Serving several masters: the changing needs of pharma product management


Despite everything that pharmaceutical organizations claim to have refocused their efforts on customers over the past decade or more, it is not easy to match new developments with tangible results.

In the pharmaceutical industry, this challenge is particularly acute due to the diversity of stakeholders with views on what they expect from next-generation products. In addition to end customers (patients), physicians, specialist clinicians, regulators, payers, and insurers all have their own priorities and measures of product value.

Yet, remarkably, product teams as a whole are still underserved by the tools to collect all this feedback, organize and prioritize the work they do. This was recently confirmed in new independent research conducted for airfocus in the UK and US. The survey, conducted in September 2021, interviewed 300 product managers / owners / directors across industries about their changing roles and requirements. The research base, which spanned six main industries, included more than 40 pharmaceutical companies.

Pharmacy-specific product management challenges

In the research, the main operational challenges for the pharmaceutical teams were identified as (1) “Define a strong and well communicated product strategy”; (2) “Become more efficient to provide more functionality faster”; and (3, jointly) “Prioritize good initiatives” and “The need to innovate at a faster pace”.

Prioritization is a particular problem in pharma, with so many taskmasters to satisfy. Communication and alignment with different stakeholders was seen as a problem for 27% of product managers in this sector, compared to 21% of those working in FMCG, for example, while 41% of those working in FMCG for example working in pharmaceutical management have claimed that currently most of their time is spent liaising with customers.

Pharmaceutical managers, above their peers in other industries, also felt called upon to improve their game during the pandemic: 54% of product managers working in the pharmaceutical industry found it difficult to collaborate with d other stakeholders when working primarily from home, while 51% saw increased pressure to launch new features with greater speed.

Of all those surveyed, four in ten said the role of product management is increasingly strategically important, reaching almost half (49%) of pharmaceutical managers. However, this has not yet translated into the establishment of appropriate tools to support their decision-making.

Post-it notes persist

Today, almost as many product teams rely on a post-it-on-the-wall system (30%) as they have access to dedicated product management technology (31%). In the pharmaceutical sector, the use of the Slack communication tool was particularly important.

Even when product teams have access to specialized product management technology, pharmaceutical managers cite a lack of relevant features and functionality (mentioned by 63% in the survey), low usability (by 54%) and a lack of adaptation of capacities to their specific needs and ways of working (by 44%).

Capabilities sought by pharmaceutical managers

Pharmaceutical managers especially wanted a way to streamline team workflows and product execution, and simplify the creation of product roadmaps, two qualities sought by nearly four out of 10 product managers. of the sector.

When choosing a product management platform, the main qualities looked for by product managers turned out to be a support for easy and efficient prioritization (ranked particularly well by pharmaceutical managers, who juggled the most often with ideas and requests from 11 to 15 different stakeholders); the ability to create clear roadmaps; easy adoption by users; and modularity / flexibility to choose the relevant functionalities. Simplicity emerged as a particularly high priority overall.

As companies continue to plan for post-pandemic recovery, with innovative customer-centric products, identifying the capabilities that will best serve that goal should be a strategic priority.


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