Constellation has two separate instances of Clarizen in fact, our IT Department has rolled Clarizen out for their IT projects and we have an instance to support NPD. We did a joint evaluation of vendors, always with the goal to find a solution which would work for both teams. We then rolled Clarizen out at the same time and the impact for Constellation is that we now have a single source of truth that fits both of our needs.
I see this consolidation as an example of how Constellation is transforming the way they operate, modernizing and optimizing wherever possible to become a more efficient and smarter enterprise. The intent is to drive stakeholders and cross functional teams to Clarizen, to operate and find the current information on their respective projects.
When everyone is working off the same information, it solves for a big challenge we were having before Clarizen where different teams were operating in silos and we were not as efficient as a result. Reporting also suffered. As I said earlier, now that we have everyone in Clarizen, we can run more accurate reports and make better business decisions from that data.
Do you have a favorite Clarizen feature? What makes it your favorite?
If you ask me, it’s the Slide Publisher feature. It is going to a huge benefit and time saver for my team because we were pulling reports manually before, from a variety of sources and compiling the data in excel and formatting it in PowerPoint. It took so much of our working hours to go through the simple process of reporting on project status and the work we had accomplished. Now, at the simple click of a button, Slide Publishers does all that for us in minutes.
How do see things changing in Project Management? How is your team and Constellation in general adapting to these changes?
I think we are going to see an increased reliance on data and analytics. PMOs are going to be investing in more tools for tracking and analyzing data and they are going to become more data-driven in their approach and Portfolio Management. For example, Clarizen data will help us answer such questions as; How long did it take us to get through a gate process? Where are the consistent bottlenecks? Where did we fall flat or where do we continually exceed the timetable? Do we need to adjust our trimlines to reflect accordingly?
I have heard a bit about how artificial intelligence might be brought to bear on Project Management, but I am not sure we can depend on AI alone to determine the best course of action. I have always said that Project Management is both an art and a science. While there are certainly things that can be predicted and automated, you also need a team of people actively thinking about the data and interpreting it from a creative and human perspective.
In terms of my team and Constellation Brands, we had not historically operated in an agile way, and there is a big push internally here to be more agile. This is representative of the need to shift quickly to changes in the marketplace and consumer demands. Not just my team, but the entire enterprise is becoming more comfortable with ambiguity and change. There is always going to be another disruptor, always another innovation or change coming.
Can you share an example of a specific project which you have worked on that stands out from the rest?
Most recently I would say our Corona Hard Seltzer product. We just launched that product this March, and it stands out for a few reasons. First, we had a few scope changes leading up to the launch which made things interesting. Second, was that it really challenged our team to work cross functionally with other teams in the organization and I have always liked projects which expand our horizons and create new synergies. Lastly, it was an exciting project because I think that at the end of the day, we got a great product out there. I think it tastes great and it is performing well with consumers. Projects like that encompass everything that I enjoy about my role.
What advice do you have for someone who is just getting into Project Management?
I would suggest that they focus on delivering results in their work, and let the work speak for itself. Trust yourself and be confident in your strengths, it will ultimately come through in your work and lead to a career which you are proud of.
Looking back at my career in Project Management and becoming a manager, one thing I have always kept as a priority is people and relationships. Within a team and a larger organization, people are the most important assets and the relationships one cultivates are valuable. Whether it is colleagues, partners, or customers, keeping strong relationships and doing what you can to make others happy to work with you has helped me succeed. It’s also helped me enjoy my work.