Agile product launch in life sciences: The new mindset and approach for launch success – Part 1

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Introduction to agile & agile launch in life sciences.

It is no secret that the life sciences industry has evolved significantly in recent years. Gone are the days of the blockbuster drugs. Companies are now focusing more on niche markets, rare diseases, and/or orphan drugs. Additionally, the trend has moved away from volume-based healthcare and continues to move toward personalized medicine. We are going from therapeutic area frameworks to specific modalities and innovative platforms. Even the way we view and develop pricing and contracting strategies have evolved. We have gone from an era of organically developing the drugs to acquiring and partnering. On top of that, there is an even greater emphasis on proving clinical superiority, being more patient-centric, and leveraging real-world evidence.

There is also a push and a business need to reduce the drug discovery and development timeline. This could potentially not only reduce the upfront investment required but also help generate a revenue stream sooner by launching products faster in the market.

Given the fast pace of the industry in recent years, we have observed the emergence of the agile methodology in launch strategy and planning within the life sciences sector. The agile methodology was originally designed for IT and software development. It has since been adopted by many industries not limited to winemakers, tractor manufacturers, public radio, and even parents!  Over the last year or two, the agile methodology has finally made its emergence in the pharmaceutical industry.

Agile is not just a methodology, but also a mindset. To adopt an agile methodology, you also need to adopt an agile mindset. By becoming an agile leader, you prepare yourself for the unpredictable. You can’t always know what comes your way, and you can’t always have the answers. Being agile helps you and your team to prepare for the disruptions that you know the internal or external environments may bring you; whether that be a competitive strategy, a budget reduction request from management, how payers may perceive your product or the readout from the clinical trials.

In today’s environment, you need to act agile by forming squads and running cycles, called sprints, to ensure speed and continuous refinement. Simply put, the agile methodology helps focus on how to cross-functionally execute an aligned launch strategy in an iterative manner with continuous inputs from leadership. The watch out is that as agile is fast, if not deployed well, you fail fast too! This is because agile combines speed, flexibility, and stability to rapidly create value:

  • Speed: At the center of agile is rapid prototyping, out-of-the-box idea generation, and the fast pace of sprints to increase productivity.
  • Flexibility: Squads have the flexibility to follow feedback and changing requirements wherever they go.
  • Stability: Supporting the squads is the stability of strong partnerships with functional groups, supplying the resources and power of the larger organization.

There are multiple benefits in adopting an agile launch planning framework:

  1. Leverages an integrated team structure
  2. Mobilizes action-oriented squads focused on short-term goals based on long-term planning
  3. Stimulates focused bursts of energy
  4. Allows for multi-squad membership to advance multiple priorities
  5. Develops fast MVPs (minimally viable product) and living documents, mobilizing launch strategy and facilitate informed decision making
  6. Produces regular business outcomes rather than status reports or dashboards.

Elements of the agile methodology can be strategically adopted and applied to the process of launch planning. To ensure successful outcomes while avoiding the implementation of an entire new process for launch planning. Parts 2 and 3 of this blog series explore how to become agile by outlining three distinct real-world examples to showcase the elevated benefits from applying agile methodology to product launch planning.

I would like to thank Tony Olaes and Edward Manterfield for their contributions to this article.

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