4 Practical uses for a Wiki in Pharma

You’ve lived and experienced the nightmares associated with document management and collaboration in an enterprise environment. E-mails follow multi-branched and reply all paths. Spreadsheets and Word documents get passed around and everyone asks – “do I have the latest version?” Or what about the times when you need a new job posting on your corporate site or to perform an urgent update to content. Do these problems sound like your organizations? Even worse do you have a over burdened process that governs what you need to do to make simple changes?

Enter the wiki: collaboration software that solves all these problems yet, unlike many traditional content management systems, remains simple enough for non-technical employees to use.
Although wikis have been around for a decade, they're just starting to take off in business. Like the Web did when it first caught hold in the corporate world, wikis will likely go through a period of wild growth, fierce competition, and inappropriate usage. Proceed with caution. Any “crazy” technology will cause undue distress amongst your management team. Baby steps are usually best for “crazy” technologies. Likewise as you all know making the business case is just as important. That said, I’ve outlined 4 practical (or crazy) uses for Wiki’s below that will help align a powerful collaboration tool with emerging business needs for the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Create an internal communication portal: Prior to wikis, an expensive enterprise application would have been required for sophisticated information management. But because most wikis are based on open-source code, they're free for companies who opt for an open-source distribution, or relatively cheap for companies willing to pay for their implementation and support. That said portals are implemented very often in pharma companies. For example marketing teams are asked to develop a communication website specific to a particular brand that will help align all internal messages regarding one or multiple indications. Typically when marketing types are asked to create web sites, they have to rely on the chance that someone in a group knows how to make a web site, or that some sort of training is available or even worse spend several thousand dollars to get a static website from an interactive agency. The wiki eliminates all three obstacles, because it provides a ready to use site with a simple user interface, ability to easily add pages, and simple navigation structure. Imagine a wiki that would allow the marketing people to concentrate more on strategy and content development, instead of trying to learn how to put font tags around a section of text. The simplicity of the wiki syntax, or language for formatting text, inserting images and creating links, means your employees spend less time trying to figure out how to make the site do what they want. Easy and empowering
  • Develop a peer reviewed paper: Publish or perish. That’s the tenant that many researchers live by. Publishing is the main vehicle to advertise the positive (and negative) effects of a particular drug, however often times the peer review process is tainted with inefficiencies and lack of a true peer review. A wiki makes it easy for researchers to write, revise and submit a manuscript, since all three activities can take place in the wiki. Imagine a researcher that is provided access to a wiki page to develop an outline. First the researcher will begin by tracking their background research and bibliography. This allows the fellow researchers, to see what they’re using, help them if they’re off track, suggest other resources/searches, or even get ideas based on what others find useful. Next, the researcher can draft the paper in the wiki, taking advantage of the wiki’s automatic revision history that saves a before & after version of the document each time s/he makes changes (sound like EDMS). This allows the peers to see the evolution of the paper over time, and continually comment on it providing transparency. When the researcher completes the final draft, admins and/or agencies can ready all elements of the manuscript for submission to a journal and/or congress. Efficient and transparent.
  • Simplify the maintenance of processes: Just about every pharma/biotech company I’ve worked with has an emphasis on process, however they face 2 challenges in their change management efforts of a process: a) getting buy-in from all who use the process and b) effectively implementing changes and distributing a consistent communication stream to all involved. Imagine a wiki where processes are published for the entire organization. Say the process for reporting expenses is slightly inaccurate and Judy from accounting makes a recommended correction. The process excellence folks see the error and republish the change. Now the challenge, disseminating the change effectively. Imagine then all users who have been trained on the process are distributed an alert and notified to refresh themselves on the revision. This collaboration happens automatically without any human intervention. Impactful and lean.
  • Track emerging regulatory trends: The need to track emerging pharmaceutical trends, especially regulatory ones is a need that pharma companies pay millions for in subscription based services every year, while their most important resource – their people – already have this information in small doses. Built together in a collaborative workspace such as a wiki, a pharma company can be nimble in addressing emerging trends. For example in the news as of late was a re-hash of the PHRMA ethical guidelines. Imagine an internal wiki where a researcher places a notice about the amendment that he/she read on a blog. A medical writer who recently attended a conference posts a slide kit that was posted by a leading opinion leader in the regulatory space. All this in a centralized location where users can sign of real time alerts to get the data. Powerful communication without having to pay for it.

