Agile in Biopharma

What role is there for Agile in the pharmaceutical industry? A big one. There’s no better methodology for speed and efficiency than Agile. Learn more.

While those in the biopharma space are inherently required to produce and deliver with efficiency, COVID-19 has ignited a whole new need for speed, and there’s no better methodology used to incite speed and efficiency than Agile.

As Agilists, we're always looking for new opportunities to apply our toolbox. New industries are exposed to Agile, like what they see, and jump on board. Of course, many do it wrong at first, but those that stick with it and hold nothing sacred about the old ways eventually get the benefits. To borrow from Jeffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers 1, the Innovators and Early Adopters have long since adopted Agile. Even the Early Majority has done it. We're now into the Late Majority stage of the Adoption Lifecycle, meaning even those with deeply entrenched standardized processes and those who are slaves to regulation are beginning to consider Agile, including those in the biopharma industry. This includes the people who are closer to the science.

So, we got to wondering... is this the start of a movement? Is there a watershed moment happening? Our hypothesis was that there is excitement here. There was only one way to find out...

We needed a minimum viable product, or an MVP: that which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about what customers want with the least amount of effort.


MVP Build-Measure-Learn Loop

Based on "Build, Measure, Learn" Concept2


What could our MVP be? We decided to offer a Lean Coffee and formed a working group across our Agile and Life Sciences divisions to generate interest among our BioPharma customers and contacts. The theory was, if enough busy people would give up a brief amount of their time, maybe the interest was real. We reached out to 6 of our customers, and 5 of them had one or more people that wanted to join. We sent our contacts a few "seeding" questions and received feedback on what they were interested in talking about.

Finally, it was GO time. Who would join? Of the 12 people that signed up, 10 joined. Again, this is all about engagement and validated learning about the interest in talking about Agile.

During the sessions, we proposed a number of potential topics and invited attendees to vote on what they wanted to discuss. Ultimately, the topics with the highest level of interest included:

  • Organizing around Value
  • Changing Culture, Mindset, Behavior
  • Your Agile Success Stories (What have you tried so far?)
  • Challenges: Applying with Bimodal Ops Governance
  • Lean, Flexible Funding Cycles

Of course, like any dinner party full of like-minded people who don't know each other, it was impossible to guess how the conversation would flow. Would these folks from this space continue to engage in this exploration of Agile in the pharmaceutical industry? As it turns out, once the conversation started, it never stopped.

The highest voted topic was “Organizing around Value”, and conversation began. There are rules for how Lean Coffee conversation is supposed to flow3, but we ended up abandoning them as conversation flowed freely and naturally without the support of the typical Lean Coffee structure. Conversation flowed so well, in fact, that we actually never even fully exhausted the first topic.

As we wrapped up, everyone agreed another Lean Coffee in the future was a great idea, and a few people even stayed on longer to talk a bit more. All in all, this Lean Coffee validated our suspicions that such topics are timely in the BioPharma space, as we hypothesized here!

We have more validated learning to come in future Lean Coffee gatherings! Until then, learn more about Agile consulting at Eliassen Group, our thoughts on Continuous Compliance in the Drug Industry, and Automation and Continuous Compliance.

Interested in attending out next Lean Coffee? Let us know!


  1. Moore, Geoffrey A. Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to
    Mainstream Customers. Harper Business, 2006. Print.
  2. Saurel, Sylvain. “Lean Startup: A Basic Guide for Entrepreneurs.” Hackernoon, Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.
  3. Accessed 22 Jan. 2021.