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“Conductor of the Orchestra”: How Alliance Managers Harmonize Organizational Complexity

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, November 14, 2019

In “matrix organizations”—those working on multiple, complex, often large-scale projects with at least two chains of command—building and maintaining the alliance function “all comes down to leadership.” That was one of the key observations made by Lucinda Warren, who delivered the opening day keynote address at the ASAP European Alliance Summit on Nov. 14 in Amsterdam.

            Warren, vice president of business development, neuroscience, Janssen Business Development at Johnson & Johnson Innovation and also an alliance management veteran, called her talk “Leadership and Skills in Managing an Alliance in a Matrix Organization.” In an enterprise running multiple projects across multiple functions—and with multiple partners—who will tie it all together? Who will serve as the voice of the alliance and be the advocate for the partner, as needed?

            The alliance manager, of course.

            Some of the challenges, issues, and important insights that come with matrix organizations and their increased partnering complexity, Warren said, include:

  • “Alliances are not projects,” and thus alliance managers are not project managers, although the roles are often confused.
  •  Alliance managers create value; project managers deliver value.
  • Alliance management is critical throughout the product or asset life cycle; project management is critical at certain specific points.
  • When resources are stretched, alliance functions don’t always solve for it.
  • Alliance management is one function, but real collaboration requires the coordination and participation of multiple experts from various functions.
  • Who are the decision makers going to be? This question must be looked at from both internal and external perspectives.
  • Alliance management proactively identifies potential risks and seeks to mitigate them.

Warren further noted that having an alliance creates a sort of alliance “tax” on organizations—since all decisions and most information must be shared with the partner, it can double or even triple the time it takes to perform many actions, which can increase costs. Alliance managers need to help navigate these activities and act as the “conductor of the orchestra”: being familiar with all the instruments that are playing and making sure that each one—and all of them together—is “tuned perfectly for the ear.” They don’t know how to do each job, but (to switch to an electrical metaphor) they know which circuits need to be reset.

            They need to navigate not only their own organization but also the partner’s—otherwise they (and others) will be operating in a “black box” in which the partner’s challenges and motivations may remain unknown and/or misunderstood. Communication is thus imperative—about timelines, how decisions are made, how governance is to be conducted, etc.

            Which brings us to the critical role of leadership. As Warren said, “The value of the alliance function needs to be woven into the fabric of the organization.” Thus alliances and alliance management must be integrated into business strategy and operations—with full senior leadership backing and engagement. With increasing reliance by matrix organizations on partnering, everything that is done influences future collaborations and thus should be tilted toward attracting more partners going forward. Benchmarks must be established, with the goal of being a more successful partner.

            Warren said that alliance management is “more important than ever before,” and that the alliance manager is often “the CEO’s right-hand man,” the one who knows everything that’s happening, internally across functions and at the partner organization. Since these functions—and partners—typically speak different languages, the alliance manager’s job is to bridge divides for a common goal, bring everyone together in an unbiased and objective way, and not take sides.

            Or not take sides, except as the advocate for and representative of the alliance itself. “If we’re successful, people forget there’s a collaboration,” Warren concluded. “No fires are burning, nobody’s getting sued. It’s a thankless job, but [when done well] people seek you out as an expert who can triage. You’re the driver of organizational capability enhancement.”

Tags:  Alliance manager  alliances  CEO  Cindy Warren  collaboration  creating value  leadership  life cycle  matrix organization  mitigate risk 

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‘Swimming in Partner Soup:’ 2018 ASAP BioPharma Keynote Addresses Challenges of Tech Collaboration on Prescription Digital Therapeutics (Part 1)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Dr. Corey McCann is a man who wears many hats—scrubs, academic cap, campaigner, jester, and even hardhat. As the first of two keynote speakers at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference “Creating Value and Innovative Partnerships by Driving the Alliance Mindset,” Sept. 24-26 in Boston, Massachusetts USA, he provided a lively presentation in which he showed the audience how he switches his hats with aplomb. In his captivating talk, “Lost in Translation: Communication, Confusion, and Consensus in Strategic Alliances,” the physician, scientist, entrepreneur, healthcare investor, and founder/CEO of Boston-based Pear Therapeutics, Inc., delved into the timely but tough topic of the alliance management interface between biopharma and tech.

Colleague Brooke Paige, CSAP and vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics, introduced McCann by lauding his many “heroic” accomplishments as founder of several startups, a trained boxer with endless energy, and highly approachable executive whom colleagues nicknamed “Snacks” because he rarely stops for a full meal.

McCann then delivered a clever, sometimes humorous, talk from the C-suite about the small, innovative company’s partnering with big companies in their quest to pioneer prescription digital therapeutics for the treatment of serious diseases, including addictions.  The cognitive behavioral therapy-based treatment is software that comes with a doctor’s prescription. The software responds and morphs over time, according to the needs of the patient. The downloaded product requires an access code from the physician.

“We are swimming in partner soup,” announced McCann as he talked about the challenges of Pear’s ample pipeline, which involves 10 products that require separate approvals from the FDA because of the unique framework of prescription digital therapeutics. “You will see us aggressively partnering across all of these verticals,” he continued, while flashing a slide of Pear’s pipeline.

Alliance management at Pear must bridge two distinctive worlds. Pear’s team is “half and half,” he explained: pharma is based in the Boston area; tech is based in the San Francisco Bay area. “We brought these two very disparate sets of people together” in one company—but to do that required a lot of effort to enable tech and pharma to understand the lingo of each’s area of work.   

“One of the things I would like to interweave into this talk is this idea of communication between alliance partners, and nonverbal cues, and how we are productive or nonproductive,” he said, while providing the example of etiquette surrounding the exchange of business card. “Even for those of us who think we have a handle on this very basic skill—this handing of paper to another human being—there is ambiguity.”

“How do entirely different disciplines communicate?” he asked the audience.  “There is an interface between tech and biotech. How tech people communicate with one another is very different than how biotech people communicate with each other.”

People in the two industries dress differently, he then explained. A person in the Bay area might “eat avocado toast and ride a scooter to work. … If I’m interacting with the tech team, I make sure to pet their dogs they bring to the office,” he explained in a sea of laughter from the audience. “One of my personal favorite examples is this issue of language. When pulling Pear together, we used the acronym API—which means Application Program Interface in tech, but for biotech, it means something different”—Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient.

It actually took a while for the two teams to figure out this discrepancy, he explained, again as the audience rippled with laughter. But in the end, the two industries found the glue that holds them together: “Impacting the patient. That is the rallying cry for us. That is how we approach partnership—through good and bad.”

Stay tuned for more of ASAP Media’s coverage of Pear CEO Corey McCann’s keynote and other sessions at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference.  

Tags:  2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference  Alliance management  Alliance Mindset  biopharma  Brooke Paige  cognitive behavioral therapy  creating value  C-suite  Dr. Corey McCann  partnering  Pear Therapeutics  prescription digital therapeutics  software  Strategic Alliances  tech 

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