Alan Maloney from Avellana spoke on Wednesday, 18 April 2018, at the Med Tec Europe Start-Up & Innovation Forum in Stuttgart, Germany. Alan talked about the challenges that teams face in solving complex problems when Pharma and Med Tech companies collaborate on joint ventures in a talk entitled “Speaking the same language- How to co-innovate and collaborate when Med Tech meets Pharma”.

To articulate his perspective Alan used a case study from a client that he worked with where they faced the challenge of resolving a new, complex problem with many unknown elements with two, diverse teams as contributors and stakeholders.

THE PROBLEM

A collaboration with a new partner raised a new set of challenges, ones which could not be answered by referring to the current operating procedures of either participant. The challenge was to assemble a joint regulatory submission for a combination product which meets the needs of the health authorities and other secondary stakeholders. Unanswered questions about leadership, strategy and operational support led to confusion and uncertainty. The team undoubtedly did their best to allay the uncertainty and overcome the challenge using an ubiquitous project management methodology.

THE SYMPTOMS

There were early symptoms that pointed to the fact that the existing structures were not working effectively, and change was needed in order to progress. These included the appearance of silos (or at least the beginnings of them) and the apportioning of blame between collaborating groups when routine issues would occur.

THE STICKY PLASTER

As with every “project” which is malfunctioning, the human tendency to attempt to seize control is unavoidable. Extra attention was focused on collaboration resulting in long, unproductive meetings. The existing project management structures were “beefed up” resulting in very detailed plans that attempted to control the variables, but in reality just added layers of administration.

THE TREATMENT

The treatment which ultimately saved the day and helped the team to succeed was the creation of highly adaptive, agile teams. This involved the establishment of smaller, autonomous, cross-functional teams which met regularly and used visual management to see and plan their work. This agile structure essentially created an internal start-up environment, and the people involved did what it took to succeed, resolving problems as they arose and adapting to the “shifting sands” of the regulatory environment.

THE CURE??

Once victory was achieved, the submission team ceased to be and entered the corporate history as a highly successful group who achieved much in a short period. Alan highlighted the fact that this type of situation is commonplace, especially in product development, and lamented that the organisation did not LEARN why the team was so successful. Faced with a similar problem would the companies have to solve all of the same problems again? Alan put forward an argument that the companies involved would have been better off, certainly in the medium term, to implement a Lean Innovation method, capable of applying appropriate structure to allow the teams to solve complex problems while retaining the knowledge of HOW they did it. Such a method would ensure that the organisation would be able to learn from mistakes, and learn from human innovation, to allow them to improve on the whole.

Alan would like to thanks MedTec Europe for giving him the opportunity to speak (and learn) and for hosting such interesting sessions over the course of the three days.