This post is part of a series examining the need for Subject Matter Expertise to manage Projects
Let’s continue our discussion of Project Management and the need to have specific subject matter expertise by focusing on the Life Sciences industry.
Like the terms Project and Program Management, the category of Life Sciences can mean different things to different people. For our discussion, we will classify the Pharmaceuticals, Medical Device, Biologics, and Biotech industries in this category – there are others of course.
Common questions about PM jobs in Life Sciences
Two questions come up frequently in my recruiting business and my volunteer activities with PMI MassBay.
Why do many companies require Life Sciences working experience for Project Manager roles?
How can I make the transition from a non-Life Sciences PM role into Life Sciences, without this experience?
Let’s look at these separately.
- Why do Life Science companies require experience and/or education specific to the Life Sciences field to be considered for a PM role? In many cases, the Project Manager is responsible for leading a group of scientists, clinical researchers or mechanical engineers to develop a new product (drug, device, etc). These projects can be quite expensive and crucial to the success of the company. These projects must follow strict quality and regulatory guidelines, often with multiple filings and approvals needed throughout the project. Knowledge of the development and approvals processes and the regulatory (FDA and others) requirements impacting your project are considered critical by many and help him/her to earn the respect and cooperation of the team and project sponsors. In medical device companies, it is common to source PMs with Mechanical Engineering experience (engineering teams like to work with/for PMs who have engineering backgrounds), while other companies may look for an education in Biology or Chemistry, or bench/lab experience. I can see some of you rolling your eyes…..This is not to say that a strong PM cannot learn the industry and some companies are starting to bring in seasoned PMs from other industries and train them. Others are training internal employees with strong leadership skills in Project Management. For management consulting companies that supply PMs to the Life Sciences industry, proven industry experience is very important. These PMs need to be viewed as industry experts who are capable of turning around troubled projects and successfully leading client teams. What are your stories? Please comment to this blog and share you experiences.
- How do I get into a Life Sciences company if I do not have Life Sciences experience? Good question. Keep in mind that there are many departments in an established Life Sciences company. Not all of the projects involve drug or device development. There are infrastructure and other IT needs, construction projects, Human Resources or Marketing and Sales projects to name a few. Many of these do not require specific industry expertise. Examples include migrating applications from on premise to the Cloud, ERP systems installs and upgrades, etc. Once you are in the company and performing well, do what you do best and start building strong professional relationships with stakeholders across the organization. As your network and reputation grows, you might volunteer in other departments and on other projects to gain a better understanding of the business, processes and regulations. There are also many documents online that provide overviews of the drug and device development process. Start reading and networking and show you interest. It can only help in your next interview.
This series of articles is meant to spur conversations within the PM community. We covered a couple of examples above, but there are many more stories and examples to share. I encourage you to add your comments and questions to this article and share your experiences.
Want to start networking with other Life Sciences Project Managers? A good place to start is PMI. If you are in the Boston area, there is a PMI MassBay Life Sciences Outreach group that meets regularly. There is also an Agile Roundtable where you can learn about how Agile and lean methodologies are helping to streamline processes in the Life Sciences field. The schedule can be found at pmimassbay.org.
If you are in the Life Sciences industry and have experience leading projects, please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on LinkedIn. I am always looking to expand my professional network and enjoy helping others grow in their careers. I might even be able to place you at one of our clients.
John Todd is a Partner of a boutique placement company in Boston, Massachusetts – Downtown Recruiting Inc. Downtown Recruiting specializes in Project Management, Product Management, Management Consultants, Market Research and ERP resources. We provide candidates for your full time and contract needs. Visit our website at downtownrecruiting.com. John is also a passionate volunteer in the Project Management community.