Measuring Success When the Yardsticks Keep Moving

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Member Resources, ASAP Roundtables,

The latest ASAP roundtable convened alliance managers representing all levels, industries, and company sizes to tackle an evergreen challenge: quantifying alliance success using some form of concrete metric. In the session, “What’s Your Yardstick? Monitoring and Measuring Alliance Value,” five veteran alliance professionals guided individual discussions about which metrics are valuable, how variables change with different types of alliances, and how often teams must revisit and reevaluate which elements of the partnership they should continue to scrutinize. It’s a task that has bedeviled alliance managers for years, but when done well, it goes a long way in securing the backing of senior management and the engagement from stakeholders in other departments.

It’s a “topic that is dear to my heart,” said Jamie Donald, CSAP, director of the technology partners program for Axis Communications AB, one of the breakout discussion leaders. 

“We spend a lot of time thinking about it,” said Patrick Gliha, executive director of global alliances at Bristol-Myers Squibb, another breakout group facilitator, who added that measuring value is tricky in many phases of the pharma alliance life cycle because, well, “science is hard.”

Even seasoned alliance veterans need assistance in cracking the code to measuring alliance performance; Lynnelle Pittet, CSAP, PhD, MBA, senior director of alliance management at Wave Life Sciences, admitted that her team is looking to learn more as they start to implement dashboards of KPIs prior to guiding her breakout session on the topic.

No Place for Cookie Cutters and Concrete

Part of the challenge is that you cannot take a cookie-cutter approach to measuring the value of each collaboration because each alliance supports the business in unique ways.

“You can’t take a specific siloed way and apply it to each alliance,” said Vijay Joglekar, CA-AM, PhD, senior manager of global GreenLake ISV alliances at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

Unlike revenue, the most obvious measure of value, many indicators aren’t as concrete, such as trust or overall relationship health. 

“How do you measure those things that people say aren’t measurable?” said Jan Twombly, CSAP, president of The Rhythm of Business.

The Why and the How

In one breakout session, a biopharma-heavy group engaged in a deep discussion about qualitative versus quantitative metrics—when to use them and which elements to measure within each category. Toward the end of the discussion, one participant linked the two groupings to the “why” and the “how” of a partnership; the “why” winks at quantitative metrics like revenue and milestones, which are more important to company senior leaders, while the qualitative KPIs around how well teams work together—the “how”—tend to be more relevant to alliance managers.

KPIs with a Purpose

Several threads cut across multiple breakout room conversations. Any discussion of metrics is incomplete without defining a partnership’s North Star—KPIs must be aligned to a purpose. Success can be measured in a lot of different ways. Revenue may be the one that immediately comes to mind, but those working in biopharma often count “saving lives” as the collaboration’s primary driver, while sustainability is the driver of another participant’s partnerships.

Revisiting that North Star is paramount as priorities shift over time, particularly in pharma alliances that last more than a decade. “Are expectations still the same?” asked one participant rhetorically before providing a theoretical example of an alliance that began with the goal of consolidating resources, then began focusing on innovation. “What is the purpose of having this partnership [now]?” 

And even when the overall objective remains the same, some of the longer pharma alliances could benefit from instituting smaller milestones along the way to instill a sense of accomplishment within alliance team members.

Warning Lights Without Finger-Pointing

One of the time-honored ways of measuring the qualitative part of alliance performance is the health check. Several participants shared that they conducted surveys of internal and partner executives at least annually—several issued them even more frequently. One person in Donald’s group referred to the resultant scorecards as a “warning light system” indicating that something is amiss, while Pittet’s group agreed that health checks were a great way to reveal differences of opinion on key issues or overall feelings about a partner or partnership “without finger-pointing.”

Metrics have to be tracked somewhere, which is why most of the five breakout groups had some discussion of dashboards. One group pondered how much data should be shared with the partner, whether through dashboard access or separately generated reports. One attendee found “snapshots” of high-level KPIs to be particularly useful.

ASAP roundtables are a great way for ASAP members to learn from their counterparts and participate in the exchange of knowledge. They provide a “private,” self-contained forum for sharing challenges and learnings around common partnership situations. Register today for the next ASAP roundtable, “North Star, or South Pole? What to Do When a Partnership Goes Off the Rails,” which will take place Wednesday, April 19.