If You Want to Efficiently Move Forward Toward Success, Work Backwards

Holly Kleinert, a biotech CEO and senior corporate pharmaceutical executive shares her winning approach to planning a focused, streamlined, data driven strategy with universal applications by working backwards.

Photo by Milan Seitler on Unsplash

In formulating a strategy for a new company or project you might be tempted in the beginning to keep all eyes on your product’s inception itself, but I suggest that once you have a solid concept, start working backwards. By doing your homework on the commercial requirements early enough to change or fine tune the prototype or add important strategic initiatives that need to accompany the launch, you can save time, money and set yourself up for a home run.

Tips for working backwards:

  • MAKE A MAP, CREATE A VISUAL GUIDE. From technical concept to available marketed product is a single integrated thought to me with shared goals. Whether you use software for a chart or any equivalent map with your concept as the starting point and a commercial destination endpoint, create a visual document that will organize your project priorities from soup to nuts and represent your critical path; in other words, a “go to” master plan with the “must have” elements. For drugs, it’s a bench to bedside road map with points of interest such as milestones,“go/no go” decisions, and entry and exit points for various disciplines/stakeholders where and when appropriate. This template will serve you well to estimate how much time and resources will be involved too.
  • JUST THE FACTS MA’AM. The purpose of applying a great idea is to meet an unmet need for the public good. In my career, the target “end” users of importance have been physicians, patients and scientists, but I think that regardless of the composition of a given target audience, focusing on the usefulness of the final product is universal for your product as well. Ask the users what they want. Get the facts. Don’t guess. What should the ideal commercial product profile look like? What characteristics should it have and where should it be positioned best for proof of principle? In the end, your product or service needs to be useful, practical, competitive and differentiated for the end user to adopt and value it. Although you may think that you know the answer to the above questions, why not ask your customers in order to avoid surprises that could derail your product’s adoption. Collect the data and get the facts to confirm your assumptions or employ the feedback to take the guesswork out of optimizing the product right from the beginning. For pharmaceuticals, I like to sketch out the ideal drug label, taking into account the patients’ and physicians’ wish list. For example, does compound X have to be taken orally or only once a day for patients to comply, be 50% or 100% effective or can it meet the challenge without those considerations? If a new drug class can be applied to treat several diseases, which one is the best first choice and most practical to pursue?
  • SUPPORT YOUR CLAIMS — DATA, DATA, DATA! Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? Once you know what claims you intend to ideally make about the characteristics of your product at market entry, you can go back to the beginning of your technical plan and start to generate the body of data that will support your proposed statements and prove your claims. Complete your strategic plan by toggling up and back from the front end to the back end of the plan to make adjustments based on the merits and limitations of your product and the market demands. Finally, work each end to the middle as you fill in the remainder of the key strategic elements to complete your strategy.

And so, I’ve come to the end of my suggestions on this topic, which I hope will be valuable for your new beginnings!

Dr. Hollis Kleinert is a veteran Senior Executive in the Pharmaceutical industry and former faculty member of Weill-Cornell Medical College-New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cardiovascular-Hypertension Center. As a pioneer in integrating basic science, clinical research and global commercialization, Dr. Kleinert has blurred the lines among drug discovery, drug development and business practice. She entered industry to lead drug discovery projects and expanded into worldwide development rising to Division Director, Venture Head Global R & D Pharmaceutical Development at Abbott Laboratories. She then crossed to the commercial side of therapeutics, at Searle Pharmaceuticals (now part of Pfizer) where she served as the Global VP of the Cardiovascular, Oncology and Metabolic Franchises, setting the global strategies for new and marketed drugs. There she was a member of the senior leadership Corporate Operations Team responsible for worldwide operations and governance. Later, she held the position of biotech CEO Protometrix, Inc, a proteomics company now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific. Kleinert is also a 2002 Springboard Alumna and former National Advisory Trustee.

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