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“Hacking” Agile Project Management to Unlock Greater Patient Value

Posted by
Kamil Mroz, Patient Value Early Solutions

Sprints, Scrums, User stories, Kanbans, product backlogs… what’s all the hype about? Agile has recently stolen the spotlight and is the “talk of the town” in professional project management associations. However, it can sometimes be hard to pin-down in its practical application to the pharmaceutical sector and is often reduced to a buzzword implying the need to stay nimble in the face of uncertain conditions.

As such, we recently partnered with the Project Management Institute and several other pharmaceutical companies to try to “hack” Agile – and therefore better understand where and how to concretely apply Agile practices in drug development. The questions that were proposed to “hack” were:

  • How could Agile improve the day-to-day working within an interdisciplinary Medicines Development Team? 
  • How could Agile be used for planning of Medicines Development from research to launch? 
  • How can Agile optimize delivery in a highly regulated environment? 
  • How can Agile help Medicines Development teams rapidly respond to changing business requirements? 
  • How could Agile be gradually introduced in an established organization without impacting business continuity? 

This virtual hackathon drew 52 participants from all around the world. Teams broke-out into working sessions where they brainstormed ideas, refined them into key practices – and later presented them to the broader audience where participants voted on the best practices. The top three best practices selected with the most potential impact were:

  1. Experimenting with minimal viable products to enable life-cycle management (including crude formulation)
  2. Focus on the Agile principle of “Simplicity: Maximizing the work not done”
  3. Collaborating in smaller teams with better defined interactions between these teams to increase focus and accountability 

Not only did the hackathon foster a cross-departmental collaboration between UCB employees from Development, Research, Rare Diseases Organization and Supply & Technical Solutions, it also brought together some major pharmaceutical companies such as BMS, GSK and Mirati Therapeutics.

Our industry is known for its weighty regulation, long development timelines, strict process and quality requirements – things that may appear at odds with Agile principles. However, our cross-company and cross-functional “hack” event showed that agile ways of working could help our industry push through any perceived barriers and help enhance innovation competitive advantage.

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