A Brief Guide to Agile Pharma

Dovile Miseviciute ·

Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space. 2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood. 2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.

agile pharma

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 surprise 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 the application of 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.

Companies are increasingly adopting or experimenting with Agile pharma practices to achieve this.

It may initially seem like a highly regulated environment is challenging for Agile to thrive in. However, many pharma firms want to accelerate development times for new drugs. Adopting Agile pharma practices can increase collaboration, improve communication, plan more effectively, and spot and resolve development obstacles before they become significant problems. 

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

Many Agile pharma companies also increase the amount of R&D carried out with external partners. This reduces the need to build internal infrastructure and lowers costs, 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 help. 

kanban okr

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, focusing 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. 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 how tasks and projects are executed will help 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 tool will help you visualize and manage your workflow, making it a valuable tool to help you implement Agile practices and being an Agile methodology. 

A Kanban board gives you a visual overview of your processes, helps you better understand your operations, and quickly identifies 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 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 product improvement initiatives. 

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

To learn more about Kanban as an Agile methodology, look at our Kanban content

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

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