A Brief Guide to Agile Pharma

minimal medicinal pills arrangement

Agile is best understood not as a methodology, but rather as an approach. It developed as a set of rules and principles for software development and has since become popular in multiple industries. Thus, it is no suprise we see applications such as marketing, engineering and Agile pharma in more and more companies.

You can learn more about this mindset in the following post.

According to an article by the Boston Consulting Group: “While Agile was created to replace the waterfall method of software development, it turns out that all industries have their own slow, sequential steps that can stifle innovation.”

This article aims to show application on Agile in pharmaceuticals, complete with some real-life examples.

How is Agile applicable to pharma?

Pharmaceuticals is a heavily regulated industry with long and cost-intensive drug development processes. Many pharma companies have adopted an Agile mindset to help them become more competitive. In an industry dominated by longer and more expensive development cycles and lower ROI, firms are looking for ways to lower development costs and increase speed to market while also becoming more efficient. To achieve this, companies are increasingly adopting or experimenting with Agile pharma practices.

It may seem at first like a highly regulated environment is a difficult one for Agile to thrive in. However, many pharma firms want to accelerate development times for new drugs. By adopting Agile pharma practices they can increase collaboration, improve communication, plan more effectively, and spot and resolve development obstacles before they become major problems. 

Daily progress meetings – akin to standup meetings in Scrum – are common in many R&D departments, for example. By extending Agile practices to more than a dozen departments, one pharma company can double its R&D capacity without the need for any new resources or investment. 

Many Agile pharma companies are also increasing the amount of R&D carried out with external partners. This reduces the need to build up internal infrastructure and keeps costs lower, but it depends on the ability to collaborate and communicate. These are both areas where Agile methodologies such as Kanban – with its reliance on visualizing workflow – can really help. 

Kanban board OKR template

Lastly, Agile can help break down traditional internal siloes within pharma companies and help form cross-functional teams that share knowledge more effectively. As well as increasing organizational agility and flexibility, this also increases transparency and employee engagement. 

Using Kanban to overcome Agile pharma implementation challenges

There are significant potential challenges when implementing Agile practices in pharma companies. For one, employees tend to be highly specialized and siloed – and are comfortable with that situation. Company culture can seem rigid, with a focus on stability and resistance to change.  

Agile, by contrast, fosters a culture of experimentation and cross-divisional collaboration. Implementing Agile practices usually requires a redesign of processes from beginning to end, to minimize hand-offs and improve the flow of work. 

According to McKinsey, there are four critical factors for successful Agile pharma implementation in companies: 

  1. A strong vision. Having a clear vision of the goals and the expected changes from implementing Agile will help reduce confusion and increase understanding of the need for change. 
  2. Changing the culture. Having a dedicated team that manages and communicates Agile-inspired changes in the way tasks and projects are executed will help to support an overall cultural shift.
  3. Supporting the development of new skills. Your company will likely need to develop expertise in analytics, clinical trial design, and vendor management to tap into Agile’s full potential.
  4. Course correction. It is essential to set and monitor KPIs that will guide the direction of the Agile implementation. Using digital tools such as Kanban will help give a real-time overview of these KPIs and enable you to track your progress.

Because of the six core practices of Kanban, this is a tool that will help you to visualize and manage your workflow, making it a useful tool to help you implement Agile practices, as well as being an Agile methodology in itself. 

A Kanban board gives you a visual overview of your processes and helps you better understand your operations and quickly identify weak spots.

task management agile in pharma

Real-life examples of successful Agile implementations in pharma

By introducing Agile methods, one global pharma company reduced the time to create and implement a brand strategy from more than two years down to 90 days. They set up a cross-functional team of 8-12 members, worked with MVPs, and initiated business planning and budgeting changes.

Some pharma companies are launching customer-collaboration initiatives together with patients and physicians. Working with those stakeholder groups, they create prototypes for “beyond the pill” solutions and more customer-centric launch strategies. This collaboration enables the companies to gather new insights and launch continuous improvement initiatives for their products. 

Pfizer has developed an experimentation culture through a “Dare to Try” program – an Agile program that combines Agile software tools, training, and cross-functional collaboration.  

Are you ready to become Agile? 

If you’re from a pharma company and wondering if Agile can work for you, check out our growing library of Agile content

If you’re specifically interested in finding out more about Kanban as an Agile methodology, take a look at our Kanban content

Or simply book a demo to see how Teamhood’s Kanban system could work to help solve your specific project management challenges:

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2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.

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