What’s it like to be a project manager in pharma?

Posted by admin on Apr 15, 2019 7:12:28 AM

pharmaceutical project management

The global pharmaceuticals market was worth $934.8 billion in 2017 and will reach $1170 billion in 2021, according to a 2018 pharma market research report by The Business Research Company.

It’s an industry where the stakes are high. Products cost millions to make and are worth millions more on the market. Competitors on hot on each other’s heals. And of course, it is cutting-edge work that has the potential to improve millions of lives.

In this industry, project managers play a vital role in the creation of new medical products by planning, implementing, testing and reporting on long-term project processes.

This is extremely complex industry, not just because the science is complex, but because there are so many people involved at every stage. 

Excellent people skills and the ability to work well under pressure are probably the two most important characteristics of a good pharmaceuticals project manager.

The image below shows the four forces that shape pharmaceutical development. It's usually driven by a combination of unmet medical needs, innovation and market potential. And it's limited by a combination of internal resources (time, money and people) and regulatory constraints. Projects in this industry typically last anywhere from 5 to 15 years and are very complex to manage, with an ever-changing team.


pharmaceutical project management


Source: IPPCR 2016: Concepts in Pharmaceutical Development Project Management

People skills are critical

Christopher Breder MD PhD, Division of Neurology Products at the FDA, presented a very helpful talk in 2016 where he introduced key concepts in pharmaceutical development project management. One of the biggest surprises was the sheer size of some clinical development teams. The image below shows just the first level of some of these teams. Each category has one or more teams below it, and a full clinical development team can include hundreds of people.

Managing this many highly intelligent and often very independent people requires a very influential leader. It’s no surprise that project managers in this industry often climb the ranks very fast due to their exceptional people skills and ability to get things done. 

Clinical development project management

Source: IPPCR 2016: Concepts in Pharmaceutical Development Project Management

A calm head is key

The second thing that makes pharmaceutical project management unique is the amount of internal and external forces affecting a project.

Internal forces include relationships, deadlines, strategic intent, marketing, and project selection. External forces include commercial potential, competition, time, activist groups, the FDA, and perhaps even Congress. Keeping on top of all of this requires exceptional planning and organization, as well as very strong communication skills.

A single drug could be worth millions of dollars, so a failed or delayed project can be a devastating blow for an organization, so project managers in these companies need to be able to work effectively under substantial pressure.

Tools and templates are your friends

Essential tools of the trade in this industry include:

  • a good project management platform, ideally one that integrates with CRM
  • detailed Target Product Profiles (this is essentially the product scope)
  • a dynamic Strategic Development Plan
  • the project GANTT chart showing project timelines, critical paths and interdependencies
  • careful risk management and probability calculations

About Viewpath

Viewpath is a powerful but intuitive cloud-based project management solution that helps project teams collaboration productively. It integrates with Salesforce and Servicemax, making deployments within these environments simple and cost effective.

Viewpath is hosted in the cloud, so there’s nothing to download. Simply log in to view team availability, assign tasks and collaborate with teams in real time – no matter where they’re based.

Request a demo

Topics: Project Management, Healthcare, pharmaceutical, Career planning