    Stay tuned for my next post – Why a Wiki wouldn’t work for you…

    About the author –Hassan Mahmud is a Principal of WEKGroup, LLC a project and management consultancy specializing in forward thinking and technology adoption within the pharmaceutical industry. He is an early adopter of lean process management and has implemented Wikis at leading pharmaceutical and professional service organizations. For more information on Mahmud and WEKGroup’s services, you can visit them online.

Web 2.0…that’s so last year

Let the version numbers role. In case you missed it, people are putting version numbers to the internet as it’s some sort of application. I suppose that’s what technology folks do to differentiate concepts. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or still styling your member’s only jacket there is a concept out there called Web 2.0 which in my opinion in one word means, community. Everyone’s doing it from pharma companies (as long as you can get past adverse event reporting) to FOX to your grandma who posts a blog based on her travels and cookie recipes. That said - Enter Web 3.0.

Some smart folks over at Yahoo seem to have a formula down for what Web 3.0 looks like. It goes something like this
Web 3.0 = (4C + P + VS).
3C = Content, Commerce, Community 4th C = Context P = Personalization VS = Vertical Search

I happen to agree with the later and believe context will drive the next version of business services, marketing programs and public websites. It’s now main stream to have a MySpace or Facebook account. Google is working hard on customizing searches via Local Search, digitizing hoards of books, and providing you different avenues to shop, but not many systems are effectively providing artificial intelligence a.k.a 4th C; Context. The Semantic web as many refer to Web 3.0, is a place where machines can read Web pages much as we humans read them and deliver information through handhelds and browsers that you actually want.

Below is a reinvention of what Sramana Mitra has already intelligently portrayed on a personal shopper sample. I’ve taken the idea and put a spin on the article, as it relates to Web 3.0 and the pharmaceutical/biotech industries.
- I am a respected oncology sales rep (a rep of the future) located on the east coast who works for a major biotech organization. (Context)
- I want my personal online toolkit to provide the ability to purchase reprints, download vis-aids and access an ordering system for samples. (Commerce)
- I also want to be able to have medical conversations with physicians through an interactive online tool based on therapy and disease state. (Content)
- I want to collaborate with my west coast colleagues through my wireless device as I’m in-between visits to see how they handle certain questions from oncologists. (Community)
- Once I learn of an approach from a colleague, I want to prep for my next visit by searching online publication bases by author, subject and MeSH heading to familiarize myself on small cell lung cancers. (Personalization, Vertical Search)
Now, imagine the same for a pharmaceutical sales rep who relies simply on doctor visits. and he doesn’t have a clue on how to perform even the simplest search online. Before Web 3.0, he/she could get all vis aids and searches through a department at his company.
With Web 3.0, the internet will be his new department providing lean process and cost savings to the company and hopefully impacting the cost of drugs that consumers see likewise adding value to the physician so he/she can make informed clinical decisions.
As well depicted Sramana Mitra’s formula, I think 1 critical thing is missing. Give me an “I” for Interoperability (or Integration) That said, I’d suggest appending the model as
Interopability = Web 3.0 = (4C + P + VS).
3C = Content, Commerce, Community 4th C = Context P = Personalization VS = Vertical Search I = Interoperability

Content, Commerce, Community, Context, Personalization and Vertical Search are all governed by Interoperability of systems. There is no 1 mega system or service that handles all the endless possibilities. From my perspective Web 3.0 comes down to 1 word…Interoperability, the infrastructure that allows systems and applications to be artificially intelligent.

The Facilitator!

