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Risk in Pharmaceutical Project Management

By Bishnu B. Mohanty, Head - Global Project Management, Alkem Laboratories


Bishnu B. Mohanty, Head - Global Project Management, Alkem Laboratories

Pharmaceutical project management is different from any other project management. Organizations when they decide to set up a project management department especially Pharmaceutical companies they need to be very calculative while selecting the Project Manager. It’s my observation that Pharma project management candidate background and experience in pharmaceutical industry is a must. The most important factor that should not be ignored is Project Manager must have technical qualification to understand the real time project complexity during managing projects.

In today’s scenario, it is easy for anyone to switch as a Pharma Project Manager even if they have no background and experience in Pharmaceutical Industry. I found many engineers also claiming themselves as good and effective pharmaceutical project manager. But similar transition is not possible i.e. Pharma Project Manager have no scope to become a Software Project Manager. Results and outcome of project management team which is led by a Head having non-pharma qualification are really shocking. If we do root cause analysis of this group failure the main reasons is lack of understanding of technical aspects of a Pharmaceutical project.

I would like to highlight some of the short term and long-term risk involved when a group of non-technical project manager tries to lead pharma projects. Immediate short-term risks are there is a negative trend in project delivery rate year by year. Significant impact of this short-term failure is pharma company survival in long term became impossible. This kind of long-term risk I am talking about is already encountered by some of the reputed Indian pharma companies in last five years. If role and quality of project management group is compromised during selection process then it will impact real progress of many pharmaceutical companies.

During this process of risk analysis, I have observed how a non-technical project manager group survives without real time delivery. I found they adopt multiple strategies of survival. Let me share one of the survival strategy usually adopted by many when we set up a Pharma project management office. Rather than understanding project flow, complexity they proposed to adopt project management tools with an assumption that it will improve project delivery. An effective project management tool implementation usually takes a duration that is between 6 to 24 month based on organization projects load. Always a non-technical project manager group emphasizes this kind of project management tool implementation because it is hardly required to understand technical complexity of a Pharma project. At the same time it has been proven by many Pharma companies that only adopting project management tools never improved project delivery rate in fact in many cases delivery rates were negative. If we do root cause analysis of these negative trend it has been found that many a time project manager has focused on those areas which are not at all or less critical to meet project delivery date. Due to poor technical understanding, they failed to anticipate real time risk in a project and result is no delivery or drop of projects.

Project manager usually encountered many challenges during project progress. A technical project manager always anticipates those risks well in advance by understanding technically the probability of failure and proposes to work on parallel strategy. But this kind of back up strategy plan is failed by a non-technical project manager. In many cases, it has been seen that Pharma project are not viable after certain period because of current cost and future market potential some time a date of delivery also matter like FTF (First to File) projects. If it is not deliver or filed in same day then because of multiple competition project are not worthy to continue. Therefore, these are the category of projects which cannot be recovered because of lack of skill of handling by a project manager. In organization level these are high irrecoverable loss situation and it’s delivery on time significantly impact organization long term growth strategy.

There is an assumption that Pharmaceutical project manager with a skill of good communication, co-ordination and project management certification really impact on project delivery. Good communication without proper technical understanding misleads a Pharma project. Co-ordination without understanding critical chain in project also delays the project. Project management certification teaches us strategy not technical complexity of a project so it hardly helps in true delivery of project. Many times, it has been observed a non-technical project manager rather than identifying and resolving cross function technical issue usual spend maximum time how to justify these kind of failure. This also slowly increases rate of project drop in organization level. They have hardly any strategy of project recovery.

In short, selection process of a Pharmaceutical project manager should be scrutinized with maximum care so that risk of projecting anybody as a Pharmaceutical project manager for a technical driven sector can be ruled out completely.

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