Interview with Ricky Suchak: Big, medium, or small pharmaceutical companies – PPM challenges & strategies

Written by: Ricky Suchak Director, Marketing Commercial Operations


The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Novartis AG, or its subsidiary, Sandoz Inc.


Mr. Suchak received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this interview.


1. What are the main mistakes Product & Portfolio Managers of large companies tend to make that one should avoid

Being aware of behavioral bias on assessment of risks is critical. One example is clinical probability of success (POS), ability to meet the timelines, technology challenges, etc. These factors are important to measure portfolio outcome. An unbiased view of risk in alignment with cross-functional stakeholder should be performed to evaluate POS.
Ensuring product forecasting has sound assumptions and rationale valuation methodology is also important. Excessive exuberance or undervaluation may impact product investment decisions. While it may not be a perfect world in terms of knowing product value, having rationale assumptions behind a forecast is critical.
Investment in tools and databases for Portfolio analytics is critical. Portfolio management is a dynamic process wherein different factors (internal and external) continuously impact the economics of a portfolio. Moreover, decisions often require multi-dimensional evaluation such as IRR, NPV, cash flow, payback period, etc. Having the right tools to track and evaluate the Portfolio decision is important. Portfolio managers should also ensure unbiased representation of facts and information to management to assist in rapid decision making.
In addition, a portfolio manager needs to have cross-functional strategic and leadership skills. Standard skills in forecasting and analytics are certainly prerequisite; however, these may not be enough to drive effective decision making in today’s dynamic landscape. Companies want to expedite the product pipeline faster than before, and want to anticipate issues in advance with each program being unique in itself. Strategic, cross-functional leadership and interpersonal skills are critical for “connecting the dots” with stakeholders and driving portfolio value and decision making.

2. What is the main difference in portfolio management and prioritization between big companies and smaller-sized organizations?

Decision-making process, stake holder alignment and endorsement are vastly different in big vs. small companies. Small company portfolio decision making is typically a very nimble process as there are limited stakeholders for alignment and final decision making. Due to limited resources, risk tolerance in portfolio could be different in a small company, whereas in a big organization, there is typically discussion and alignment at different levels. Different stakeholders and cross-functions in a big organization may have different sets of focus areas in Portfolio management and prioritization.

3. What are the key steps for successful prioritization? How can you be sure that the right projects are being performed?

Firstly, there should be an organization-wide definition of the criteria that determines the ‘right’ project. It should include projects that drive overall value to the firm, in alignment with strategic goals, while meeting its defined criteria on risks, financial metrics, cash flow, etc.
Portfolio decision making is a dynamic process. An organization should have a process for prioritization. Prioritization and financial budgeting/resource management should be planned together. There are few steps which are critical: i) databases and analytics tools to assess project data, ii) process for project evaluation and prioritization with stakeholders and management, iii) analytics, valuation, risk assessment, iv) financial budgeting/resource management for the projects, v) scenario planning, sensitivity analysis, vi) alignment with stakeholder, vii) senior management endorsement on prioritization and resource allocation.

4. What are some ways to manage R&D risks? What are the best methods to mitigate the risk from Research & Development portfolio?

Portfolio management must create the right process to quantify and measure risks. R&D portfolio can have various risk dimensions such as clinical outcome risks, technology risks, technology transfer risks, etc. The risk evaluation process should quantify all the dimensions of the risks with the help of respective functional experts. A ‘Risk Management Tool’ to track risks in R&D can be very beneficial. There are companies who have created risk management data analytics. These are very helpful in taking multi-dimensional risk data and creating visual output that is easy to interpret, performing analysis and making recommendations for alignment with senior management.
Risk evaluation is a critical component of Portfolio management. Like Portfolio management, risk evaluation should be a continuous process and should be an integral part of the portfolio prioritization process. Lastly, databases and tools are only as good as the people using them. It is important that the Portfolio manager ensures that risk assessment is factual, unbiased and systems/tools are updated in a timely manner with accurate data.