Pharma Team Leaders Speak Out

What makes team leaders proud? What keeps them awake at night? Our exclusive survey reflects cost, quality, and morale improvements, and SOP, documentation concerns.

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Pharmaceutical manufacturing teams are changing the industry’s culture every day. In its first Team Leader survey, Pharmaceutical Manufacturing asked leaders how they’re doing, what they’re doing, and what challenges lie ahead.

Interestingly, forming manufacturing teams is still a relatively new approach.

Most teams are fairly new — over 70% surveyed have only existed for one to five years; half of them are only one to two years old.

Although they range in size from a handful of people to hundreds, most teams have 10 to 20 members, and they’re cross-functional throughout the plant.

What have been their biggest achievements this year? (see Table 1 below):
  • Cost reduction
  • Improved product quality
  • Improved morale and team spirit.
Other achievements were improving cross-training of staff, establishing a better connection between operators and the customer and product, and improving customer service.

One team leader proudly boasts that his team achieved a 35% reduction in operating costs, 20% volume increase, 55% inventory reduction, and 65% reduction in cycle times for one product. Not only that, but his site went through two successful three-week FDA audits without so much as a warning letter.

“We’ve always had excellent team spirit,” says another, “but this year we implemented a celebration team that figures out fun and enjoyable team rewards for small successes, such as going to lunch and bowling when a specific production goal is beaten, or getting paid time off and going to a movie when a goal is met,” he continues. “This company also gives its employees a field trip every year or two to tour its other cGMP facilities.” Hmmm. No wonder the firm was a finalist in the state’s “Top 100 Employers” competition.

Some teams focused on key areas such as inventory. “Our inventory-control staff cross-trained with production planning and warehouse personnel,” says one team leader, “and we reduced packaging costs by changing suppliers.”

Transparency and open communications helped drive improvements for many. “Open-book management encourages cost awareness and reduction in everything our fulfillment team is responsible for,” says one team leader. “Monthly meetings incorporate teambuilding exercises. Some members of the fulfillment team also participate in the R&D creative team.”

Teams are also tackling time-wasting documentation practices. “Last year,” says one team leader, “we launched a protocol to address every document and form used in the plant, to make them easier to use and understand. A cross-disciplinary team is driving this effort,” he continues. “The team includes people from maintenance, manufacturing and quality. We’ve seen a vast improvement in morale, as these people are allowed input and control over their own areas. We have also brought in more lab equipment that has allowed us to expand our ability to quickly test and release raw materials and finished goods, thus reducing the amount of inventory necessary to sustain manufacturing activities.”

“Product quality has improved through continuous monitoring of our quality systems,” says another team leader. “We have increased our visits to customer sites to improve our customer service and product awareness. We have added employees to handle customer service in a timely and sufficient manner.”

What tools are they using (see Table 2 below)? Half of the respondents cited Just-in-Time, with Lean Manufacturing coming in second, and Design of Experiments a distant third.

What are the key manufacturing challenges they face (see Table 3 below)?
  • SOPs and training
  • Quality management and testing and documentation
  • Validation
  • Management support.
Finding and retaining skilled staff, dealing with “unfunded mandates” and working with regulatory agencies were also viewed as very important.

Table 1: Most Significant Team Achievements This Year
Cost reduction 58.3% 
Product quality improvement 58.3%
Improved morale and team spirit 58.3%
Cross-training of staff 50.0%
Better connection to customer/product 41.7%
Equipment downtime reduction 25.0%
Improved customer service 25.0%
Cycle-time reduction 16.7%
Maintenance improvements 16.7%


Table 2: Tools for Improvement
Just-in-Time 50%
Lean Manufacturing 41.7%
Design of Experiments 25%
Process Capability Analysis 16.7%
Pull Manufacturing 16.7%
Six Sigma 16.7%
5-S  8.3%
Measurement Systems Analysis  8.3%
Gauge R&R  8.3%


Table 3: Critical Challenges Facing Manufacturing
SOPs and training 77%
Quality management and testing 62%
Documentation 62%
Management support 54%
Validation 54%
Dealing with regulatory agencies 31%
Finding and retaining skilled staff 31%
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