How many times have you sat with your colleagues in a heated debate without a tangible decision or outcome? If you’re like most people the question is more properly stated as “when haven’t I?”. Well you’re not alone. I’ve come across many committees and organizations that have needed assistance to help them make critical decision points because as a whole they could not perform the function efficiently. Enter client facilitation. It’s a skillet that many MBA types possess, but from my experience clients don’t take much advantage of. One can assume if you’re able to make quicker decisions you may achieve quicker business value. So if you need help getting to an endpoint, maybe turn to your favorite consultant. Below are a few traits of a “client facilitator” that you should be cognizant of.

A client faciliator is a person that can:

- Master analysis skills of the trade: use top-down logical reasoning, use many analytical frameworks, work analyses from multiple directions

- Communicate well: whether it be via face-to-face conversation, writing, phone, or instant messaging (yikes)

- Teach and frame things properly: because interactions with parties may be varied, quick and because parties may have varying levels of knowledge, one must be able to ramp-up conversation levels quickly and put them in the proper context

- Recognize where the organization is at and how decisions are made: is the marketing department behind in their understanding? who does the CEO look to as his/her right hand? if so, what are the steps to getting the right hand on-board or up-to-speed? how do we get things to tip? can we get there in one step or will it take two steps?

- Lead people *without formal authority*: can you educate people, empathize with the organization, get the organization to trust you, and pave a vision and/or outline a set of tradeoffs with such clarity that motion must happen?

In my opinion, the last skill is probably the most important aspect to master regarding client facilitation. Client facilitation skills are specialized leadership skills which are all about leading people without formally being in charge.

About the author –Hassan Mahmud is an Principal of WEKGroup, LLC a project and management consultancy specializing in forward thinking and technology adoption within the pharmaceutical industry. Mahmud bring years of meeting facilitation experience to his client which typically include senior and executive staff at biopharmaceutical organizations. For more information on Mahmud and WEKGroup’s services, you can visit them online.

Increase your Agility

Lessons Learned from Integrating Agile via Scrum

You may recall a post titled “Software Implementation Nirvana” which dealt with the common pitfalls associated with full life cycle development or SDLC (akaWaterfall). Agree or disagree with my position, it is clear that organizations and groups are adopting “lean” development techniques such as Scrum. According to the Agile Alliance adoption of Agile frameworks within organizations has increased by 24% over the past year and a record number of participants have attended user conferences, up 45% since 2006. Fad? Maybe, but I believe there is more to it. Though I’m partial and believe in Agile/Scrum and have seen it in motion, this post will hopefully help you navigate the waters if you’re thinking about implementing. I wish I would have known some of these before I got started.

Lesson 1 - Scrum is a state of mind.
Your either republican or democrat. You eat meat or you don’t. You like cats or hate them (I hate them). You accept Scrum or you don’t. Scrum isn’t for everyone. I’ll say that again, it’s not for everyone. If you’re used to rigid process and everything being completed at the end, it’s not for you. If you’re working in a regulatory environment, it’s probably not for you. If you’ve got a mix of believers and non-believers, proceed with caution. Nothing brings down the adoption of Scrum into an environment more quickly than the “negative voice”. If those negative voices exist, you will be challenged to implement however not totally crippled. What you need to do is get alignment. Agree or disagree with the voices, if people don’t have an opportunity to buy into the process then they will never believe therefore causing noisy chatter during the process. Make sure you include the biggest nay sayers in all the discussion and make it a point to ensure their voice is publicly heard. Needless to say don’t forget to get that all important executive buy in. If influential juggernauts are not pushing the initiative from top down, you’re doomed regardless of the intentions within the team.

Lesson 2 – To off shore or not?
This question is like asking my son…”Do you want ice cream?” Regardless on how I phrase the question, the answer is yes. I think the questions we should really be asking re:off shoring are a) how you prepare to offshore and b) what roles need to be onshore? If you’re in corporate America, you know there is a trend to save costs which usually equates to off shoring resources. Regardless of your opinion on the matter and regardless of your previous experiences with off shoring you’ll have to learn to deal with communication barriers that exist when dealing with an offshore team if you try to implement Scrum. A few things to remember, patience, don’t degrade, people at your level even thought they don’t make as much money. Treat them with respect and with patience and you will reap the rewards. Learn the culture. If you’re working with and off shore team in India, there’s a whole cast system the pervades the team regardless of role. Take a moment to understand. Also you’ll have to realize to get effective leadership you will most likely have to use a management team onshore. But I’ve seen some odd decisions when people are trying to save money.

