Lindsey Ingram is a master project manager and a master cake decorator. Today, I sat down with Lindsey to talk about the ways the two processes are similar and learned some key tips for managing these complicated tasks. (I also learned I shouldn’t use the flash on the phone when recording in the elevator. My apologies to Lindsey for the glare.)

by Lindsey Ingram:

It’s true. Project management is like decorating a cake. There’s a start and an end. A yummy end, in the case of the cake! But it’s all the stuff in between the start and the end that either leads to this:

Image source: Lindsey Ingram


Or this:

Image source: Cake Wrecks via Urlesque

That’s where prioritization comes in. One of my favorite phrases is “if everything’s important, nothing’s important.” When it comes to project management, this is true of our schedules. As for cake decorating, it’s true of the design.

There’s a quadrant of prioritization: Important and Not Important are indexed against Urgent and Not Urgent. Really knowing where a task or project falls within that quadrant establishes expectations and lays the groundwork for the end-result.

In advertising, everything is due yesterday, so unfortunately, ideal schedules and processes often have to take a backseat to on-your-toes prioritizing.

Cakes are the same way.

Backing up from my delivery date, I know that in order to give the client the cake design they’re expecting, that any gum paste or sugar work needs several days to dry and cure, so that’s the first step in my plan. After that, I start working on the elements that can be made ahead without compromising taste or quality; these are usually my fillings, frostings and fondant. Closest to the party or wedding or whatever this cake is for, I bake the cakes. I like to give my clients the freshest cake possible. Unfortunately for me and my non-professional oven, this often means 24 hours of no sleep. Sad times. This also means a huge risk. Cakes are finicky and sometimes they just don’t cooperate. Cue the re-do. What? That wasn’t part of the plan. Cue prioritization. Having as much of my decorating prep work done as possible definitely helps. (Thanks planner tendencies!) But, now I have to put the original design concept on the prioritization quadrant. What’s most important to my design and to the client and what was a this-would-be-so-cool-but-now-has-to-go decoration? And now that I’ve lost a few hours in the re-do, we’re definitely in urgent mode. What’s not urgent? Cleaning the kitchen behind every step. Besides, the client will never know the disaster I come home to after delivering the cake. They just want to take a pic of an awesome cake, post it to Facebook (and credit me) and enjoy the goodness that lies within.

To bring this back to what more of you are interested in, when an advertising project is given a schedule, it’s an ideal schedule based on history and experience. But, at the end of the day, it’s advertising – IDEAS. No one has quite figured out the easy button for ideas. Sometimes they bake up nice and golden brown and other times, they stick to the pan and have to be scraped and soaked out before starting over. That’s where your friendly and diligent project managers come in. We get our kicks out of determining the priority of all tasks at hand. And regardless of the mess we make back at the office, we also pride ourselves in delivering a beautiful, finished product that our clients are proud to show off to their customers. No half-baked ideas here.