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Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

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Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

Postby Dustin Levy » Thu Oct 15, 2015 10:32 am

The best R&D team members know how to serve their internal customers.

My last post discussed some of the opportunities that exist for scientists in industry outside of the traditional R&D function: Business Development, Program Management, Product Management, and Sales. Because most scientists will first enter industry in a R&D role, this post will examine what each of these functions look for most in an R&D scientist. Understanding what each function expects most from R&D will help when interviewing, when managing these internal stakeholders as a member of the R&D staff, and when positioning for your next career move.

Because Program Managers are held accountable by business leaders for program/project execution, they look for scientists and engineers who can give accurate estimates of the time they will spend on project tasks, execute on those tasks, assess and communicate risks, and stick to a defined statement of work without veering off course. Program Managers don’t have time for perfection – once a design aspect is good enough to meet a specified requirement, they want R&D to move on to the next task.

Business Developers value R&D personnel who are creative, can innovate rapidly, and prototype ideas at a high throughput rate. They want R&D personnel who are open-minded and not bound by current paradigms. The quicker the R&D team can prove the feasibility of a new idea, the quicker the Business Developer can hand the opportunity off to a Program Manager for execution, and being searching for the next big business opportunity.

In contrast to the Business Developer, who emphasizes breakthrough innovations, Salespeople emphasize incremental innovations that will make them money today. Salespeople need R&D teams who can make quick improvements to existing products so that they become easier to sell. Fixing a defect, adding a feature, or repurposing an existing product for a new application can mean the difference between steak dinners and a hamburger dinners for the hungry Salesperson.

When comparing Business Development and Sales, think Einstein for the former, and Edison for the latter.

Because Product Managers are responsible for enabling the Sales team with product marketing materials, training programs, and other support tools, they value R&D personnel who can help them translate the technical features of products into simple language. The most technically advanced product will be difficult to sell if nobody can communicate its benefits to customers, so R&D personnel who can communicate technical information clearly and concisely are essential to Product Managers.

So, here’s some quick advice should you find yourself with a person who has one of the titles above, either during an interview for an R&D position or early in your R&D career:

With the Program Manager, use your creativity and intelligence to keep things on schedule, meet tight deadlines, and solve day-to-day problems.

With the Business Developer, use your creativity and intelligence to break new ground, challenge conventional thinking, and pursue what others think is impossible.

With the Salesperson, use your creativity and intelligence to make existing things better and find new ways to use existing things.

With the Product Manager, use your creativity and intelligence to find new ways to communicate what you do and how you do it so that your technical work can be applied to real-world problems.

Finally, notice that a key individual has been missing from this post and my previous one – the R&D Manager. Next, we’ll discuss where this role fits in for those individuals who choose to grow their career within the traditional technical path.
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

Postby D.X. » Mon Oct 19, 2015 8:53 am

Hi Dustin,

This is spot on. I've worked as a Program Manager (actually Program Lead) and a Product Manager on the Rx Pharma side, and this is exactly what I expect from all functions who are working with me - irrespective of scientific Background.

Of course sometimes I do need to push, this is why I very much agree - sometimes the scientific staff get so caught up in the technical details, that I find myself pushing them to explain thier topic in simple language and, more importantly, tell me the Overall Impact or result. Often I say "and that means...??" or "so what's the Overall implication?". Its up to me the take the Commercial acessment, but I Need to know what I'm dealing with. The folks I appreciate the most are those who can simplify the science, tell me what the issue is, what the potential consquences are and possible solutions. Often I just get what the Problem is (IF, and big IF, if they even raise the issue to me. Quite often, they don't know to raise the issue and then I'm spend my time putting out fires. So I also appreciate proactive communications.

so in summary, i agree with all, with the addition of: be proactive.

DX
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

Postby Dustin Levy » Tue Oct 20, 2015 7:38 am

For sure on the point about proactive communications...surprises are only good on your birthday.

I was told early in my graduate research career than when you publish your dissertation, you’ll look back and find that all of your published data could have been collected in a couple of months, instead of 5+ years, had you made all the right decisions and avoided all of the dead ends. We say those wrong turns build character and understanding, but having this efficiency rate in industry will put you out of business. Hence, the need to bring issues to light quickly and work in high-performing teams to arrive collectively at the best possible solutions as efficiently as possible. It seems that academic training encourages a more independent style of problem solving, which is important, but a behavioral shift is required to keep business objectives on track.
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

Postby Ana » Wed Oct 21, 2015 3:20 am

Dustin Levy wrote: It seems that academic training encourages a more independent style of problem solving, which is important, but a behavioral shift is required to keep business objectives on track.


This is very true! I moved to industry after my postdoc and one of the most important things I learned during my first year in the corporate world was precisely this.

I was put in charge of a small part of a project that had to do with my expertise area. We needed a biological assay set up for that project and even though I didn’t have direct experience with that type of assay it made sense to me and my managers that I will be in charge of getting it to work. But I couldn’t get it to work and I kept trying more and more options in the lab and avoiding that discussion topic during team and department meetings hoping soon or later it would work. Since I was working on multiple projects at the same time I managed to avoid discussing my problems with this particular one for several months. Fresh from academia, my fear was to let them down and to solidify that impostor syndrome that I was already experiencing.

Luckily for me my first manager in industry was a good manager. When I finally told her the assay was not working she asked me what I had tried. And I told her all the things *I* had tried and all the literature *I* had researched to try to get the assay to work. I hadn’t reached out because I didn’t want to expose the fact that I was supposed to be an expert yet the assay wasn’t working. She told me this would be one of my important lessons in industry: the project/product cannot be limited by your personal limitations, and your responsibility when you are in charge of something is to identify and bring in any resource that is needed get it done and on time, not to know everything yourself. So when I saw I couldn’t solve it myself fast enough I should have approached other scientists on campus, call a small meeting, brainstorm, talk to vendors, tall to her. Maybe we could have even dropped that assay from the project. But I should never hold back a project just because there are some part of it I personally don’t have the knowledge to do.

