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Agile Marketing On the Rise in Health and Life Sciences

At first, it may seem that Agile ways of working are not a natural match with the health and life science industry due to the complex procedures and regulations of this space. 

Yet, leading health and life sciences organizations are increasingly using the Agile methodology to stay competitive in their markets by transforming their marketing departments to work according to the Agile values and principles.

On top of dealing with the challenges of a highly regulated industry, the pandemic confirmed that the traditional ways of marketing health and life science products will not ultimately reap the best results in the era of “new normal”.

If pharma companies want to compete in an arena that is increasingly demanding of flexibility, customization, and adapting to new customer needs, they need to rapidly change their mindset and strategy to fit the current demands.

Agile ways of working, despite their origins in software development, present a viable solution for marketing organizations in this space by providing tactics to streamline internal processes, respond to changing markets, and make the campaign creation process more transparent.

At the forefront of this shift to Agile in the marketing process inside health and life sciences organizations is Charles River Labs. Their marketing department began their Agile journey at the outset of the pandemic and, 18 months down the line, reported a 50% increase in team efficiency and campaign success.

The success story of Charles River Laboratories‘ proved that Agile has wide applications inside the marketing departments of players in this space, no matter how complex their inner workings and review processes may be.

Discover how this organization’s marketing department achieved better productivity and speed by applying Agile at scale, methodically. 

Charles River Labs: On the Path to Agility

In October 2020, between a global pandemic and adapting to remote working, Charles River decided to undertake a systematic Agile transformation across their entire marketing department.

Darci Helbling, Executive Director, Global Marketing Operations at Charles River began to seek opportunities to transform the department into a more effective, functional, well-oiled machine. 

The organization went through detailed training, evaluation of the current level of agility, crafting a new strategy, implementing a pilot, and experimenting on their path to continuous improvement. Let’s trace Charles River Labs’ ascent to the summit of marketing agility together.

Gathering Supplies

The Charles River teams began their journey where every new Agile team ought to start – at the home base, gathering supplies. 

At the outset, the organization had to establish benchmark performance metrics to track the progress and evaluate the success of current ways of working and level of agility. 

Their conclusions from this phase clarified the upcoming process, marked the spots that required the greatest improvement, and created meaningful strategies without compromising the stability of the organization. 

Apart from documenting existing metrics about the process, Charles River marketers and departmental leaders made sure they themselves were prepared to undertake the journey to true marketing agility by getting certified in Agile Marketing Fundamentals and Agile Marketing Leadership practices.

This hands-on training focused on Agile execution frameworks, team ceremonies, and process metrics to ensure they could support each other effectively on the ascent, embodying Agile values and practices along the way.

Initial Climb

Charles River Lab collaborated with AgileSherpas to design an Agile marketing pilot that combined strategic and operational groups, the learnings from which could be rolled out more widely within the department in a low-risk way. The mission of the Charles River pilot team was to get familiar with the most common Agile practices like daily standup meetings, sprint planning, monthly reviews, and retrospectives. 

After 3 months of experimentation, the pilot team was able to pave the way for future teams by sharing a reference model about their experience over the course of the initial implementation. Also, the pilot team’s interactions with other groups within Charles River confirmed the need for agility and laid the foundation for wider transformation at large.

Building Base Camp

By following the documentation from Charles River’s pilot team, the Agile transformation was gradually scaled through the whole marketing organization by looping in further clusters of teams.

The new Agile teams that were ramping up throughout the marketing department were beginning to gather metrics that indicated they were outperforming those still applying traditional methods of process management. The teams practicing Agile the longest had actually managed to cut their average production time in half and encourage greater team morale. 

According to the teams who had moved to Agile ways of working, the most impactful practice for teams at Charles River proved to be the application of work-in-progress limits. By enforcing a limit on the maximum number of projects they could be working on at the same time, they stopped just starting activities and started actually pushing them frequently over the finish line and to their customers.

Now, Charles River Laboratories are able to address challenges by matching them to Agile process practices and focusing on high-priority, high-impact projects instead of everything all at once.

Charles River teams have also debunked the theory that “Agile means more meetings” by sharing their ability to replace many of their existing, ad hoc syncs internally with a consistent schedule of Agile marketing ceremonies like daily standups, sprint planning, retrospective, and reviews. These practices are a vital and consistent part of the climb to agility.

Agile Ascension

As of August 2021, the Charles River Laboratories marketing teams enjoy an average 50% increase in their speed to market for marketing campaigns, all while team members report higher morale than ever before.

“In just 3 months, we are seeing a significant improvement in project duration and while our project volume is actually increasing across all of our Agile teams. We’ve cut our average project production time in half, and our employee engagement metrics have all shown improvement. We expect these metrics to improve further as we continue to refine the process. As tough as those first few weeks of implementation were, it didn’t take long for us to see the benefits to our production time, project volume, and team morale. We continue to see those improvements over time, so we only wish we would have done it sooner,” Darci Helbling shares.

Agile ways of working successfully enabled Charles River Laboratories to gain significant improvements in the way they were managing their projects. They were able to deliver projects with greater impact and value to the customers at a faster pace, which, in a highly competitive climate within a complex, regulated industry, is very in demand, indeed.

Agile Marketing On the Rise in Health & Life Sciences Orgs

On Charles River’s reality before Agile, Darci Helbling, Executive Director, Global Operations shares, “we were running so fast launching campaign after campaign, that we weren’t slowing down to dive into the analytics and let that impact the next campaign. We saw an opportunity to gain efficiencies in our processes so we could avoid burnout in the team, but also to use data to drive more strategic decision-making. We wanted to do less, better.”

Her words outline the typical struggles marketers, within the health and life sciences industry are facing as well as where they’d like to go in the future.

Health and life sciences organizations far and wide are all dealing with similar process challenges such as project delays, drawn-out processes and workload overwhelm. As a result, marketers in this industry often miss out on impactful opportunities. 

By using Agile ways of working inside their marketing department, companies like Charles River and others in the same space can effectively streamline their operations to increase efficiency, exceed customer expectations, and stay top of the sector.

Luckily, leaders at Charles River are not the only ones who have turned their attention to Agile ways of working since the pandemic. 

According to the 4th State of Agile Marketing Report, 13% of the respondents who adopted agility in their marketing departments during 2020 represent the health and life sciences industry. IT takes the lead with 33%, financial and business services are following the adoption rate with just a couple percent higher than the pharma sector. This puts the industry in fourth place by rapidly implementing agile.  

Will yours be the next organization to go Agile?

Author byline:

Rumyana is a content creator and digital marketing specialist. She has experience in content writing, event management, and social media but her interests don’t end here. She is fascinated with design and software development as well.

Her passion for writing comes from her early childhood years and transforms into a career in content marketing.

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