What’s Your Playbook?

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Member Resources, ASAP Roundtables, Virtual Programs,

Playbooks aren’t just for sports teams. Partnering professionals need them for a variety of situations and purposes as well. In fact, the word “playbook” is broad—perhaps too much so, since the word gets used in so many contexts. Last week’s ASAP roundtable, “Time to Pull Out the Plan: Partnering Playbooks for Every Situation,” illustrated the point. 

Four individual breakout sessions led by Seema Basu, PhD, head of strategic partnerships and innovation leader at Mass General Brigham; Amy Tatsutani, CA-AM, PhD, MBA, executive director of alliance management at Gilead Sciences; Diana Favia McDevitt, CA-AM, business development executive at Kyndryl; and Neil Blecherman, CSAP, technology alliances partner program director at Nutanix, veered in contrasting directions but ended up covering plenty of ground.  

After the Kickoff, by Rule—There Are No Rules

As the title of the event suggests, one might suspect that playbooks are used heavily in the beginning of a collaboration. One attendee employed in the biopharma industry seemed to affirm this belief, asserting that the organizations she has worked for have disproportionately developed playbooks for the handoff from business development to alliance management as contracts are being finalized and for the first 90 days after kickoff—the “predictable” phases, as she put it. She added that she has seen termination playbooks but fewer preprepared materials for the phases in between.  

Another attendee’s organization offered those touching alliances a “general handbook,” but there was no pressure to adopt it in full, leading to prescribed processes not always being “followed by rule.”

“You’re Not Going Down a Blind Alley” 

One conversation about the partner-selection-process playbook evolved into a discussion about tying partner recruitment to larger corporate strategy, with one participant confessing that her company has somewhat of a ready-fire-aim approach, signing up partners without thinking through how these collaborations will foster brand-building and revenue-growth efforts. 

Rather than partnering for the sake of partnering, it’s best to understand what senior leadership desires most, then analyze the product/service/capability gaps, marketing shortcomings, or regional sales efforts pertaining to those objectives that could use a boost from an external party. If you gain that clarity from the C-suite or other top brass with decision-making authority and a pulse on the board’s priorities, “you’re not going down a blind alley,” according to another interlocutor.  

From High-Touch to Anything Goes

One group got into a discussion about structures for high-, medium-, and low-touch alliances. Ready-made playbooks with tools, templates, and frameworks for launches, committee and QBR meetings, joint planning sessions, and a host of other important activities could be provided to non–alliance professionals running lower-maintenance partners—in one person’s case, a former employer assigned low- and medium-touch alliances to product group managers who were overseen by that individual—while seasoned veterans could be assigned to high-stakes collaborations. Another participant currently employed by an IT vendor shared that his company went in an entirely different direction; all build, buy, and partner strategies are driven by the company’s respective industry managers. 

SOS: We Need SOPs!

It was generally agreed across the board that standard operating procedures (SOP) varied by size, geography, timeline, and complexity of the partnership, among other factors. The groups also shared the view that these SOPs must be monitored and fine-tuned over the course of the collaboration.  

Communications plans are a big part of this effort. Regular emails of updates to all stakeholders within and outside of the alliance practice touching the partnership certainly help keep people aligned, but they are not enough by themselves. When the terrain gets rocky and conflict starts to heat up or one of the parties has encountered turmoil that is affecting joint deliverables, one-on-one meetings need to be arranged with senior management and in the field as appropriate in order to manage risks. 

A Healthy Checkup or Ill Communication? 

Over the course of both good times and bad, many organizations rely on health checks and informal partner surveys in order to evaluate the effectiveness of playbooks and the players running them, but opinions were split on their effectiveness.

A debate in one group saw one contributor praise health checks as a means to uncover systemic solutions to problems, while another lamented that they only yielded “basic” findings, like “we don’t understand the partner’s vision or strategy.”

The World Will Be a Better Place, Put a Little Love for Playbooks in Your Heart

Across the breakout groups, several internal and external forces, some evergreen and others a product of the current times, were identified as having an adverse effect on alliance teams’ ability to maintain and execute certain playbooks. For starters, while the upheaval in the global supply chain during the pandemic is on the road to being remediated, we are still feeling the effects of the disruption in both IT and biopharma. Currency fluctuations are affecting the negotiation—and renegotiation—of long-term deals. In larger organizations, internal alignment and governance always occupy anywhere from two-thirds to 80 percent of the alliance manager’s time in executing playbooks, no matter what is going on in the world.  

Still, however you apply them, playbooks prevent organizations from employing a seat-of-the-pants approach to partnerships. And one speaker admitted she has even developed a certain fondness for them.

“This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I’m a firm believer in processes and consistency.”