That is a living example of the behavioural shift you describe, Dustin. And one of the best lessons that I learned early on in industry and that would help me hugely in my career afterwards.

Ana
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

Postby Dave Walker » Wed Oct 21, 2015 9:19 am

Dustin Levy wrote:With the Salesperson, use your creativity and intelligence to make existing things better and find new ways to use existing things.


This is such a good insight, Dustin. Industry R&D people, take heed to his words!

This is one of those things that I have experienced in the past but never crystallized until I read or heard it put just like above. A salesperson is bombarded by requests from clients to tweak, upgrade and expand whatever it is they are selling. This can quickly lead to a wall built between R&D and sales (and as Dustin mentions, with other parts of the company in different ways too). Needless to say, this is bad for business, and can be demoralizing.
"The single factor that differentiates Nobel laureates from other scientists is training with another Nobel laureate." -- Sol Snyder
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

Postby D.X. » Mon Oct 26, 2015 7:47 am

Ana wrote:
She told me this would be one of my important lessons in industry: the project/product cannot be limited by your personal limitations, and your responsibility when you are in charge of something is to identify and bring in any resource that is needed get it done and on time, not to know everything yourself. That is a living example of the behavioural shift you describe, Dustin. And one of the best lessons that I learned early on in industry and that would help me hugely in my career afterwards.

Ana


Just to build on Ana's Quote. For me this change behavior has taken the form of learning to work cross-functionally. In the begining it was being more a supporting role in terms of functional working where "I" was a resource to be leveraged. That evolved to me being a functional lead withn a cross-fucntional team were MY resources, objectives, and activities were aligned, and now over a few steps to being the one who leads the integration functions - i.e functional leads/resources into a cross-fuctional team with cross-functional program objectives - defined by a strategy which me and my team sets. This putting into me a spot werhe I have oversight of functional resources (FTEs and Budgets) from a governance perspective.

My recipe for success here is directly related to Ana's post - knowing limitations, leveraging expertise and resources of others to deliver on a common object (or Project/program) - while being attentive to the greater Needs of the organization (enter strategic alignment and direction setting). One can enter leadership competencies into any area of key skill sets required.

To touch on what Dave Walker said about Sales Reps. In the Rx Pharma world we have some limitations in Terms of tweaking and upgrading our products, I won't go into it, but alot more complicated. However, the theme is the same and that's the Sales reps ability to be attentive to customer insights and market Dynamics and relay that in. There are channels by which a Sales Rep can do that in the Rx Pharma world, some less complex than otheres, but they key point is customer insights. Not all companies are good at this (usually brought in through the Sales and Marketing Interface - enter the Product Manager here - but that Attention to what is going on the ground is key to having both Commercial and R&D functions understand what's going on.

As Dave alluded to, R&D can be a bit siloed sometimes and even within a Commercial enteprise, they can sometimes be quite academic - if not managed appropriately, this can lead to some spectacular and expensive mistakes with consequences to the Business. Even in Rx Pharma.

Good luck,

DX
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

Postby D.X. » Mon Oct 26, 2015 10:27 am

Sorry didn' see a spot for me to edit.

But wanted to add to my post above, in the context of customer insights and market Dynamics, in addition to Sales Reps - there is a function in companies (accross all sectors) called Market Research. Other names can be Customer Insights or maybe to part of a Business Analystics function. Often a part of this function is Competitor Intelligence or Competitive Insights - the latter term is favorable.

But I've met alot of folk with scientific Backgrounds here - they also work very cross-functionally to share insights from the market accoss Commercial and where applicable R&D Teams. In some cases R&D Teams can work with These functions to ensure the right data-points are captured or the right questions are asked. With out this function - alot companies would operate in the dark.

There are many other ways to get insights - especially in Rx Pharma world - but Market Research is one.

DX
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #2

Postby Dustin Levy » Wed Oct 28, 2015 2:15 pm

DX,

I’d like to pick up on two points you’ve made. First, regarding market/customer insights, these are without a doubt key to driving the business strategy. The sales team might provide these insights, but in my experience it’s more likely for the sales team to offer one-off data points that apply to a limited set of customers, often with the goal of closing just a limited number of sales. This dynamic is spoken of frequently in software development, where features requested by sales reps continue to be implemented, with no overarching strategy, eventually leading to confusing, unusable, and overdesigned bundles of software. Having the agenda set by a market research/insights group that isn’t biased by a commission-based compensation structure has become a common way to address this issue.

One caveat for those involved in insights – market insights are not design solutions. Market data should be provided to R&D in a solution-neutral manner, and R&D people, the ones who really understand the technology, should take the lead on designing solutions. Whenever you hear a customer, salesperson, or any other party not directly involved in R&D solutionizing, you should thank them for their input, refocus the conversation on the problem statement or unfulfilled need, and then pass this input to the R&D experts so they can do their job.

To your second point about the limitations of tweaking and upgrading in Pharma, it’s important for any company to explore the full range of innovation, whether it be product-related (I suspect this is where you see limitations due to the cost and time associated with FDA clearances?), process-related (How can we produce faster and more cost-effectively, How can we deliver existing medicines differently?), or business model-related (How do we market differently, How do we sell into underdeveloped markets?). Again, market insights are key to deciding how to innovate, and innovation doesn’t always have to be focused on the physical sciences.

Thank you for your input regarding insights, a very important piece of the equation.
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