Relevance Regained

Improvement strategy should be linked to business strategy.
Feb 01, 2013
Volume 26, Issue 2

Simon Chalk
While other industry sectors have adopted prepackaged improvement programs since the 1980s, it is only in the past decade that the biopharmaceutical industry has witnessed the rise to prominence of the three-letter acronym (TLA)-based improvement initiative. Business process management (BPM) and human error reduction (HER) are currently in vogue. While much has been promised by these prescribed solutions to improve business performance, much of this promise has proved illusory. Even where measurable improvement has been achieved, it has not always shown where it matters in overall operational performance and on the bottom line.

The truth is that while most of these approaches do have intrinsic value, unless the approaches are rigorously adapted to the situation of the business and the needs of strategy, the results are unlikely to be what is required.

Many managers intuitively know from their own experience that just improving things without a clear link to strategy will not necessarily produce better business results. In some companies, the problem has been exacerbated by changes in priorities and direction caused by the switch from one TLA to another, as disillusion with the previous approach has set in. A few unfortunate organizations have nearly drowned in the resulting alphabet soup.

Change needs to be focused on delivering the business strategy. It is through realizing the strategy that the company gains competitive edge, and it is this that delivers the bottom line. Moreover, for the biopharmaceutical industry, GMP compliance needs to be up front and center along with productivity and service. It is not the job of managers to seek novelty or simply to promote change; it is their job to implement the business strategy and to build the organization's capability to get better results in the future.

Many improvement programs do not derive their change agenda directly from the business strategy but come complete with their own. Too often, this leads to change being driven by the dictates of the approach, not by the needs of the business. Things frequently end up being done because the selected approach says "it's a good thing" and not because improving the way a particular task is done is essential for the company to deliver its strategy. As a result, precious resources can be diverted away from the important things and dissipated on something that comparatively doesn't really matter.

The other main failing of prescribed solutions has been their tendency to significantly underestimate the practical difficulties of achieving lasting change in an organization. Anything that does not involve hard work and a degree of pain is unlikely to achieve something that is either substantive or lasting.

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