As a leader in a pharmaceutical or life sciences organisation, getting the most out of your team and resources is always a top priority. After making the decision to proceed with a critical investment in consulting services, there may even be more pressure to find the optimal use of these time-limited external resources. So, how can you make sure you are using these resources to their full potential? In this blog, our industry expert Micah Rimer will show you how.
During Micah’s 20 years’ working at big pharma & vaccines corporations, including Bayer, Chiron, Novartis and GSK, he has successfully deployed consultancy groups within lab informatics and clinical projects. Micah has worked with Scimcon to support his teams on high profile critical projects
Frame the problem – what does your implementation project need to achieve?
As with any business situation, it is important that there is a common goal that everyone is aligned around.
It is essential that you do not waste valuable time revisiting the same conversations. Ask yourself: “Is it obvious what problem we are trying to solve?” Often, issues can arise when people are arguing about implementing a solution, whilst losing sight of the challenge at hand.
Take the example of Remote Clinical Monitoring: You might decide that it would be beneficial to have your Clinical Research Associates (CRAs) track and monitor the progress of a clinical study without traveling to clinical sites. That sounds like it could be very promising, but what is the problem that needs to be solved?
- Are you trying to reduce the travel budget?
- Do you want to increase the number of studies your CRAs can cover?
- Are you trying to get access to data more quickly so decisions can be taken faster?
- Or do you want to increase the quality of the study?
Without clear goals on what you want to accomplish with Remote Clinical Monitoring, it will be difficult to declare an implementation a success. In addition, if you and your organisation do not know what you are trying to achieve with a particular technical solution, it will be impossible to give your informatics consultants a clear set of deliverables.
So, first things first, agree on the problem statement!
One of the first times I hired Scimcon to support me with an informatics project, I had recently joined a pharma company and found myself in the middle of conflicting department objectives, with what seemed to be no clear path out of the mess I had inherited. The organisation had purchased an expensive new software system that had already become a failed implementation. After spending a year continuously configuring and programming it, it was no closer to meeting the business needs than when the project had started. There were two loud criticisms to address on that point:
- those who were upset that the problem had not been solved, that the business was still hampered by not having an overview of the laboratory data they needed; and
- the second being the appearance that the department had spent money on software that was of no use.
This also highlighted a far wider range of issues, such as some people who felt their skills were not being properly utilised while problems went unsolved, and that the bioinformatics department might not have the right goals to begin with.
To solve this challenge, we sat down with Scimcon to identify all the different problems associated with the inherited project, and to clarify what we needed to do to turn it into a success. In taking time to review the situation and without too much effort, we were able to come up with four key areas to address:
- Understand how bioinformatics/ IT priorities should map to the organisation’s priorities – before we spent any more time and money, what did the organisation actually need?
- Solve the bioinformatics problem that the software had been purchased for (assuming that was indeed a verified need).
- Determine how roles and work could be shifted and changed so that we were utilising the talents and the resources in the department.
- If possible, put the purchased software to use!
With the help of Scimcon, we were able to define these problems and then focus on finding answers to each of the questions. In the end it turned out to be one of our most successful engagements together, award winning even. By just asking senior management what their biggest challenge was, we found their overriding priority was to have an overview of all the R&D projects going on. And while the new software was not particularly well suited for solving the bioinformatics problem that it had been acquired for, it could easily be used to map out the R&D process for portfolio tracking. Then, we turned our attention to the bioinformatics problem, which was easily solved by a bit of custom code from one of the bioinformatics programmers who felt that previously his skills were not being properly utilised.
Once we knew where we were, and where we wanted to get to, all we had to do was get there one challenge at a time.
Manage internal expectations – how will the informatics consultants work with your clincial/analytical teams?
Once you have identified and agreed on the problem that you want to solve, the next step is making sure the organisation is ready to work with your consultants. As with all relationships, business or otherwise, a crucial step is to make sure that everyone has the same expectations, and that all the relevant stakeholders are on the same page.
People have many different perspectives on why consultants are brought in.
