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The Value of the Alliance Watchdog—Flagging and Wrestling with ‘Wicked Problems’

Posted By Geena B. Richards and Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2018

“Wicked problems”—those stubborn, persnickety alliance challenges that defy easy answers—are sometimes difficult to pinpoint, discuss, and address in partnerships. Which is why Jeremy Ahouse, CSAP, vice president of alliances at Merus Pharmaceuticals, selected the topic to address head-on in his upcoming session “Grappling with Wicked Problems in Alliance Management” at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. The September 24-26 conference will be held for a second year at the Hyatt Regency Boston—conveniently located in the back bay near several esteemed academic and research institutions.

Never one to avoid a grueling topic, Ahouse developed his session after interviewing several senior alliance members about the hardest parts of alliances. Some of the seemingly intractable challenges were downright wicked, he concluded. Hence, his session on helping alliance managers learn how to confront and wrestle with the tough stuff.

“Wicked problems” can be particularly corrosive to meeting dynamics and challenging to contract clauses and/or shifting priorities. Ahouse pulls heavily from renowned public leadership guru Ron Heifetz for ideas on how to deal with such issue. There are three types of problems, he says. “In Type 1 problems, you agree on the problem definition and potential solutions. Project managers can often successfully address these,” he states. “In Type 2, we agree on our understanding of the problem but are still working on the solutions. In Type 3, we don’t even agree on what the problem is.”

An alliance manager must determine which type of problem they are facing to address it. Sometimes this process requires deep thinking and analysis because the problems are difficult to recognize and complex, which makes them so “wicked.” But there can be great value in wrestling with complexity, he purports. They may be tough to identify, but resolving problems is vital to partnerships. “Alliance managers are uniquely positioned to see problems that come out of interactions between companies and functions,” Ahouse points out. “This puts us in a position to notice early and alert our teams.”

This watchdog role is important to keep the collaboration running smoothly and most efficiently. There is no magic potion to addressing these issues, he quickly points out. “I don’t have simple answers to these problems.”

But discussing them makes them less “wicked,” he adds. And there are good, better, and best ways to communicate when a “wicked problem” surfaces.

Ahouse plans to focus on the challenges rather than success stories associated with these kinds of alliance problems. This way, the audience can have first-hand experience wrestling with real-life, hard problems that might get ignored in an alliance management situation.

The goal for the session is to create “an opportunity to start talking about [problems] and get ASAP members wrestling with them in a public forum,” he concludes. He plans “to stay away from simplistic answers” and encourage ASAP participants to think deeply about topics that need confrontation but many shy away from because of their complexity.

For more about Ahouse’s session, check out “'No Whitewash': Going Beyond 'Simplistic Answers' to the Toughest Alliance Management Challenges” in the July 2018 issue of eSAM Plus.

Tags:  alliance challenges  Alliance Management.#ASAP BioPharma  alliance manager  Jeremy Ahouse  Merus Pharmaceuticals  partnerships  Ron Heifetz 

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