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Maximizing pharmaceutical operations: the power of organisational insights and proactive communication

I hope you are enjoying the summer and managing to hide away from the heat. I am writing this on a blissfully cold and rainy day. 

Today’s blog topics:

– The value of proactive communication
– Strategic pharmaceutical operations set-up considerations
– From data to insights: unleashing business potential
– If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it

The value of proactive communication

I recently spent time with two siblings, aged eight and twelve.

In one conversation the younger one told me “When I was born, my sister was jealous. She was an only child up until then and as I was a baby, my mum gave me a lot of attention.” His sister listened patiently. He continued “My sister worried that I was more important than her, the new favourite child. However, it was just because I was a baby that my mum had to give me more attention. Nowadays, I still get more support, as I can’t do everything for myself yet, but there is no favourite child in our family.”

I was amazed by how matter-of-fact he was and by how his sister listened in a way that suggested the narrative was one they both agree on. I was impressed that the children’s parents had tackled this difficult topic head-on in a way that made sense to the children.

So why am I sharing this here? Because it illustrates that when we know that an issue will arise and that there is no hiding from it, it is easier to tackle it pro-actively, this is true in business and at home.

Key take-away: Address challenges early, shape the narrative, address concerns, and manage emotions.

Strategic pharmaceutical operations set-up considerations

Some topics come up regularly when I am working with organisations on their set-up. I considered sharing a checklist for you to use while running projects. Lists don’t make for great reading, so instead I have gone with a high level summary. If you think the checklist would be helpful, please drop me a line.

Considerations for pharma operations set-up planning:

1) Is the organisation I work for centralised or decentralised? Does my organisation have a strong culture of how to approach projects? How does this influence the type of set-up that makes sense from a global, regional, and local point of view? What pre-existing systems, structures and teams do we need to respect?

2) What is the context we are working in considering: products, indications, budgets, launch timelines and market size? How does this influence how we will engage with customers, our internal headcount, and rollout timelines? Where will we focus our activities? What activities, channels, materials, events, conferences, trials are necessary/make sense and what are the codes and regulations governing these in different geographies?

3) What systems do we have, what systems do we need? How will we approach data husbandry, analytics and GDPR?

Large companies have experts on all the above topics, most smaller companies do not. A colleague, who works for a small biotech company recommends “Don’t sweat the small stuff, focus your energies, identify gaps and hire accordingly.”

Key take-away: A gap analysis before you start plus a detailed check list and realistic timelines will ensure your setup planning is straightforward.

From Data to Insights: Unleashing Business Potential

Companies collect vast amounts of information on customer interactions, website visits, call centre metrics, and more. While this data is essential for daily operations and for monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs), its real value lies in generating actionable insights for future strategies.

Asking yourself the following four questions can help you unlock the potential in your data:

1) Relevant Information vs. Easy Data Collection:  Does the data we collect align with strategic objectives or is it primarily easily accessible information? If not, what data are we missing?

2) Unveiling Insights: Can we extract additional meaningful insights by analysing the data for patterns, trends, and correlations, to provide a deeper understanding of operations and customer behaviours?

3) Enriching Data Sets: What additional data from other sources across the organisation can we/should we explore to gain a more comprehensive view?

4) Tailored Key Performance Indicators: Would it make sense to assess the KPIs we currently use relative to the desired outcomes to ensure they are fit for purpose and if necessary, to adapt them?

Generating actionable insights from data involves investing in advanced analytics and expert interpretation, empowering businesses to make informed decisions for future growth and innovation.

Key take-away: Data collection is the foundation, but insights derived from data pave the way to success. By asking the right questions, exploring relevant information, and adapting KPIs, companies can unleash the power of data and drive their businesses to new heights.

If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it

This quote is usually attributed to management consultant Peter Drucker, and with 3.5 million hits in google, it is easy to see why. However, according to a post entitled “Measurement Myopia” on the website of Drucker institute Peter Drucker never said it.

With a science background and a medical degree that involved taking many multiple choice tests, where absolute statements were almost always incorrect, my instinctive reaction to absolute statements is a sense of unease.

There are things that are hard to measure and manage (e.g. systemic bias), some that are easy to measure and hard to manage (e.g. life expectancy trends in the UK) , and some that are easy to measure and manage (e.g. phone response times in a call center) that may be less important to your business in the grand scheme of things than others.

In a Guardian article from Feb 10th 2008 entitled “the rule is simple, be careful what you measure” management editor Simon Caulkin, wrote “’What gets measured gets managed – even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so”

He proposed two problems with “if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it”:

1)The implication that management is only about measuring the visible figures

2)The easy to measure drives out the hard (e.g. phone response time measuring versus managing systemic bias)

In the article Simon Caulkin also observed “what is measured, matters, because measures set up incentives that drive people’s behaviour. And woe to the organisation when that behaviour is at odds with its purpose”.

I experienced this first hand many years ago when I missed out on a part of an incentive bonus because I chose not to perform an activity that no longer made business sense, based on the evolution of the product during the calendar year, instead doing other activities that did make sense. At performance review time my manager agreed with me in principle saying, “I agree, it didn’t make any sense for the business, so your decision was sound, but it was one of your targets, you didn’t let me know ahead of time and this is just how the system works”. Which was fair enough from a management perspective, but it also illustrates the importance of being clear on what behaviours you are fostering with your measurement and incentive system. A paper that is frequently cited in this context is V.F. Ridgway’s “Dysfunctional consequences of performance measurements.”

Key take-aways: 1) Peter Drucker never said, “if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it” 2) Not every popular statement is correct 3) Many things are hard to measure but still need managing 4) Just because you can measure something, doesn’t mean you should 4) What is measured matters, because measures set up incentives that drive people’s behaviour.

I hope my blog posts provide you with useful insights and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you have a challenging project or personal challenge where an external perspective or potentially team or individual coaching might help, please contact me for an informal and confidential chat.

Best wishes

Isabelle C. Widmer MD

Photo credit: Annie Spratt @ Unsplash