Lesson 3 – Does this Sprint look long on me?
Conventional wisdom and all the experts dictate that iteration (aka sprint) should not exceed 4 weeks. In general this is the case, but if you’re Product Owner is plugged in and has context, and the programmers are flying, let them get as much done as possible. The dividends for more accurate functionality will typically outweigh your progress translated out of context from a burndown chart. Key here is making sure the Project Manager keeps all parties aligned and informed.

Lesson 4 – Scrum off the shelf
Just to clarify that Scrum is a project management philosophy within the Agile philosophy. As I said Agile and Scrum are a state of mind. Scrum has roots in lean process management therefore Scrum adapts and adopts continuous improvement within itself. The core tenants of Scrum allow for change in process as long as teams collaborate. Said differently, you don’t have to change it, Scrum will most likely adopt to you.

Lesson 5 – Do we still need testers during Scrum?
Most Agile experts will dictate that test driven development (TDD) is the way to go when testing Scrum projects.. I happen to agree but with 2 caveats. First the programming team should adopt some type of XP skillset (ie Pair Programming). Second there should be a regression testing suite such as the xUnit family. Don’t forget all the scripts for previous development! If you’re shop is like most, the 2 caveats are not reality. A solution to this lack Scrum governance is to adopt some type of derivative of TDD that works for you. The key is to have a strategy on how to perform regression tests, because if you’re moving at a high velocity, the amount of time to regression test is just not built into the sprint. And let’s not forget unit testing. Unit testing is also key to Scrum testing.

Lesson 6 – Psychotic Project Management
Project managers will make or break your Scrum development initiative. A Scrum Master’s (aka Project Manager) role doesn’t change much from a traditional one. They are there to facilitate things and make sure impediments are removed. The key change here is how the project manager tracks progress via burndown charts etc. Lesson learned here, all project managers are not the same. A tactical manager used to plugging in numbers into spreadsheets is not the breed you need for Scrum. You need dynamic thinkers and leaders.

Lesson 7 – Garbage in = Garbage out
Many people tell me those systems developed using Scrum are not scalable b/c no forethought is put into the architecture. I simply respond, if you have good developers it systems developed using Scrum are. Doesn’t matter how good your processes are, if people who developed them cant make it object oriented and scalable, the process will not be scalable thus business clients will not see the value long term value. Simply said bad programmers create bad code.

Lesson 8 – Were you successful?
Success will be measured by your performance objectives which typically are measured by the “Requirements Burndown”. If a team has completed all the requirements within an iteration why wouldn’t they be successful. Don’t get caught up in the budget debate, because the amount resources cost are typically constant.

Lesson 9 – Retrospective isn’t just a buzz word
One of the simplistic beauties of Scrum is the ability not only to realize what continuous improvement is, but adopt learnings almost immediately after the completion of a sprint. Given the teams are self managing; it’s a wonderful thing to see improvements come to life in subsequent sprints. It’s almost as everyone on the team understands the context of the improvements and the approach the team members are taking. This part of the process is my favorite as it’s like a marriage, it gets better with time. Just like those of you who have a significant other and can read their mind so to speak, the same begins to happen after the retrospectives thus creating a channel for continuous improvement

About the author –

Hassan Mahmud is an Principal of WEKGroup, LLC a project and management consultancy specializing in forward thinking and technology adoption within the pharmaceutical industry. He is an early adopter of lean process management and has implemented Scrum on dozens of projects and provides coaching services for organizations investigating the implementation of Scrum by providing coaching services. For more information on Mahmud and WEKGroup’s services, you can visit them online.