PMOs in Life Sciences
PMOs in Life Sciences

Best Practices for Building Effective PMOs in the Life Sciences Industry

6 min read

Many people associate Project Management Offices (PMOs) with IT. IT departments from across all industries rely on PMOs to help organize and execute project portfolios. But PMOs are not just for IT departments. Health and life sciences companies rely on PMOs to manage complex and interdependent projects while balancing strict regulatory deadlines. However, as crucial as PMOs are for the industry, not all PMOs are created equal.

A PMO that deviates from best practices will at best only provide marginal benefits to companies, but at its worst can see projects or entire programs fail. In the health and life sciences industry, “30 to 60 percent of projects routinely fail.” This is a shockingly high percentage of project failure and it’s largely caused by ineffective PMOs. Life sciences PMOs can improve the success of their projects and their portfolio as a whole by adhering to these industry best practices.

Standardize Pipeline Evaluation

How do you make important decisions? For some people, they think through their options rationally and logically, but for others making decisions can be much more emotional. Sometimes people “go with their gut” or panic because their competitors are doing something different and they desperately try to match what they’re doing. The latter obviously is a risky way to make decisions, but even in very large organizations, there is often still this emotional component to making decisions because making decisions can be very difficult.

Deciding which projects to move forward with and which ones to table can make or break a company. Some projects are mandatory and must be completed by certain timelines based on regulations, but beyond these regulatory projects, health and life sciences companies need to continue to innovate. Because the development of new pharmaceuticals or medical devices is extremely time and cost intensive, it’s imperative that companies select the best projects for their portfolio. The best way to make sure you are approving the right projects in the pipeline is to standardize the criteria by which you evaluate proposed projects. Your criteria can include things like cost, benefit, risk, resource requirements and alignment to corporate goals. When you standardize evaluation criteria, you can make decisions based on quantitative data. This makes it much easier to compare different projects and provides transparency into what greenlighting or rejecting a project means for the project portfolio.

Objectively Prioritize Projects

Health and life sciences companies understand that certain regulatory projects must be prioritized first. But what about other projects? The emotion involved in making decisions regarding the new project pipeline can also creep its way into determining priority of projects. Sometimes individuals might put a higher priority on projects they are responsible for over projects they aren’t responsible for. Other times organizations might prioritize projects based on a single criteria like financial benefit which is not only short-sighted but can cause huge issues down the road. Some companies try to prioritize projects based on more than one important criteria, but the reality is that determining priority can be exceedingly arduous.

If you standardize the evaluation criteria for proposed projects, you can also use the criteria to help prioritize projects. You can combine the quantitative data from the evaluation with other important factors like regulation deadlines, dependencies between other projects and available resources in your current portfolio. If you provide a weighting for each criteria or factor you can calculate a priority score for each project. The priority score will serve as an objective process for understanding which projects should be staffed before others. It will also provide transparency if management decides to ignore the project score and prioritize projects in other ways.

Optimize Your Resources

One of the quickest ways a project can fail is if it doesn’t have the right resources. Properly allocating resources in the health and life sciences industry can be extremely difficult because projects are often very long and are subject to strict scheduling requirements. If you don’t have the right resources available for projects, it quickly creates a bottleneck that can bring projects to a complete stop. This ends up wasting time, money and effort. In order to properly optimize your resources, you need an accurate view of your resource pool and the skills available.

It’s not enough to know that you have five senior researchers available for projects. You need to know what specialized skills they have, if they are taking vacation soon and if they are already booked on too many projects. Obtaining the answers to these questions is the only way you can ensure you have optimized your resources for better project completion rates. It’s worth the investment to find these answers and in the long run optimized resources can save you time and money.

Life Sciences PMO

Utilize What-If Analysis

No company exists in a vacuum. This means that things change and companies have to adapt their strategies, plans and projects. There’s no crystal ball to see what the future holds, but companies can and should quickly adapt to warning signs, red flags, or changes in direction. However, they don’t have to do so blindly. Any change to the project portfolio should be carefully considered through What-If Analysis.

How would overall operating expenses change if Project X was replaced with Project Y? If Phase II starts three quarters early, will we have the resources needed for completion? If we cancel Program Z, will our project portfolio be underbudget? If you don’t have answers like these when considering a change to the project portfolio, don’t make the change. Collect all the necessary information first before moving forward so you can avoid costly mistakes.

Get to Know Your Project Managers

No matter how well a PMO operates, it will rely heavily on project managers. Project managers fuel the engine of a PMO and you’ll get out exactly what you put in. In large organizations, it might be impossible to personally connect with every project manager, but you can still create a welcoming environment and open channels of communication.

It’s important for project managers to have a voice in their organization because they are the ones responsible for day to day execution. This gives them incredibly valuable insight into their teams and the work they perform. They will know exactly who is best for each task and what roadblocks they are likely to face during research and development or when transitioning to the next phase of a clinical trial. This insight can help inform your project portfolio decisions so that you set your teams up for success. Additionally, if they feel comfortable reaching out to your PMO, they will be more likely to do so when they have issues they can’t solve themselves. This can make sure problems get resolved more quickly.

PMOs in Life Sciences

A Successful PMO Needs the Right Tool

Best practices can help ensure your PMO runs smoothly and successfully, but if you don’t have the right tools, these best practices can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Meisterplan is a Lean Project Portfolio Management™ and resource management tool that allows health and life sciences companies to create powerful project portfolios while staying lean enough to adapt with changing demands. To see how Meisterplan can serve the health and life sciences industry, start a free 30 day trial today.

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