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Strategic launch planning: familiar framework, new mindset

By James Aird

While much of life has been turned on its head over the last year, in the world of strategic launch planning, in some ways, not that much has changed.

This may sound counter-intuitive given the various COVID-19-related challenges faced by those tasked with launching a new medicine over the past year. But for those currently taking a product through phase 3, the critical tasks that lie ahead, such as developing an early brand plan, evolving it into a pre-launch plan and ensuring organisational readiness for launch, are essentially unchanged.

Strategic planning remains strategic planning – it’s about understanding the landscape that you are operating in and working out the best path forwards, towards your goals. When viewed in that context, COVID-19 and its impact become one of many aspects of the current landscape that need to be considered.

While the basic framework of strategic launch planning has not changed, it should be acknowledged that the fabric of many aspects within it has. Outlined below are some of these changes, along with key questions that strategic launch planning should address:

  • Targeting patients: the patient journey may have changed; established market assumptions may no longer hold true. How well can you describe your priority patients at launch?
  • Targeting customers: HCPs and payers may have additional responsibilities and new priorities, especially if hospital based. Are you clear on which customers you will focus on at launch and what their needs are?
  • Market engagement: greater local flexibility may be needed in terms of adapting global/ regional strategies. Do you understand what is important at a local market level? What will make HCPs and patients in the markets want to use your drug?
  • Differentiation and positioning: the dynamic/ switch market may be less accessible; historical product uptake patterns may be less realistic. Do you understand the value that your product offers customers and patients? How will you communicate this and drive product uptake?
  • Organisational readiness: obtaining internal buy-in in a virtual environment can be challenging. Onboarding and training processes for sales reps and MSLs have changed and digital customer engagement models are now essential. Do you have internal alignment behind your launch plan? Have you left sufficient time for launch excellence and resource planning?
  • Scheduling and accountability: planning may need to start earlier to allow for the additional complexity. Is there a clear and shared understanding of who will be doing what, when?

There are several additional, less obvious ways in which the pandemic is impacting the process and focus of strategic launch planning.

Mechanics of plan development

Gone are the multi-day, face-to-face, cross- functional planning sessions. The quality of interactions from virtual working can be challenging, and plan development can feel like a slow and lonely process. To counter these pressures, a more streamlined model is emerging, with tighter core teams driving plan development, supported by targeted stakeholder engagement as needed. This is coupled with increased use of meeting structures and ways of working designed specifically for the virtual environment – a conscious acknowledgement that we can do better than simply trying to replicate the traditional face-to-face model online.

Scenario planning

This is more at the front of people’s minds; teams are more conscious of expecting the unexpected. To give two very different examples:

  • Patient journey: with patient and clinician dynamics in flux, the traditional mechanisms of developing the patient journey based on recent past perspectives and/or a one-off fieldwork exercise may not be so insightful. More frequent insight updates may be more beneficial and scenario planning around alternative directions of patient-focus may be needed
  • Supply chain planning: in some instances, traditional sources of active ingredient have been put at risk because of temporary closures or reduced operating capacity of supply factories, coupled with periodic export limitations. Arguably, alternative supply scenarios are worthy of attention.

Strategic flexibility

In central planning teams there is a nod towards a more adaptive approach to strategy, a greater willingness to allow more regional flexibility and, where necessary, a wholesale change; indeed, several companies who were set to launch around March 2020 with a traditional model successfully pivoted to digital. The fact that they managed to do this should be applauded; we can change the way we work.

The right mindset

To conclude, a solid strategic launch planning process should already be sufficient to manage the additional challenges outlined, meaning not a lot needs to change. But what is needed is the right mindset, actively creating time and space for clear thought, to work through the additional uncertainties and ensure plans are appropriate and impactful in the current environment.

James Aird is Strategy Consultant at Evida, an AMICULUM agency

4th August 2021

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