Insights > Project and Portfolio management

Project Management in a High Performing Life Science Organisation

We have worked with many companies who were seeking to professionalise their project management (PM) operation. This may happen when managers decide to tackle a few specific issues that they have identified as particular problems. Or they may have begun by looking at some ‘maturity models’ – measures of competence in a set of PM areas, such as those produced by bodies such as the Project Management Institute (PMI). The common needs we have found over the years are:

  • Developing a common approach to planning
  • Scheduling activities with more sophistication – increasing the likelihood of meeting preset deadlines
  • Developing effective cross-function teams
  • Building ways to communicate effectively across the business and have single sources of data
  • Developing risk management capability
  • …and less commonly but just as important: resource management – the ability to predict requirements in advance, and for companies as they grow, decision-making and governance across a portfolio of many projects

There is something that most initiatives to improve any of these aspects have in common. They tend to approach these challenges by a design exercise. Setting up a small group to analyse and document company development activities, building a comprehensive end to end view, with decision points, inputs and so on. For example, if it working on the most common target for improvement – planning and scheduling – the group will build elegant process diagrams and templates for all types of project work. The company may subscribe to a modern planning software package. Project teams are encouraged to use all the the new systems.

But often as much as a year later, proper use is sporadic. Central information areas are bypassed by emails. Many team members do not see the online plans. Projects build their own plans using Excel, as they always have, and ignore the new (and often costly) system.



This is a very simple diagram that explains in basic terms the underlying causes of this situation. ‘Projects’ typically are synonymous in peoples’ minds with sequential activities, charts, data – in other words, processes. In this case above, the ‘cottage industry’ that is the working group, have been working exclusively on the ‘Process’ view of their company’s projects. This may not be wasted work. What they’ve done may be very useful. But we have a saying: ‘projects are 80% process and 80% people‘. Getting people on board with new ways of working is usually more important than the level of perfection of the systems themselves.



Our High Performance Organisation model splits out these factors into a few more elements and it gives us the opportunity to help companies plan for change and development that will work. For example – one thing the People element tells us is that if we are busy, we’ll usually default to using things we know will work, because they’ve worked before. The Tech element is critical also. Often the translation of processes into an IT solution that works every time, is not properly followed up. Hence we distrust new systems., especially after bad experiences!

But if we do want to change, the Culture element will tell us something else that’s critical: when we do get out of our comfort zone to adopt something new, it’s usually been sponsored and stressed by our line managers. The working group above, may well have been trying their best to influence the project teams, but so often, senior management haven’t been setting the objectives for the changes needed.


This model helps us to target just the right mix of tactics that will bring about real development. It is tricky to interpret and manage from an internal perspective – but we can help you!

We’d be pleased to talk to you – a Free exploratory Conversation with no prior commitment – contact us here.

Keep in touch also with updates and helpful information by joining our Community.