Innovation isn’t just about making medical breakthroughs. It’s also about exploring new ways of working — looking optimistically to the future and pushing forward in directions we never thought we’d go. It’s a labour of love.
Justine and Marc know a lot about that. The massive project has seen many minds from across the company sharing their expertise and time with the duo, who together with colleagues have assessed and developed a new agile working model, which is currently mid-roll-out.
“The journey began in 2017, when Accountability, Agility and Intrapreneurship (AAI) were introduced as key behaviours for the company,” explains Justine. “It was a call to increase our ability to quickly respond to change and be innovative in a world of increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.”
The beginnings of an idea
But where to start? “We did some research and found the Agile movement,” recalls Marc. “It was an eye opener. These folks had a different mindset. Their way of planning and their way of working was much more adaptive than ours.”
Cross-functional and self-organised teams built products in small steps in close collaboration with the customer, continuously inspecting and adapting. Their principles, frameworks and practices had been proven to work. “We saw the potential for BDS and decided to apply it here,” Marc explains.
Doing the research
The next two years were an exploration and conceptualisation of how Agile principles and practices could be applied to the world of drug development. In 2019, Justine became the global head of BDS and she seized the opportunity to transform the whole department. “I was nervous as I made those first changes. But I trusted my intuition, and most importantly, I never felt alone. Having that support from my colleagues made such a difference,” she explains.
From interviews and workshops, Justine and Marc knew that there were pain points that needed to be addressed. “It wasn’t that the job was not being done – we always delivered what was expected. But we had to accept there were new challenges waiting for us. Challenges which we could not address with better data science alone,” says Marc.
“It was about how we would work together in the future. We needed to become faster, make better use of our data, improve our collaboration with partners inside and outside Boehringer Ingelheim, and become more creative and responsive.”
“We needed to become more creative and responsive.”
Justine adds, “We knew if we continued as before, the pain points we were experiencing – like functional silo thinking, breakneck multi-tasking and non-efficient decision making – would only become more embedded, preventing us from adapting to our continuously changing environment. We couldn’t be left behind. So instead, we decided to think bigger.”
Justine formed a small transformation team. “Our aim was to increase the ability of the whole organisation to react quickly to change and operate successfully in a complex environment. The plan was to develop this ability on various levels across people, teams, products, processes, tools, structure and strategy,” explains Marc, who was one of the team members at the time.
It was a big endeavour. “We decided to start from scratch and design a new operating model making BDS a modern data science hub able to thrive in a world of continuous change. The beauty of the chosen model lies in its duality: it consists of two complementary domains that closely interact with each other.”
A brand new approach
The value creation domain concentrates on developing valuable products, while the capability management domain enables the organisation to be effective in a complex world. “In the value creation part, we set the project priorities in line with the therapeutic area needs to make sure that we meet our business goals. In capability management, we build and enhance individual skills and competencies, expand subject matter knowledge and develop processes that help our people continuously grow and challenge themselves.”
But that’s not all. “We need to go beyond the optimisation of individual capabilities and even teams,” explains Marc, “and advance value creation across our whole organisation without micro-management. So, we’re exploring intent-based leadership and different ways of visualising and coordinating our work, encouraging leadership on all levels of the organisation.”
Shaping an evolving model
“Exploring” is possibly one of the words which best describes the cultural change that has come with the new operating model. “Nothing is final,” says Marc. “It can’t be. We’re on an evolutionary journey which demands that we keep on learning and adapting. We have focused on purpose, principles and basic structure, with extra details being added by our teams on a daily basis. It’s a true invitation to build something new together. We welcome input and support from our colleagues across the company.”
“We’re on an evolutionary journey, which demands that we keep on learning and adapting.”
This April the first phase was rolled out, including a new leadership team, as well as structures for the BDS value creation and capability management. In June, the first new BDS Development Teams were introduced, with others planned to follow in waves.
“We are still on our journey, and there’s a lot for us to discover,” admits Justine. “But we know where we want to travel to. In the end, we want energised employees who truly enjoy creating innovative solutions that transform patients’ lives. It’s an idea that has driven Boehringer Ingelheim from the beginning and will continue to do so long into the future.”