The drive to make effective decisions faster

Keith Brockbank

Independent Consultant and Developer of “Phenestra”

Decisions, decisions – the pressure is on as never before to make brilliant decisions as fast as possible.

Whether one looks at activities in R&amp,D or commercial areas of the business the pressure on decision-makers is intense, and the consequences of poor or delayed decisions are growing larger and larger. The costs of development and especially of clinical development programmes have risen significantly over the past decade, patient recruitment in many therapeutic areas means timescales for development programmes are also becoming longer, leading to shorter periods of exclusivity after product launch. Healthcare environments across the world are changing rapidly, leading to the necessity for market shaping and market access activities to compliment development plans, including sophisticated but practical health economic models.

For instance: the head of a development team is challenged to decide on an indication strategy for a new product, the cost of a wrong decision at this stage could be that the product is delayed by a year in reaching the market, and loses a year of peak sales exclusivity worth &gt,$1bn. Or, a commercial director decides to launch in a country that has just changed to reference pricing and thus the price is reduced by 20%, not only in that market but across six markets in Europe.


“…lack of time is seldom seen as a valid excuse for a poor decision.”

In addition, as continued IT improvements make access to critical information and communication easier, lack of time is seldom seen as a valid excuse for a poor decision. However, this raises new challenges as the IT systems may not always work in the decision-makers favour and key information can be buried behind a lot of data noise, leading to information overload.

Increasingly, utilisation of external experts is seen as a method to improve the quality of decision making and reduce the risk. However, even when using highly specialised consultants, success is not assured through this route and three key factors remain critical even if external support is recruited:

– Extraction and provision of the appropriate internal information into the process

– Close collaboration and communication with internal teams to ensure alignment on objectives and internal factors

– Strategic solution integration with internal systems to ensure effective implementation and tracking

This decision-making pressure is seen across the whole of life sciences enterprises, but seems to focus on a few particularly critical areas in which decisions must be taken rapidly and significant investment/disinvestment questions answered (see Fig 1.)

 Phenestra Figure 1

Fig 1: Critical decision areas for modern pharma

In my experience the following types of key questions seem to be asked most commonly by decision-making bodies in these areas:


– Which markets offer the largest opportunity for this brand and what is the price elasticity in the markets with the largest potential sales volumes?

– What pricing strategy should we adopt with this brand to maximise peak sales and minimise time to peak sales?

– In what order should we launch brand X in world markets to optimise support for our pricing strategy?

– What market access activities are critical to accelerate adoption of this brand in the major markets?

– What strategy should we adopt towards the emerging markets in healthcare?

Portfolio Optimisation:

– Which research projects should be funded, which should be licensed out and which should be discontinued?

– Which indications for potential brand X are likely to accelerate time to peak sales

– How can we deliver increased productivity in terms of NCEs through our R&amp,D teams?

– How can we structure development teams to ensure a commercial focus is maintained through the development programme?

Lifecycle Management:

– How do we develop this brand to maximise peak sales, minimise time to peak sales and extend the life of the brand beyond the original patent?

– Which additional patents should we seek for this active entity?

– Which devices or combination treatments make the most sense for this brand?

These decisions have not changed dramatically over the past few years, but the pace and intensity of ensuring the optimal answers has, as have the penalties to organisations for getting it wrong or delaying decisions.

Businesses already have to answer these questions on a day-to-day basis, but the challenge, in today’s rapidly changing environment, is to make these decisions faster and better than ever before.

Greater transparency of reporting also means problems cannot be swept under the carpet in ways that they may have been in the past.

So – what can be done about this?

It does not seem a viable option to just continue with business as usual, making the same decisions in the same way that we always have done. It is these current processes and ways of working that have lead to declining development productivity, increasing pressure on sales forces, products stalling after initial launch success, inadequate health economic support for product launches etc.

It is also quite clear from both experience and the literature that engaging in a big IT platform change, such as implementing ERP or developing a data warehouse is not only no guarantee of success, but could be so disruptive to the business as to become a contributor to the problem. In particular the pain imposed by systems integration both on the IT department and on the wider business seems more likely not to deliver remarkable business value than to solve any of these pressing problems. Also, launching a major programme of change is likely to take a long time before any value is created, let alone the levels of value promised in the business case.

“…most organisations in the Life Sciences industry are currently suffering from change fatigue.”

Further to this, whether through organic changes to the portfolio, through mergers and acquisitions or through investment or disinvestment in allied fields such as consumer healthcare or animal health one thing is abundantly clear – most organisations in the Life Sciences industry are currently suffering from change fatigue. Whether you think of this in similar terms to compassion fatigue and know that workers do less and less discretionary work as a result, or think in terms of metal fatigue and the disruption to team structures and necessity to re-learn ways of working together due to fragmentation, this can have a major negative impact upon organisational performance.

However, I do not believe all hope is lost!

Rather a new approach needs to be adopted to delivering improved performance. In particular any new solution must be able to demonstrate value and improvement before integration with complex organisations is undertaken. Indeed, integration with existing organisations should only be undertaken if that would add to the value delivered by a solution.

In my experience, it is possible to develop an approach that builds on IT initiatives that offer a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) or Software as a Service (SaaS). This approach supports the delivery of rapid changes which add significant value to the decision-maker whilst causing minimum disruption to continued working.

This approach will introduce necessary “work-arounds” for contentious issues to enable rapid solutions which may be temporary or permanent. As such, I have labelled this approach a “business patch”. Rather than making unnecessary wholesale changes, the approach to making the decision then becomes a matter of introducing the vital changes to decision-making as outlined in fig 2.

 Phenestra Process 2

Fig 2: The “business patch” process

Ultimately, the business patch process is intended to support the user make an effective decision more quickly, by putting in place a process that will ensure they have the right information at the right time.

This solution then combines several key aspects that are sometimes missing from the process (but all of which are critical):

– The solution should be a combination of people, process and technology that builds upon current ways of working, minimising disruption to business-as-usual

– Additional information is brought to bear where required, but only after assessing if it is available internally

– Individuals in the decision-making process are challenged to make the best use of available intelligence and on their assumptions

– New tools are provided for analysis, prediction and business modelling as required

– Adjustments are made to increase the flow of information within the business

Through working in this way, informed decisions can be made through making the necessary “course corrections” without wholesale change of the business strategy (which is most often not required).

The result is a more effective decision being made more quickly, with less disruption to the rest of the business and the ability to monitor the success of that decision on an ongoing basis.

And perhaps, slightly less stressed and successful decision-makers!

About Phenestra

Phenestra brings deep industry and functional expertise to the challenges our clients face. The senior management team are involved in the development of all solutions. This team has over 50 years combined experience working in Life Sciences businesses across a wide variety of roles including: Strategic Planning, Sales Force Effectiveness, BioAnalytics, Portfolio and Project Management and IT (spanning both R&amp,D and Commercial areas). The group combines this industry experience with their considerablebackground in consulting with Life Sciences Organisations.

About the author:

Keith Brockbank is an independent consultant and one of the founder developers of the “Phenestra” solution approach, based in the UK.

For enquiries please email or call Keith on +44 (0)7894 038511.