Agile product launch in life sciences: The new mindset and approach for launch success – Part 3

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Applying the agile mindset and sprints to Launch Reviews.

In the previous blog, we discussed common frameworks used in the life sciences sector for product launch planning and how to apply an agile squad structure to existing product launch planning frameworks. In this blog, we will describe how to institutionalize an agile mindset and sprint approach by modifying the existing Launch Readiness Review meetings in an organization.

The word “agile” can be interpreted in many ways. The most popular definition involves “implementing an iterative approach to incorporate feedback while developing a work product.” Others mention  “scrums” and “sprints.” This only describes the methodology. When the word agile is used, most people tend to link it to the methodology or the overall principles. If you ask someone what “agile mindset” means, it will be a lot tougher to answer. Everyone is able to speak about it and understand it, but find it difficult to define to others. When we discuss a mindset, it touches upon behaviors driven by beliefs and attitudes. We could describe an agile mindset to be one that encourages behaviors to support an agile working environment but this does not touch upon the true behaviors or values that need to be incorporated to be agile. There are many blogs and white papers that attempt to describe an agile mindset, but for this blog, we will try to showcase the agile mindset by embedding it in the well-known Launch Readiness/Launch Review meetings. For the purposes of this blog, we will reference these as Launch Readiness Reviews.

Pharmaceutical companies have long embedded the Launch Readiness Review meetings to ensure that the asset teams understand the market, their product, and are able to think strategically and implement tactics aligned to the endorsed strategies. It also allows ensuring everyone is on the same page in terms of expected outcomes, filing assumptions, and anticipated launch dates. Typically, there are two types of Launch Readiness Review meetings – One that is based on time points; and another that is based on internally-driven milestones or topics.

Time-driven Launch Readiness Reviews

These meetings are scheduled XX months prior to the anticipated launch date. Typically, there are four of these meetings planned for any asset: launch – 24 months, launch – 18 months, launch – 12 months, and launch – 6 months (referenced as L-24, L-18, L-12 and L-6). In some companies, they go by time – XX months, or T-XX. There typically isn’t a mandated topic to present at these meetings, but instead, they are a way for the cross-functional team to provide an update on the program, review their latest thinking, discuss changes in the strategy, and highlight risks or solicit leadership feedback or endorsement on select initiatives. It is a way for the cross-functional team to shine in front of leadership as well as allow the leadership to come up to speed on the program to ensure everyone is on the same page as they approach launch. In the recent past, there has been an emergence of L+6 meetings to ensure there is a formal touch point after the product is in the market to discuss performance and any course-correction measures that are in place or being planned for implementation.

Milestone-driven Launch Readiness Reviews

These meetings are scheduled based on a milestone or a topic that needs to be completed by an estimated time. Typically, these meetings are numbered, e.g. Launch Readiness Review 1. There are typically four, scheduled prior to launch and in short are referenced as LRR1, LRR2, LRR3 and LRR4. The four topics are usually similar at the various companies: LRR1: understanding the market, LRR2: developing a go-to-market strategy, LRR3: outlining the launch tactics, and LRR4: being launch-ready. Like the time-driven launch readiness reviews, there has been an emergence of LRR5 that takes place about three to six months post-launch to review performance and discuss KPIs and course correction strategies.

There is proven value in the implementation of the Launch Readiness Review meetings. However, as they are part of the process and a set expectation, these meetings have been somewhat counter-agile. The case study below outlines how an agile mindset values individuals and interactions over process and tools, which is essential to implement elements of the agile methodology to evolve the standard launch readiness reviews.

Case study: Rethinking Launch Readiness Reviews

Situation

“We don’t need another dog and pony show!” was the opening statement of the marketing head of a budding biotech firm as the working session on the design of the company’s launch readiness process began. There were nods across the room from the cross-functional participants, most were industry veterans who had spent too many precious hours and days sitting through big pharmaceutical companies’ big production style launch review meetings. As much as these meetings succeed in entertaining leadership and providing opportunities to team members to demonstrate their presentation skills, more often than not they do little to advance the thinking and decision making needed for a successful launch. Worse, these meetings have led to critical launch risks or gaps being covered-up or minimized because no one wants to look like they don’t have their stuff together and no one wants to make enemies by questioning others work. Equally bad, is the level of cross-functional distraction away from the actual launch preparation activities. “You know something is wrong when you are having multiple meetings just to prepare for another meeting!”

So how do we keep the company informed, engaged and aligned without the massive production?

Solution

Building on the agile methodology, we defined some guiding principles around the new format of the launch review meetings:

  1. Streamline the number of participants – one representative from each team empowered to make decisions and responsible for cascading decisions and outputs to the rest of their teams.
  2. Decrease presentation focus, increase issue-driven discussions and decisions – shift from informing leadership to working with leadership around some of the big launch hurdles.
  3. Enforce shorter but more frequent touch points – Move away from six-hour meetings every six months to two hours every other month.
  4. Reduce preparation work – Don’t build elaborate custom decks just for the meeting, instead bring the actual work product.
  5. Embrace open and transparent communication – Be launch-centered instead of self-centered. If you mess-up, fess-up and if you see something, say something.

In addition, we developed a more comprehensive launch readiness playbook with guidance around the launch team governance, roles and responsibilities, standard launch milestones, and timelines. We also suggested a list of cross-functional, thought-provoking questions that the launch team should be looking to answer at pivotal moments in the launch preparation.

Benefits

As much as the broader launch playbook was valued by the launch team, the agile launch review meeting approach was the aspect that generated the most praise from the launch teams across the company.

Compared to their previous launch experiences, the functional teams felt that they had more time to focus on developing their launch assets based on clearer leadership guidance and feedback on their work product. At the same time, the leadership team felt better informed and more involved in the launch team effort and decision-making process.

Learnings

In our effort to drive towards more agile Launch Review meetings, we realized that you can reduce the time spent presenting information, but you cannot completely eliminate presentations. Indeed, there is always crucial information, insights and messages that you want to share with the participants before initiating a working session. Nonetheless, instead of systematically resorting to usual PPT presentation, the most successful launch review meetings we’ve supported have explored alternative presentation formats (for example, TED talks, demos, panel discussions, trade shows, experiential play, etc.), adapting the format to the type of content and level of desired audience engagement.

Being agile is more art than science. Institutionalizing an agile mindset by incorporating elements of the agile methodology to improve thinking, collaboration, meetings, or processes can be done. This helps improve outcomes, ensure collaboration transparency and incorporate periodically timed assistance from leadership. Launch Readiness Reviews is one example where Capgemini has tested and proven that agile mindset and aspects of the methodology can be implemented to produce improved business outcomes.

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

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