Most large pharma and biotechnology companies have historically relied on a singular "best practice model" for preparing for launch. Highly structured and rigid launch readiness models made sense in a world where similarities between launches were significant. As pipelines and portfolios have evolved dramatically—now reflecting launches in specialty, rare disease, combination therapies, personalized medicine, and follow-on indications instead of mass-market blockbusters—a rigid, one-size-fits-all model for launch excellence isn’t sufficiently relevant for each launch. A new launch excellence model that’s more agile, flexible and reflective of the varied launches that a company faces should be the goal.


Here are a few ways that companies can improve their launch models:


1. Adapt launch models by launch “type.” Not every company will need to be ready for every type of launch, but if a portfolio includes several follow-on oncology indication launches, rare disease launches, biomarker-driven launches, biosimilar launches, or cell and gene therapy launches, defining a launch model for each “type” that can serve as a guide to be flexibly implemented will blend the best of rigor and agility. A “launch architect” or center of excellence team could define these types and establish these foundational models accordingly.


2. Leverage synergies that come from a focus in certain therapeutic areas or types of assets. Companies that leverage insights from prior launches in a given therapy or disease area launch more effectively and efficiently. Prior work and knowledge about patients, markets, customers, accounts, competitors and KOLs may mean that key launch choices and decisions can be made quickly, with a high degree of confidence, and without the same need for the investment required the first time around. Too often this information is lost within the organization. Considering lead and life cycle indications as part of defining brand differentiation and value proposition early in launch preparation efforts can minimize rework during follow-on indication launches.


For assets with many indication launches or “portfolio in a product” launches—as is common in oncology, immunology and CNS, and for platform technologies—having some team members become experts that move from one launch to the next may help build and transfer launch-specific expertise and leverage market and customer knowledge.


3. Seek to be the benchmark rather than following the benchmark. Not every launch needs to reinvent the model, though many companies focus more on benchmarks from the past than they do on thinking innovatively about what is likely to drive future success. ZS customer experience research in the U.S. and EU shows that the best digital and multichannel programs use technology and analytics to ensure that coordinated, non-personal engagement is an integral part of the field team’s personal promotion efforts. However, most organizations are still preparing to launch in separate silos across marketing and sales and market access because that’s how they’ve always done it. Encouraging innovative approaches that break from the past may encourage teams to build on prior successes while striving to be the benchmark.


4. Empower the launch team. Launch teams should be empowered and encouraged to make decisions, and regularly revisit what they need to do and how they should organize themselves and their work. This is also a practice seen frequently with emerging pharma companies preparing for a first launch. Rather than a rigid, predefined launch readiness timeline that prescribes key activities and deliverables for large-scale reviews by quarter or “gate” preceding launch, teams should be empowered—perhaps with the help of a launch architect—to learn and inform key choices quickly and reassess whether launch preparation plans need further investment. They should work against a launch blueprint but with the expectation that it’s a living document that they will regularly adapt and change to focus effort and investment throughout the launch preparation effort (often 18 to 36 months).


5. Invest time and money in what matters (and deprioritize what doesn’t). Agile teams still benefit from a structured approach to avoid recreating the wheel but should view the launch blueprint as a living document they regularly adapt and change to focus effort and investment. Too often, highly structured and rigid launch plans result in activities and investments executed without consideration as to whether those activities and investments are needed, or could be redeployed to more pressing concerns. An AGILE technique useful during launch preparation is to maintain an active pipeline of nice-to-have activities or investments, while ensuring those that are critical, table stakes or very important receive priority attention, effort and funding.


6. Maximize the amount of work not done. Too many launch teams focus on checking every box and presenting everything they have done for upward review. Too often, senior management rewards quantity over quality of effort. Teams should report back and be evaluated on the amount of work not done just as much as the work that is done. Empowered teams should feel equally responsible to do additional work when they believe it’s necessary and valuable. This, too, should be equally lauded. The focus should shift from checking the boxes to justifying and supporting the rationale for the choices made.


7. Measure and learn early after launch. Too often, launch performance metrics are not designed in a way to be informative and actionable. Defining which metrics will be predictive of success ahead of time—for example, the rate of NGS testing adoption for a new precision medicine launch—can be engineered not only to measure performance but also to provide insight into where, when and how to better drive performance.


Great launches are like an orchestra playing a symphony, where preparation leads to superior execution across many important dimensions. We should just be sure that the symphony isn’t using the same instruments and sheet music to play to different audiences with different preferences and in different venues across the globe.