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Typically, the resourcing model has been that each alliance has one alliance manager and that each individual has responsibility for multiple alliances. Certainly, there are exceptions for very large and complex alliances, and in advanced companies that have recognized the need for new ways of working, but by and large the traditional model remains entrenched. This means that alliance management functions, groups, or teams do not operate as teams; they operate as collections of individual contributors. Agility depends on purpose driven teams.
We need to reimagine how alliance managers work as a team and distill work into discreet components focused on achieving milestones or delivering a task with less work and greater value. We can point to some examples of this already. Case in point, there are many large companies that break up their alliance management teams and align them to stages of the product lifecycle, creating separate teams for pre-proof-of-concept alliances and commercial alliances; or creating teams that specialize in different therapeutic areas. However, the alliance managers on these teams still work as individual contributors in most cases.
Taking specialization a step further, Merck & Co (known as Merck, Sharpe & Dohme outside of the US) has a distinct team within its Merck Research Labs alliance management group that handles its approximately 200 clinical collaborations for possible combination therapies with pembrolizumab (KEYTRUDA). They have developed their expertise and can implement and manage a high number of similar alliances with excellence and expediency.
Most companies do not have the resources of Merck, so how can they use specialization to become more agile in their alliance management practices? Even small alliance management groups can increase their agility and ability to handle large numbers of alliances by building expertise in certain services that are required on essentially all alliances and can be somewhat formulaic. A partial list (See Figure 5 – Using Specialists to Deliver Certain Services) includes:
- Negotiating subsidiary agreements, such as quality agreements
- Measurement and reporting
- Other operations functions, such as managing the scheduling and logistics of governance meetings
- Contract and financial management
Turning these responsibilities into a specialist role or roles frees up the alliance manager assigned to an alliance to focus more on the key value inflection points, such as helping to arrive at optimized trial design, managing the decisioning around data reveals, ensuring commercial strategy is implemented, and problems are solved collaboratively. It enhances the alliance manager’s role as orchestrator of a team of resources, applying her executive expertise and focused on what really matters to stakeholders and partners.
Adding these roles to an alliance management group creates opportunities to bring in less-senior people and develop their capabilities, building career paths that are missing today. Importantly, it also elevates the senior alliance managers in the eyes of executives and key stakeholders as they see them managing a team and experience the benefits of high-value work.
Building the Partnering Mindset and Skillset
Over the past few years, the number of alliance management organizations that are offering alliance and collaboration education and training has grown significantly. Sometimes, especially in large companies, this is part of the remit of a Center of Excellence, occasionally staffed by a dedicated team; more often an additional responsibility of professional alliance managers, or provided by expert consultants. There are two types of training required:
- Focused training for individuals who will have an alliance management or governance role in addition to their “day jobs”
- General partnering and collaboration training for stakeholders who have a role on alliance teams
The Promise of Agile
Agile is not a panacea and companies can struggle with the strategic and cultural implications of adopting agile methods and principles. Given the alignment of desired outcomes between what good alliance management entails and the ways in which agility delivers benefits, there are clear steps that alliance professionals can take to enhance their ability to provide their organizations with value.
By implementing an alliance management resourcing front door process, the right resources can be assigned to each collaboration—and resources can extend beyond the professional alliance management team. Standardizing process, embedding alliance practices in functional workflow, introducing automation, and focusing services on that which matters most helps create greater value from less work. Building specialist roles and elevating the role of the professional alliance manager creates greater capacity to maximize the value and minimize risk in an ever-expanding alliance portfolio that now encompasses asset-based, specialized services, and digital partnerships. Finally, building the partnering mindset and skillset of stakeholders means they become active contributors to driving intended outcomes.
Agile initiatives focus on a North Star—a destination—and know that the path there is one of discovery and experimentation by fit-for-purpose teams that rigorously focus on more value for less work. If you want to become more agile, start becoming more agile! Once you know where you want to go, you can start with any of the practice components we’ve discussed. The key is to just start the journey.