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Development and Training

What's expected from Project Managers in our sector?

In Startups / Small Biotechs

An interview with Steven Harrison, PIPMG Committee member.

How did you get into Project Management?

From college I took a bench science job in R&D/Manufacturing at Porton. I worked in the lab for a few years but when working with contract manufacturing I assumed the role of overseeing the logistics of it. I was engaging with clients, working with commercial issues – I didn’t set out to have this sort of role but it just develops from there.

I moved into a small biotech spin out of UCL; the CEO had identified of void in project management and I stepped into the role. I have been doing that for a variety of small organisations ever since.

What are the key aspects of the role in a small organisation?

The various scientific and functional experts tend to work head down. There is a need to coordinate more widely. But it’s a fairly fluid role in contrast to larger companies. There is usually no PM team or PMO, it is a fairly standalone job.

The duties can be quite varied – coordinating projects, people, alliances and outsourcing. You could be working on product development, working with CMOs, packaging companies, clinical sites, patient samples and more!

Often the CEO is your direct boss. You may have a job description but you may have had to write it yourself!

What are the typical challenges in this sort of role?

You have to use the people that are available. You may find a lot of tasks haven’t been picked up by anybody – having to sort them out when it’s not really your job. Splitting time between multiple clients and multiple tasks. Most of my roles have involved a lot of firefighting and lack of financial resources.

What strengths do you need – what do you need to learn?

You need to be able to self start, to speak out and ask around for the help and knowledge you need. Be able to communicate across, sideways, up and down.

Generally PM qualifications are not really important. Deep experience is vital but you need to look externally to network; PIPMG has been vitally useful for me!

Does a small company PM role prepare you to move to a large Pharma?

Not sure! You do have a breadth of responsibility in a small company – a large Pharma role would be tighter and more limited, with more procedural, rigid processes!

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