Star Wars Cake - Millennium Falcon
Project management

When you are a natural born project manager and you need to bake a big Star Wars cake…

Psoda blog author avatar
Rhona
2 May 2022

Most project managers have had at least one project that has challenged them like no other. It was probably complex with many tasks to complete, tight deadlines and for a demanding customer.  And there will have been no room for overruns on delivery or budget.

The one

My ‘one’ project like this happened very recently. The important and demanding client was Mr 5-turning-6 and his request was for a Star Wars birthday cake. This was hardly surprising as he’s a Star Wars fan and spends most of his free time waving a lightsaber around and saving the planet!  For him, it was an easy request, for me it became a challenging project.

I work pretty much full time in and on the business and wanted to make the cake while Mr 5 was at school.  It’s a very busy time for us so I put my project manager’s hat on before my toque (white baker’s hat!) and planned and prepped like never before. There was so much to do – where to start?

Like any good project manager, I started at the end – with what I needed to achieve and by when. Then I worked backwards on a timetable of the individual steps and how long I thought each one would take. I put everything on the list including the time it would take me to do battle with the online shopping and hide the evidence when Mr 5 got home! I’ll admit to not taking it to the level of using a Gantt chart, spreadsheet or software solution to do the planning – paper and pen were enough this time!

The end result was the completed Star Wars cake (and hopefully a happy Mr 6)

Planning

The stages were: 

Planning

  • Check the pattern for the cakes and decoration.
  • Make a list of all the ingredients and the shops I’d need to visit to get them.
  • Check that I had all the baking tins, colouring and decorating tools.

Delivery

  • 1: Bake the sponge cakes, allow them to cool completely overnight.
  • 2: Make the buttercream for the entire cake, cut cakes into shape, sandwich the cakes together, crumb coat the outside and store well.
  • 3: Colour and roll out the fondant icing, ice the sponges – which would probably need a degree in trigonometry to complete – leave to set, decorate with all the intricate detail that my ‘client’ would be expecting and look for final checks and touches, finish and hide until his birthday…

So now I had all my activities and deliverables, next was to assign time estimates and schedule the time available across the tasks. Using more of a daily sprint approach, I planned out each day’s time allowance and what was achievable in those time frames.  At the end, I established that I actually needed three days to complete the project in time for the party!  

Delivery

Each morning after taking Mr 5-turning-6 to school, I’d think through the morning’s work (a bit like having a stand-up with myself!) and get going. I planned each day’s work with the same level of detail as the overall plan – shopping, preparing and weighing out the ingredients which made me feel like a TV chef where they have all the ingredients in bowls before they start! 

The biggest challenge of the whole project was mixing the fondant to the right colour. Usually I’d cheat and go pre-coloured. Unfortunately the shops don’t sell battleship grey so I had to make it by hand. The amount of effort it took to mix and blend was insane! Not helped by it sticking to and ripping the gloves that I’d sensibly put on to avoid dyeing my hands grey. 

As school pick-up time approached each day, I’d tidy-up and the next day, I’d check the plan and set out my day’s work. 

A happy customer

After a week of planning, and three days of making, decorating and finishing, the end result was most definitely a Star Wars cake. And a very happy Mr 6!

Cookery tip of the day – do your prep, make a plan and follow-it – just like a project manager at work! 

 

My finished cake’s in the photo at the top of the post. Let me know what you think of it in the comments.

Rhona Aylward avatar
Written by Rhona Aylward
Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

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