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Demystifying Agile in life sciences

24 Oct 2022

The constantly evolving technology landscape, customer expectations, and demand-supply dynamics are forcing life sciences marketers to rethink the way they approach and deliver their content to customers. Agile - a new way of delivering commercial outcomes has started to gain traction in the life sciences industry. Agile methodologies work well in terms of delivering rapid responses and quick turnarounds to meet customer needs - but stakeholders must be willing to realize that their environment and customers are changing, and this means that they must change too.

Michelle Kehily, VP and Global Head of Digital Marketing at Merck, discusses why Agile has become vital for marketing success and shares her learnings at the Indegene Digital Summit 2022. The key recommendations from the session are summarized below.

“At the heart of it, Agile is about accepting that our market and ecosystem is changing”

1. Adopt an experimental mindset

“Leaders must be comfortable with experimentation”

Agile methodologies require organizations to build an innovation-based culture and mindset. Here is where most life sciences brands struggle. Brands need to start by accepting that there will be hiccups and failures along the agile journey in the initial stages. And senior leadership responsible for driving agile as a concept within the organization must be comfortable with setbacks and not discourage their teams to continue experimenting.

2. Find where innovation lies in your organization

“Innovation exists in pockets around brand teams trying to do things differently”

Agile concepts need people involvement equally – and not just stop at technological concepts. Finding the right place to test and deploy Agile is vital for its success – and senior stakeholders must identify teams and brands which can be starting points. This is tough for people who are used to working in traditional or fixed ways and have longer time-based outputs as their goals. For kickstarting agile concepts, teams must work on changing their routine tasks and adopting a more dynamic work-pace - something that does not come easily to majority of the workforce.

Agile works best in teams with people who have changing and dynamic, short - term metrics (as opposed to teams with long term and fixed goals) and work under quick response times. Such individuals are not easy to spot in large organizations, or even in identified teams, innovative skills are dispersed across various functions - and one way to spot such people is to find out if they are doing their own tasks differently or driving change in legacy processes.

For testing and implementing Agile, it is vital to have people comfortable with constant change, innovation and challenging rules. These people must be brought together to drive agile collectively with new processes and guidelines, rather than force fitting traditional skill sets to match a changing environment.

3. Start small at the beginning

“When you first start on your change journey, think big and act small”

Like any other new business model, Agile itself is a change management journey. Getting this right at scale is tough, costly, and time consuming. However, large scale life sciences are limited by their size of operations and several global differences in messaging and communication among brands. It is nearly impossible to be Agile for every brand at every country or geographic level. However, it is not difficult to get started with Agile.

With set global standards and marketing principles, Agile concepts can be started in small, local teams which are responsible for 1 or 2 brands. Adopt and apply Agile concepts such as scrum cycles and quality checks in shorter time frames and within local geographic scope only, so that any errors or changes can be rapidly addressed. In this way, Agile methodologies can help by producing content and outputs at par with global levels, but at a local and small scale.

4. Make customer data your strength

“Customer data is powerful and telling – use it to change and adapt quickly”

In the world of digital content and digital channels, Agile methodologies have the ability to handle the load of shifting customer expectations in near real time. Life sciences brands looking to adopt Agile must also invest in deep and embedded customer data strategies - right from data collection, data usage to generating insights from the data. Also, data movement and changes can be quickly monitored for effectiveness of communication, messaging, and promotions to targeted audiences. These data points can also be placed along their entire customer lifecycle or journey, so that measurements can be made end to end. With this data cycle in place, brand teams can work quickly to tweak their communication outputs – and hence these data points become vital drivers of change and agility.

Eventually, Agile in life sciences is still very much at a nascent stage and organizations have a long way to go. However, getting started is vital to success – even if it is at a smaller scale. Large and traditional life sciences organizations often limit themselves to change, due to slow and siloed processes and rudimentary data strategies. By making incremental changes with a correct blend of people, processes and technologies, life sciences brands can start and achieve quick learnings for their commercial vision.