Innovative Edge are increasingly hearing from clients that project management is the weakest link in the day-to-day running of their launch plans. Jane Francis our Director of Consulting, shares her thoughts on why this might be. She also provides practical guidance on how to improve project management processes across launch.

Jane, what are the most common project management pitfalls you have identified when working with clients on their launch programmes?

  • No clearly defined objectives and project team responsibilities.
  • No structured project management approach.
  • Lack of attendance / commitment at launch project team meetings.
  • Not knowing if timelines are on track (and how to correct them if they are ‘off’ track).
  • Not tracking risks and issues adequately.

How can clients avoid these pitfalls?

A good launch excellence project manager will cover off all of the above. They will also monitor team morale by acting as another set of eyes and ears for the medicines lead.

The most important criteria for a launch excellence project manager, is that they have a thorough understanding of all 4 stages of the project management lifecycle:

    • Initiation
    • Planning
    • Tracking
  • Closing

Initiation and Planning are the most important stages for setting teams up with a successful launch project. The project manager should initiate a project charter with clear objectives for launch, clear project team roles and responsibilities, a communication strategy, an agreed governance procedure, and agreed ways of working. This reduces ambiguity and makes for a clearer, smoother launch plan in the long-run.

“All launches should be treated as individual projects with unique objectives, rather than a conveyor belt where ‘one size fits all'”

They should combine this with a strong launch excellence framework, and integrate content into technology to aid visibility and tracking e.g. Ignite Launch Management Platform.

Why is project management in launch excellence so important?

Good project management is inextricably linked to launch excellence, because best practice project management tools and templates help to address and mitigate many of the common pitfalls (addressed above), and the risks that companies face when launching medicines.

When you combine a series of sequential governed milestones, with good project management capability, you improve the potential for your launch to succeed no end.”

When is the best time to get a project management process in place?

Typically, early in the Phase 3 stage when the commercialisation lead/ senior marketeer is assigned to the medicine. The timing can vary depending upon the size of the organisation, and the size of pipeline/ portfolio. The commercialisation team should confirm their roles, and establish a project team as soon after this appointment as possible. It is good practice for the R&D/ clinical project manager to provide a thorough handover, and ensure there is a positive working relationship with the commercialisation project manager during the remainder of the commercial launch.

Do project management changes need to be implemented globally or can they be implemented at a local level?

As local launch plans roll-up into the global plan, project managers typically work with the global team initially. Next, they support the affiliates as they work towards the kick-off of their own launch project, localising the global plan. A good launch excellence project manager acts as a conduit between the countries, regions and global team. This ensures they are all aligned, and aware of each other’s risks, issues, and successes, in order to capture learnings from later launches.

What are your thoughts on remote project management?

During the critical initiation and project planning phases, I would recommend face to face to project management. However, for the other phases, most clients use remote project management support as a practical, cost-effective option. It is especially valuable for projects involving cross-functional teams in multiple locations.

If a client identifies project management as a need, what are the first steps to help them?

The first step is to listen and understand a client’s current ways of working, and then overlay best practice project management tools and techniques. It is important to identify cross-functional team members early on, and in some cases recruit them. This next step is to follow up with a project kick-off workshop, and a professionally facilitated launch planning workshop. I always recommend that clients track plans on a platform that is intuitive and easy to access. This maximises collaboration, and encourage best practice sharing.

launch project management

Why are you so passionate about good project management?

I love to see how good project management can positively influence a team’s ways of working and communication style.

“This can make a significant difference to the results they achieve in their launch projects, which ultimately enables faster and more direct access to medicines for patients.”

Providing launch excellence project management support means that I can indulge my inner geek by encouraging compliance and process. I enjoy the variety, supporting small biotechs with their first medicine, to larger global companies juggling multiple pipeline launches.

Are you noticing more of a trend for launch teams to have a dedicated project manager?

Yes – I have definitely noticed a trend to support clients with launch excellence project management, both face to face, and on a remote basis. I believe this is because not all clients can dedicate full time project management support to their launch teams. Also, it is quite a niche skillset to find experienced project managers who have pharmaceutical launch experience

To find out how Jane and the wider IE team can help you achieve your project management, and launch excellence ambitions please call us for a chat +44 (0)1892 825110, email us, or visit

Look out for our next blog in the series which will be analysing the extent technology can influence launch success.

About Jane
Jane Francis

Jane heads up our consulting team here at IE. She is a PRINCE2 accredited project manager with a strong commercial background. She has 15+ years of launch experience across local, regional and global in both Pharma and Consumer Healthcare. Jane’s previous roles at GSK included Global Launch Excellence and Commercial Excellence.