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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

What makes a great launch leader and launch team?

Building frameworks, processes and tools to help bring some structure, rigour and coordination to the launch process

In our industry we have spent much time building launch excellence frameworks, processes and tools to help bring some structure, rigour and coordination to the complex and risky process of launching a new medicine globally.

In this column, I’d like to focus on the launch leader and the launch team, the people who are the driving force behind the thinking, strategies, planning and execution of the launch over a number of years.

Having launched a number of medicines in different companies, I reflect that my launch roles were some of the most challenging, exciting, frustrating, exhausting and exhilarating moments in my career! Whether it was receiving a regulatory ‘no’ after a year of planning a respiratory launch in the UK or a European- wide successful cardiology launch that exceeded everyone’s expectations.

As a launch leader and now consultant to launch teams and leaders,I have come to the conclusion that there is
a special set of skills and behaviours that launch leaders and teams need in order to be successful.

Building these skills and practising these behaviours can really make the difference between commercial success and failure, and also how the launch team feels, works and engages with important external stakeholders.

I’m often asked about the one key skill that a launch leader must have and I am quick to reply that there really isn’t one. There are a whole range of skills that a launch leader must have and this ideal blend of skills can change across the pre-launch time frame and across different companies, markets and therapy areas.

This lack of a nice ‘cookie cutter’ approach to launch is so important to embrace – a successful launch makes us think carefully about the specific blend of skills, processes and strategies we need.

From my research over the years with senior launch leaders across our industry, a few key skills have emerged:

  1. Attracting, motivating and developing cross-functional launch team members – getting the right blend of personalities, experience, values and commitment from your team is generally cited as the most important of launch leader skills
  2. Strategic decision-making and alignment – the ability to create a compelling launch strategy adapted to the local market, therapy area, competitive context and external environment ensuring critical success factors for the launch are identified
  3. Effective engagement with external and internal stakeholders – the ability to build credible, sustainable relationships with scientific thought leaders, pricing and access stakeholders, regulators and patient group leaders, as well as key internal stakeholders to get decisions made and resources in place
  4. There are also a host of other skills related to planning, project management, tracking launch readiness, anticipating future issues and monitoring, that speak to the discipline needed to lead an effective launch
  5. Technical skills are also important of course: a deep understanding of the science, experience in the therapy area, and an ability to create a strong operational launch plan.

Some of the most successful launch leaders I have observed have many of these skills but not all. That’s where the first skill in building a cohesive, complementary launch team comes in.

Ultimately the most successful launch leaders I have come across demonstrate an authentic commitment and inspirational style in the way they translate what their launch will bring to patients.

They invest in building the right team, creating the right roles, culture, ambition and ways of working before jumping into the tasks at hand. They will include their key strategic partners – agencies, suppliers and consultancies – in key meetings and planning sessions.

And when the going gets tough with a regulatory delay, a supply chain issue or a tough internal business review, they keep calm and positive, with a focus on the end goal of a successful launch.

There are some great practical tools and techniques to support a successful launch leader and team: creation of a launch team charter and ambition, deep dive planning sessions, celebrations at key milestones, launch team temperature checks, launch excellence training sessions, innovation competitions and much more!

It’s been wonderful to see launch excellence at work in recent months – shifting to digital or hybrid programmes, changing to a host of new ways of working, flexing strategies, working across different locations and time zones, using technology to run launch planning sessions and not only connecting regularly with daily and weekly check-ins, but supporting fellow team members if they are feeling overwhelmed with a ‘virtual cup of coffee’ or finding a ‘virtual hot desk buddy’ for the day.

I’m excited to see how launch plans, strategies and teams evolve even further in the future so we can keep up the pace of launches of innovative medicines, devices and services to benefit the people who need it most.

Stephanie Hall is MD of the award-winning brand planning healthcare consultancy Uptake Strategies

30th September 2020

From: Marketing


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