Leadership Development Blog

Subscribe to our blog...it's simple!

Agile Leadership in Life Sciences Research and Development

Posted by Rick Lepsinger April 18, 2019


The life sciences industry is largely driven by the demands of the research and development cycle. Biotech and pharma companies seeking to promote new products and services must first go through the arduous R&D process before they can bring them to market. Traditionally, this long run-up to market viability has taken many years and required substantial investment. As consumer demands and price competition become more intense in the coming years, life sciences companies that are unable to reduce their product time to market will find themselves falling behind global competitors when it comes to research and development.

Given the uncertainty and volatility of the industry, the principles of agile leadership will be of immense value as life sciences companies look for ways to revolutionize their approach to research and development. Agile leaders are well suited to the demands of the pharma industry with their ability to effectively balance the multiple and sometimes conflicting needs of organizational effectiveness.

Embracing Innovation

While some pharma and biotech companies are adhering to the same R&D and clinical trial processes they’ve used for decades, forward-thinking companies are thinking of new ways to incorporate digital technologies into their operations. Modernizing the way these firms organize and manage research could lead to much better outcomes for patients and a much-improved ROI. Digital technology can make it easier to share data, diversify testing populations, identify potential problems, and monitor progress on both development and testing.

Implementing these technologies, however, presents a major challenge. Much of the drug development and clinical trial infrastructure being used today hasn’t changed significantly in the last 20 years, presenting a significant legacy investment that many organizations hesitate to abandon. In many cases, digital pilot programs have been implemented as piecemeal, incremental solutions meant to augment existing processes, but few companies have taken the big step to scale these initiatives.

Agile leaders can help to shake up the traditionally risk-averse culture of biopharma research and promote a bold new vision to capitalize on innovative technologies. These potentially disruptive changes will necessarily create new problems in terms of efficiency and people. Any major innovation is bound to slow down established trial processes and could face significant pushback from a variety of stakeholders, but effective agile leaders have the skills and foresight to adapt to these challenges. Their ability to connect and empathize with the people most impacted by the changes can help them address concerns while still keeping the focus on the company’s future.

Driving Efficiency

Although the pharma industry is something of a latecomer to the e-commerce space, the online marketplace for R&D services is maturing rapidly. With so many qualified research vendors building an online presence, it’s possible to find potential R&D partners faster than ever before. Where procurement cycles once could take as long as one to two months, it’s now possible to negotiate contracts and close such deals in a little over a week.

This streamlined process creates a tremendous opportunity for companies looking to accelerate their R&D process and get products to market faster. Rather than spending valuable time researching and negotiating with vendors, they can dedicate more resources to doing the research that has the potential to deliver long-term value both to the company and patients. Cloud-based infrastructure and advanced analytics software also make it easier to access valuable real-time data that informs strategic decisions involving the products and services in development.

Pushing the boundaries of efficiency isn’t without its difficulties, however. Most organizations are set up to work around longer R&D cycles based on outdated procurement models. Agile leaders excel at anticipating how changes in one area of an organization’s operations will affect other areas, helping them to better manage the impact of potentially disruptive situations. They understand that balancing organizational necessities will require them to invest in multiple accelerators throughout the company simultaneously. Dealing with the disruptive effects of a digital transformation demands careful prioritization and clear, ongoing communication to the stakeholders involved.

Leveraging Talent

In order to develop the next generation of groundbreaking drugs and medical treatments, life sciences companies first need to develop the next generation of pharma professionals. These companies are investing heavily in talent sourcing, with a strong emphasis on diversity and technologically-savvy young researchers who will be able to soak up the existing institutional knowledge of a rapidly retiring workforce.

The widespread adoption of digital technologies and analytics has greatly broadened the traditional talent requirements for the industry, but has also forced it to compete with the tech sector and other industries for the best candidates. Agile leaders must find ways to adapt to this new hiring environment and build the teams that will deliver results in the future. Their ability to connect and empathize with people can help them to identify what attactss candidates to the industry and what factors can help retain them once they’re there. With the right assessment and development strategies, they will be able to meet the needs of employees and keep them engaged even in the midst of other changes throughout the organization.

Throughout these changes, agile leaders must find ways to keep the organization’s long-term goals in sight. For biopharma companies looking to improve their research and development, that necessarily means investing in innovation and developing efficient new processes to drive down costs and product time to market, but it also means finding better ways to make a positive impact on people’s lives. With their ability to connect, adapt, and deliver, agile leaders have the flexibility and skills to meet this daunting challenge. Business Case for Training Virtual Leaders

Topics: life science

Leave a Comment