The pipeline of projects awaiting MLR review seems never ending. Just when you think you’re getting caught up, a new wave hits the system. Tight timelines, conflicting priorities and strong personalities can stress the process (and the people) even more. How can MLR reviewers partner with brand teams and agencies to better manage the volume?

As an agency that has worked in pharmaceutical marketing for 16 years, Intouch understands volume problems. We see (and, yes, sometimes we cause) those huge review bottlenecks from hundreds of materials routing through the system at once. We manage the process as best we can from our side; we plan ahead, we help prioritize, we repurpose what content we can, and we over-communicate.

But even with the best intention and planning, volume isn’t always controllable. And no one understands the ebbs and flows of customer service quite like an agency.  With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to share some basic project management principles often used by agencies like us, because we believe they could help our clients solve their volume puzzle, as well.

  • Annual onboarding and basic work forecasting. Account teams within our agency generally set their year by bringing in their cross-functional team for onboarding. A single lunch meeting can help ground everyone in brand challenges, objectives and strategies, not to mention show the year’s approved marketing plans and Gantt charts; success metrics; and, of course, the scoped resourcing to get it all done. We generally also revisit these plans quarterly. Three hurrahs for transparency and togetherness! Better to reinforce your house in January than drown in the April monsoon.
  • Timelines and estimates. All agency projects, internal and external, large and small, begin with an effort assessment and, frequently, a pretty hardcore internal negotiation. Great ideas can be killed before they ever make it to our clients if they are not achievable within the budget or timeframe. Parallax scroll is totally awesome, but if it adds three days and $20,000 to the bottom line of a website, it has to be considered as the team unites to determine a solution. We do not see these same negotiations happening between brand teams and MLR. All the negotiating for time seems to happen after the 200-page website is designed and loaded into the routing system.
  • Resource managers. Agencies have people and processes dedicated to keeping work distributed and flowing. Resource managers count up hours for each task, divide the work to the doers, and know when there aren’t enough doers to complete the tasks. When the work outnumbers the hours, they go to the agency leads and force decisions on priority or pull freelance triggers.
  • Resource scrum meetings and triage. Consider a 30-minute weekly stand-up resource meeting (aka “scrum”) for a creative department. “We’ve got a killer branding job kicking off Tuesday; I really need Doug the pixel dude.” “OK, what about my app prototype? Can I have Chris for the prototype?” “Allie’s project is ending early, what can we throw her this week?” “Erin’s been here for three nights straight past midnight; do we need an intervention?” If creative teams can flow from client to client and still deliver high-level work, it must be possible for MLR. And why do we expect that every MLR person will be as effective reviewing a YouTube video as they will a sales aid?
  • The decider. If you work at an agency, you probably know this person. If you work at a pharma company, you probably do not. But at the end of the day, when resolution can’t come from a cross-functional team, there has to be one person who shuts down the debating, flags top priorities and kills low priorities.

There’s no magic bullet and certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to solving the conundrum of the MLR bottleneck. But we’re firm believers that pharmaceutical companies can take a cue from their agencies’ own project management best practices to manage volume, prioritize projects and get the best of their efforts into market faster.

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