- Sometimes you need to bring an external voice to convince management of something most of the organisation already knows, as the conversation coming from an external party may be able to have more of an effect.
- Sometimes you are looking for external skills and experience that you do not have internally that are needed to achieve a specific goal. Maybe you are trying to implement some new workflow or technology, or you are moving into a new area of responsibility with which you are not familiar.
- Other times you may have the skills internally, but not the resource availability. You and your key people are all tied up in the daily operations and have no time to change your systems and processes into a more efficient way of working.
As there can be so many different roles and perspectives on the use of consultants, you need to make sure that you address all the different stakeholder perspectives. It is important to establish a positive situation, as you want the consultants to be able to work with your teams without unnecessary tension.
When I was just starting out with my first LIMS implementation (Laboratory Information Management System), I remember being impressed that you could hire someone who had the specific experience and expertise to guide you on something they had done before but that was new to you. I wondered, “why was that not done all the time? Why do so many implementation projects fail when you can bring people in who had solved that particular problem before?” When I asked Russell Hall, a consultant at Scimcon for us on that first project, he said that not everyone is comfortable admitting they need help. As my career has progressed, I have come to value that feedback more and more. There are many people who are highly competent and effective in their jobs, but are not comfortable with the appearance that they are not sufficient on their own. It is always important to manage for those situations, rather than assuming that everyone will welcome external help.
Lastly, it is also critical to manage expectations, regarding the use of consultants. Your boss may need to defend the budget, or be prepared to stand behind recommendations or conclusions that are delivered from people outside of the organisation. It should also be considered that management might not readily accept something that might seem obvious to employees working at a different level. By liaising with senior leaders from the outset, you can make sure both parties are aligned how the consultants will interact with people in the company, and what their role will be. This is important both to achieve what you want internally and also to make sure the consultants have a proper expectation of how their efforts will be utilised.
Communicate and adjust – how is your information managed between your team and consultants?
While it can be very tempting to feel that you can leave the majority of the project to the experts, the reality is things rarely go as smoothly as planned. As the life science business and information management have advanced over the last few decades, the amount of complexity and details has grown tremendously. It is more and more difficult for a single person to maintain an overview of all the relevant facts. The only way to be successful is to communicate and make sure that the right people have the right information at the right time. Your consultants are no different.
Many organisations have challenges in terms of taking decisions and communicating them effectively. For your consultants who do not typically have all the same access and networks in the organisation that internal staff do, it is imperative that you make sure they are kept up to date. You want to avoid them spending valuable time on focusing on areas and deliverables that have shifted to being less important. Finding ways to keep consultants informed on all the latest developments is absolutely necessary for them to be able to deliver successfully. Figure out what makes sense by considering the organisation culture and the consulting engagement setup. Whether it is by use of frequent check-ins or online collaboration, be prepared to put in additional efforts to make sure that the information gets to where it needs to go.
As well as good communication, organisations have to be able to adjust as needed. Occasionally everything does work out according to plan, but that is more the exception than the rule when it comes to complex life science informatics projects. While timelines and commitments are critical, it is important to view any project as a collaboration. There will be unexpected software issues. There will be unplanned organisational changes and problems. People get sick, life happens. By having open and continuous dialogue, you can be best prepared to make the adjustments needed to find solutions together to unexpected problems.
Ensuring success in your informatics projects
Consultants can be hugely valuable to you and your organisation.
But you have to setup the right conditions for everything to work out well.
- Know what the problem you are trying to solve is, and make sure you have as much alignment around the problem statement as possible.
- Make sure the organisation is ready for the collaboration by ensuring that your team and management know what to expect out of the engagement, and that your consultants similarly know the scope and what their mission is.
- Lastly, you need to keep in constant communication and make sure that you are ready to work together to adjust to the inevitable bumps that will come up on the road.
Working together, you can get to where you need to go.
If you’re interested in working with Scimcon on your upcoming informatics project, contact us today for a no-commitment chat about how we can help you succeed.