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How strategic program management can foster innovation and value creation for IVD companies

In a Q&A with diagnostics service provider Invetech’s Vice President, Diagnostics, Gerald Kent talked about how in vitro diagnostic (IVD) companies and startups can foster innovation and create value through strategic program management.

In a Q&A with diagnostics service provider Invetech’s Vice President, Diagnostics, Gerald Kent talked about how in vitro diagnostic (IVD) companies and startups can foster innovation and create value through strategic program management.

What do you see as key aspects of creating a solid product development plan and the timeline for diagnostics companies?

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A development plan really starts with the commercialization strategy, and the business model. Understanding how the product fits within that ecosystem, the priorities and the capabilities that the diagnostics company currently has and still needs to build, determine what the company should do internally and where they need help.  

What we know is that each product and each company is different, and so the product development path should be adapted to suit these needs. We have established, with years of experience, a robust path from product concept through to transfer to manufacture, taking into account the required regulatory framework with which IVD products must comply. However, we also know that the development strategy ultimately needs to support what the diagnostics companies want to achieve.

Some of the factors that need to be considered when establishing a development strategy include the maturity of the company, their strengths, weaknesses, which capabilities they plan on developing themselves and which ones they may outsource, who the stakeholders and investors are, and what the business growth strategy is. The key point is that asking the right questions from the start and working with diagnostics companies to provide such insight allows us to create a development strategy in consultation with our clients that balances those needs with the inherent uncertainty of new product development.

For example we’re increasingly seeing companies whose aim is to get to market quickly, and sometimes the application or business model is applicable in an adjacent market, so we may choose to prioritize development for that market first.

Gerald Kent

When developing products, what are some of the ways startups can build confidence with investors?

From the discussions we have had with a lot of startup companies, credibility is important. This credibility is built from the background of the founders, its board and the market opportunity. There are also inherent risks in new technology. Demonstrating the technical feasibility and partnering with a credible development partner with a solid track record of delivering also helps give investors confidence.

Investment companies also tell us that they look for technologies that are scalable either via a roadmap or through different applications. We take the view, particularly for startups, that an efficient means to demonstrate technology readiness positions them for success and increases the likelihood of them getting to market.

As part of the product development planning process, how do you approach identifying and understanding risk?

Because we deal with a lot of new technology and our clients have progressed the development to different levels of maturity before they engage with us, we really need to understand where the challenges might be. In the first instance, we have a lot of experience we can draw on to assess where the riskiest parts of the development might be.

Chemistry and detection technologies quite often create both hardware and software complexity which can be difficult to predict. Leveraging our experience is important here, but we also know that two key facets of managing these challenges mean we need to translate the technical and project risk into something tangible to our client’s business, and when we do that we can generate concepts and make tradeoffs in collaboration with them.

Foundation or architectural risk in the early stages is important to consider. It’s easy to get caught up in everything that can possibly go wrong, but if we focus on the factors that might cause significant foundation changes up front, the smaller ones can more easily be dealt with along the way.  

What are some of the ways you can support innovation over the course of a project’s execution?

Understanding users’ needs and creating a product concept are key steps of the process. As the development matures, key technical challenges will need to be solved, which requires a different set of innovation skills.

At the front end of a project, a team will want to drive discovery of needs at the user level, as well as business goals. One of the first things we do with our clients in any project is to have our experience design and innovation consulting (XD) team conduct a discovery effort to define the context of use. The team’s methodology is grounded in rapid discovery methods that uncover and frame human-centered problems that were never considered when establishing the product concept.

The team observes end users in their work environment to discover insights that lead to product differentiation. They build mockups to test and iterate with a thread of learning woven throughout the process. This approach combines design, cognitive science and engineering to uncover new ideas and improve design concepts with methodology that will lead to product innovation.

The development path is not a straight line. Strategic program managers are required to constantly review the development strategy as information evolves and assess whether it needs to change to continue to add value.

A culture of innovation includes a focus on understanding the problem space before diving into solutions, an ability to learn through iterative concepts and prototypes, and collaboration. Individual engagement, exploration and accountability are balanced with a highly collaborative team approach. At Invetech, we encourage rapid experimentation and the use of fast fail methodologies to stimulate innovation.

What would you say are important considerations in effective program management from a team leadership perspective?

I would say, assuming of course that the technical and planning skills are sound, an effective program manager is a strategic program manager. For that to happen, there are three key strengths they need to have.  

Firstly, they need to be effective leaders, able to establish a vision and mobilize teams to achieve it. They need to identify the needs of the team and establish a support structure to enable them and build the necessary tools and skills required within the team.

Secondly, they need to have managerial courage. The courage to identify problems and change course when necessary, the courage to make decisions that others are either not willing to or may not support.

Thirdly, they need to be adaptable. Our client business situations change, and new information emerges on a daily basis. A program manager who is able to adapt to the change helps ensure that the team is constantly adding value.

What sets Invetech apart in how you work with clients to deliver product development success?

The key to Invetech’s success is recognizing that each of our clients have different needs, strengths and weaknesses.

Our teams make a personal investment in what our clients are trying to achieve and make a genuine effort to not only understand what is critical to our client’s business success, but also place a high value on developing solutions and approaches in collaboration with our clients. For this to happen there needs to be transparency in the challenges and uncertainty that lie ahead so that the best decisions can be made moving forward.

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