Pharma R&D Investments: Informed Decisions Versus Gambling

September 10th, 2020 Blog Matt Kiernan

Is Your Company Gambling?

Capacity planning, demand forecasting, portfolio reviews, prioritization processes, budgeting processes, etc. are all vital to a biotech and pharma business.  Tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars are on the line when making decisions about people, projects, programs, therapeutic areas, and acquisitions.  Imagine being at a casino, sitting at a craps table.  You have so many options on where to play your big stacks of chips.  Do you start with a couple chips?  Do you gamble a stack of chips?  Or, do you put all your chips on the table?  Also, where do you put your chips on the table?  So many options – it can be overwhelming.  With biotech and pharma companies investing so much money in projects, resources, and programs, where the outcome is uncertain, in many ways is a lot like gambling at the craps table.  How can these companies better their odds?  For starters, they should have more information to make better decisions. 

Capacity planning, demand forecasting, portfolio reviews, prioritization processes, and budgeting processes take the unknown around complicated processes along with lots of data and provide a structure that allows companies to think through, debate, and make the best decisions at that time.  Yet, many biotech and pharma companies still have a process that looks like the picture below. 

Project R&D Timelines – Many companies are using Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Project for timelines and resource planning tools.  One file is for one project so even a small biotech company can have 10-20 files.  Larger companies will have 50+ files.  Each file is prone to errors. Users change names of milestones or activities that are then not standard across files.  Not a good resource planning tool.

Integrated R&D Timelines – The timeline data from many Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Project files is copied and pasted into Excel, the “resource planning software”.  As you can imagine, this is prone to many pasting errors, broken links, lots of data to maneuver and ultimately a large Microsoft Excel file is created that often crashes.  Again, not optimal as a resource planning tool.

Resource & Portfolio Management Modeling – Now that the timelines are integrated, the Excel formulas do vlookups, if statements, sums, counts, etc. to produce a resource and portfolio model.  Sure, it produces something, but the question is, can you maintain this complicated spreadsheet and trust the data?  Again, do you want to be at the craps table with no (or, worse, erroneous) information to help you decide on your chip placement?  This is essentially what is happening at this step in the process.  Bad data will lead you to place the sucker bet.  Not an optimal resource planning tool.

Resource Management & Portfolio Reports – Let’s face it, pharma people like Microsoft Excel for reports.  Anyone with decent skills can build their own reports, edit them on the fly and be nimble.  All this is great.  The only problem is how good is the resource management data in the resource management reports.  Reliable, error free data is everything. 

We have all lived through this ugly, problematic resource management process.  The effort, the struggles, the holding your breath that everything or most of the resource management data is correct is not fun. And remember when the executive making the decisions would say, let’s delay these studies and speed up these studies and meet tomorrow to discuss!!  It was way too much effort to get everything right and meet the next day.  You might as well call this the Advil process.  And it was not one iteration.  There are so many you can’t even keep track.  Pharma companies need better resource planning tools and capacity management tools.

Don’t live this life at work when so much money is on the line.  Pharma and biotech companies should change how they work and think about resource management and capacity management.  There are resource management software options to efficiently handle capacity planning, demand forecasting, portfolio reviews, prioritization processes, budgeting processes, etc.  With resource management software being so scalable and so available (via web-based software as a service), pharma and biotech companies should plan for and implement an easy-to-use resource management tool that will facilitate the process for them.  We have so much innovation in our industry to help patients, but we have neglected our resource management methods and resource management processes on how we invest money in the right areas for too long.  Don’t be a fool.  Stop the gambling.  Invest your money wisely.