Agile product launch in life sciences: The new mindset and approach for launch success – Part 2

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Applying agile squads to launch frameworks.

In the previous blog, we introduced the agile methodology and discussed why it is necessary given the evolution of the life sciences industry. In this blog, we will outline the common frameworks used in the life sciences sector for product launch planning and how to apply an agile squad structure without implementing an entirely new process.

Even though the industry is evolving, three fundamental concepts remain the same at launch:

  • The success and failure of a product is determined prior to launch
  • You get one shot at getting it right and hoping the desired uptake curve follows
  • Course correction after launch is extremely costly and difficult.

To ensure seamless launch planning and preparations, many organizations have adopted one of three commonly leveraged frameworks:

  1. Functionally siloed

One of the original frameworks to be developed, it is still leveraged by small, medium, and large companies. It effectively helps categorize plans according to the functional areas defined in the organization’s structure. However, it doesn’t encourage cross-functional collaboration or communication due to its “siloed” nature.

  1. Three-dimensional: product, market, and organization

Over the last decade, a “new” framework was introduced and adopted by a number of companies. This framework organized plans according to product, market, and organization. The objective was to drive preparations as it pertained to “preparing the product,” “preparing the market,” and “preparing the organization.” This helped to encourage cross-functional coordination and collaboration but soon became confusing as a number of tactics could help with multiple dimensions.

  1. Integrated functions

The third time’s a charm! The integrated functional framework was introduced a few years ago and companies have been quick to adopt it. It organizes similar functions together to foster close collaboration and communication on “like” activities. For example, one company chose five pillars for this framework: commercial, value-based health, scientific, regulatory, and manufacturing.  Within each pillar, it is organized by key elements, such as positioning, HEOR (health economics and outcomes research), labeling, and others to help group the activities further.

Capgemini has explored ways to apply elements of agile methodology to an existing launch framework in an organization to leverage additional benefits as discussed in part 1 of this blog series. Let’s pick the integrated framework to launch planning as an example, and layer on the agile methodology. We will need to think through the action-oriented squads based on the sprints we want to plan for the coming weeks. On average, a sprint takes about 2–3 weeks. Anything shorter, and it becomes difficult to show progress or results; anything longer, and the process tends to drag on and lose the agile appeal.

Depending on which stage you are at with your asset, you can define squads based on those needs. For example, you may be responsible for a global launch and need to think through the launch sequencing of that asset. You may need a representative or two from each of the various integrated teams. An alternative example may be that you are about a year and a half from launching an asset in the US, and really want to hone in on the positioning. You may have the US marketing lead, someone from market research or analytics, maybe from market access, maybe even include a vendor or two. The squads could be formed from various functions or could come from the same function. The key is to include the right individuals who can both drive and inform on progress. You lose agility when you start including many people on each and potentially many squads. By simply forming the action-oriented squads based on prioritized pre-launch activities, you have embedded an agile methodology and hopefully an agile mindset in an existing framework. Several companies leverage “task forces” to do the same. The key difference is a task force may be reactive, whereas the agile methodology is proactive in nature. The case study below explores this concept further.

Case study: introducing agile squads to accelerate launch preparation

Situation

A mid-size pharma company was using an integrated launch structure as it prepared to launch their main upcoming oncology asset. With less than 12 months to go, the launch team was informed that they should plan for an accelerated FDA review and approval, thus shaving three months off of their launch readiness timelines. This was a major change for the integrated launch team to manage; the overall launch plan and timelines had to be reviewed, the overall launch sequencing was impacted and, across teams, launch activities had to be accelerated or deprioritized.

Solution

To address these challenges, we worked with the client delivery teams to identify the burning platforms, we grouped these into six focus areas, and for each we empowered an agile squad to evaluate options and drive resolution. To ensure that teams were kept lean and effective, team membership was restricted to contributors only (three to five people) and one agile squad lead was appointed to coordinate the team efforts, remove obstacles, and keep the task force focused. The squads were given the flexibility to choose how to work together. Some scheduled multiple touch points every week while others met on a more ad-hoc basis. Finally, the leads were asked to provide brief weekly updates on progress to senior leadership.

Benefits

Within six weeks, most squads were able to effectively define and start implementing corrective plans to address the accelerated launch timelines. One of the squads was able to identify and address a critical flaw in the initial launch plan that might have been overlooked without the accelerated launch fire drill.

Learnings

There were two key learnings: The varying team needs and the leadership oversight incentive.

Varying team needs:  It is important to realize and address that each squad may require different coaching and external support to help mobilize them. Certain teams and leads were able to rapidly embrace the model and work with high levels of autonomy within the first week, while other teams required more sustained guidance and support.

Leadership oversight:  The agile squads worked differently but were all committed to demonstrating strong progress to leadership during the regular updates. The regular leadership check-ins reinforced the sense of importance and urgency across the team and acted as a strong catalyst for progress.

In summary, there are ways to apply elements of the agile methodology to product launch planning as outlined in this blog post. In part 3 of this blog series, we will discuss how we can evolve internal leadership meetings (for example, launch-readiness meetings, sometimes known as launch review meetings), by institutionalizing an agile mindset and incorporating leadership input as part of the planned sprints.

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

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