Scrum: The Art of Getting Stuff Done

How Scrum is changing the world and also helping me to not get fired

By Karen Langhauser, Chief Content Director

On my recent flight home from CPhI in Barcelona, I decided to forgo my usual in-flight routine of binge watching bad movies, in favor of listening to an audiobook. Patting myself on the back for making such a responsible decision, I decided on Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. Thinking about how much work was waiting for me after spending the week at a tradeshow, even doing twice the work in the same amount of time sounded glorious to me.

Originally designed for software development projects, “Scrum” is an agile framework for managing and completing complex projects. The goal of utilizing Scrum as a project management tool is to be able to respond quickly and have flexibility in the development process without sacrificing important things such as quality or cost control. Scrum is being used by Fortune 500 companies around the world and has resulted in productivity gains of as much as 1,200 percent.

In the book, the authors assert that our inefficiencies as humans are not stemming from a lack of knowledge or worth ethic, but rather from the way most people work — the way most people were taught to do work. “People are spectacularly bad at doing things with agility and efficiency,” says author Jeff Sutherland.

Agility and efficiency are not words we commonly hear associated with the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry. However, with drug pricing under intense scrutiny, the pharma business model is changing and manufacturers are embracing a variety of efforts to improve their operational efficiency.

When it comes to drug development, most of pharma still uses a traditional waterfall approach. Waterfall methods are pre-planned, and rely on gathering all the project requirements in the first phase of the project. Projects are broken down into steps and completed sequentially. Waterfalls work best when the requirements of the project are not evolving. But the drug development process is lengthy and complex, and undoubtedly things (such a patient needs, market demands, industry regulations) change throughout the duration of the process.

Hence, many have argued that pharma needs to leave its traditional waterfall model behind in favor of a more agile model. (For a great example of agile project management in practice, read our plant tour story in the Nov. print issue, which discusses API provider Neuland Labs’ custom project management system.) All companies have a shared goal of developing the best quality products in the shortest amount of time. The patent expiration clock is always ticking. Scrum is potentially helpful in this regard because not only does it allow for flexibility, it also maintains a level of urgency by providing constant deadlines.

As for me, I’ve officially put an end to multi-tasking and put myself on weekly, rather than monthly deadlines. I’m not sure about twice the work in half the time, but like a rugby scrum, sometimes the ball goes out of play and you just need to hit the restart button to get yourself back in the game.

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