Managing scope creep in pharma marketing can be difficult. If we think about drug development as a project, most projects take 10-12 years before the drug has an opportunity to enter the market. However, it is rare to be on the same project for an entire 10-12 years. Most personnel are generally on one or two projects simultaneously for the duration of their employment at a company. The same can be said for marketing of a product as the marketing team is typically only around until patent expiry. Those are the added difficulties of marketing in the pharmaceutical industry in that there are so many people involved with different expectations and because the project itself takes such a long time, there are people leaving and joining throughout and it becomes increasingly difficult to manage—hence the notoriously high incidence of scope creep.
Scope creep and risk management in pharma marketing
Sometimes risks are difficult to assess at the beginning of a project and oftentimes it is because the project may be something that has not been done before. If we examine this from a vendor risk management perspective, there are companies that will down-play risk and cost to secure funding and win the bid only to bombard clients with budget increases and additional fees with progression of the project. Risk could also be a competing product entering your target market and cutting into profit. It’s difficult to see this until it happens, but to prevent or counter unforeseeable risks you must constantly monitor the market landscape and have measures in place to counter them.
As technology progresses rapidly, there may be technological challenges that arise throughout the course of the project that were not anticipated during initial development of scope. To prevent the problem from escalating out of control, a specification management plan should be followed as it is a step-by-step process for managing changes to project scope by indicating how scope changes will be identified and integrated, and what approval requirements are needed and from whom. All changes should be estimated and the project should be re-evaluated for cost, schedule, and functionality. If a client will be affected, they need to be involved at every step of the process, so they are not blind-sided with unexpected changes and overwhelming fees.
Communication is key when working on projects that involve multiple stakeholders and personnel. Changes and impacts must be discussed as missing a deadline may have an impact on other activities downstream. Provide adequate documentation of all activity and note and obtain approval for any budget changes that may be needed. When clients deny additional budget requests or if there is not enough funding allocated towards your marketing project, it is time to think critically about the scope. A few questions to control scope creep:
- Is it possible to cut something out of the project to make up for the change?
- How will the bottom line be impacted? Does this impact the quality of the work and if yes, is this acceptable?
- Would you be willing to pay out-of-pocket to course correct and ensure customer satisfaction?
After answering these questions, it may be time for your organization to re-adjust project scope and re-allocate resources to better address these changes. Ensuring proper communication, approval, and documentation of all steps in this process will allow you to mitigate risk of project scope escalating out of control and subsequent project failure.
International marketing: the unknown unknowns
Bringing the global aspect into marketing adds additional elements that need to be considered. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of leaders in US organizations that understand the structure of international business processes in a cross-cultural, political, regulatory etc. sense and that has potential to prevent success of pharmaceutical marketing initiatives overseas. Even if a few leaders do have understanding of the target region, it’s unlikely that one person will be able to train an entire organization throughout the duration of the marketing project.
When eBay attempted to enter the Chinese market, but ultimately failed because they didn’t consider cross-cultural differences, consumer preference, and the buyer’s journey, it showed that even large, successful, and well-funded organizations could succumb to these types of failures.
There are tools that can assist in managing scope creep in pharma marketing. One popular and helpful tool is MS Project that will aid in oversight of timelines and resource allocation. Feel free to send us an email if you would like a copy of our free MS Project marketing campaign planning template. You will need to alter it to fit the needs of your organization, but it will at least provide you with a starting point. Note: document is in .mpp format–must have access to MS Project to read.