Alliance Management Consulting and Training, Partnering Frameworks and Tools, Collaborative Leadership

Reimagining Alliance Management as an Agile Capability--Part Three of Four
1. Partnering Guide / March 13th, 2020     A+ | a-
This is Part Three of a Four Part post on adapting and applying certain principles of agile management as a means of meeting the increased demand for alliance management services as the scale, scope, and complexity of biopharmaceutical asset, service, digital, and data alliances and partnerships grows.

Download a pdf of all four parts of “Reimagining Alliance Management as an Agile Capability” plus “What to Do When it Gets ‘Just Too Hard.’”  

Read Part One or Part Two of Reimagining Alliance Management as an Agile Capability

Practice Component 2:  Increasing the Agility of Alliance Management Practices 

There are many ways to build agility into alliance management practices. The Service Level Agreements between alliance managers and stakeholders shape expectations and focus resources on the work that delivers the greatest value to stakeholders and enhances the partner experience. Successful implementation of services requires standardization, meaning that everyone understands the language and how things are done. People easily work with others because everyone knows how a certain alliance activity is conducted. We refer to this state which is a prerequisite for collaboration as “common language with shared meaning.” It means that when the alliance manager talks about an alliance kickoff meeting and pictures an in-person meeting of all key personnel with certain agenda items, her key stakeholder sees the same thing, not a 30-minute phone meeting.

For example, with standardization an alliance kickoff has the same core elements, regardless of which alliance manager is running it, the therapeutic area, or the partners. From the alliance manager’s perspective, timing and the scope of certain activities may differ depending on the alliance profile as determined by the front door process. Nonetheless, stakeholders will experience one kickoff as very similar to the next and know what is expected of them when assigned to a new alliance.

Many alliance management teams already attempt to standardize with playbooks, ASAP certification, and common templates for similar activities, such as stakeholder mapping and team charters. Results are mixed. We’ve observed that even among teams that proclaim to want certain practices to be followed, it can be hard to achieve consistency. Of course, alliances involve partners, so no company can—or should—dictate how an alliance will be implemented. The partners will be most successful if they work together to identify a “third way”—a means of satisfying each party’s interests through a collaboratively designed process that is more efficient than running duplicative processes.

Internal workflows can be largely standardized, producing significant benefits both in terms of minimizing risk and in delivering value to stakeholders. For example, because proactive risk identification and management is especially valued by stakeholders, a company could have a standard protocol for this service, differentiated by portfolio segmentation. The following are three examples of how to make any alliance management practice more agile:
  •  Information transparency—It isn’t easy in many company cultures to discuss what could go wrong. In an agile environment, critical assumptions and the data needed to assess if they are valid or invalid are identified, measured, and reported to all relevant stakeholders, enabling candid discussion, a leadership culture of accountability, and the ability to escalate problems teams can’t solve. 
  • Learning fast—Structured processes, such as after-action reviews, regular analysis, and interpretation of data relative to assumptions mean that time is not wasted on activities and projects or decision options that aren’t going to bear results. This practice is typically phrased as “failing fast,” but that implies an end to the process. Agile principles encourage ongoing, rapid experimentation which is better described as “learning fast” (See Figure 4 – Learn Fast) 
  • Digitization of information and workflows—Implementing enabling technologies is an agile principle that enforces consistency. For too long, alliance management has been embedded in the minds and spreadsheets of individual alliance managers. There are new systems coming on the market that are specifically designed for alliance 
  • management, such as allianceboard . All alliance managers should investigate it and other available options to automate their basic information and workflows.[1]
Integrating into Functional Activities

Alliances are most effective when they are integrated into the day-to-day workflow of the critical functions such as regulatory or supply chain. Even in our partnering everywhere environment, companies develop Standard Operating Practices (SOPs) without regard for the fact that they often have to implement them with a partner. Some simple practices that companies can implement to be more agile include:
  • Mapping partners into standard workflows—What does it mean to incorporate a partner into the development of a regulatory submission? At what points would you consult with them or seek their advice to ensure that your partner can perform as intended?
  • Aligning financial calendars—It can be a significant challenge when partners operate on different calendars. Be purposeful in aligning calendars to the degree possible around budgeting cycles. This may require some creativity, especially if the partners have different fiscal calendars. Consider five or six quarter rolling budgets that are updated quarterly to reflect the latest learning. This is an agile practice because it encourages quarterly milestones and designing work in short sprints to meet those milestones 
  • Creating transparency into decision making—Opaque decision-making processes are enemies of agility—and create the risk of value eroding delays and sub-optimized decisions.  Alliance managers should understand each other’s alliance-level decision making processes—who makes them and if there is a formal calendar to adhere to, such as quarterly investment committees. Additionally, the partners should understand the authority individual functions have to make decisions and how that authority is allocated globally and locally, if that is relevant
The foregoing are not new practices. Many alliance managers already incorporate them into their ways of working. What makes them agile and drives greater value with less work is the discipline and consistency with which they are implemented. 

Read Part 4 of Reiminaging Alliance Management as an Agile Capability
[1] The Rhythm of Business is partnering with allianceboard to offer process and workflow design, implementation, and training services
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