Great ideas are precious things. They are the fuel driving innovation, the sustenance of progress, the energy that powers success. Not all great ideas are so great in practice, however. In the life sciences, as in all industries, ideas that are put into action need to be periodically re-evaluated to make sure they are working out to be as good as we thought they were. If they are not, then we would be best off scrapping them and focusing our energy and resources on something else … but life science companies seem to have a very hard time doing so, and this inability is to their detriment.
For your information...Want to learn more about go / kill decision making? You can read about the stage-gate project management technique, from which go / kill is based, on Wikipedia.
The area where this lack of go / kill is most prominent and has the largest effects is product development. Life science product development projects have well-defined milestones and easily tracked metrics, yet go / kill criteria are usually nonexistent and when they are they are most often poorly defined and almost never strictly obeyed. Put simply, not having such criteria is a poor business practice and not obeying them is a poor business decision. Go / kill criteria are defined based on the risk at any point in time in comparison to the revenue potential. This information, which may be subjective but is still based on the best knowledge and information at the time the criteria is created, tells us whether we are likely to achieve our desired returns at any stage-gate (the point at the project when the go / kill decision is made) if we move forward with the project. If you are unlikely to achieve the desired returns, and resources would be better allocated elsewhere then the kill decision should be made, yet it very rarely is.
It is, to some extent, easy to understand why companies so infrequently utilize stage-gates successfully. Kill decisions are hard to make. In our business culture, killing a project is often interpreted as the project failing and this can cloud the business judgment of those on the team who do not want to appear to have been on a failed project. In practice, recognizing the need for a project kill and implementing it should be commendable, a gesture that the project team are willing to put the greater good of the company as a whole. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. No one ever handed out a “best project kill decision of the year” award. Kills are not seen as an achievement but project completion is, so most often projects push on even in the kind of adversity that makes desired returns extremely unlikely.
Other types of endeavors can benefit from stage-gate type go / kill decision making. For example, marketing campaigns can be periodically re-evaluated for ROI determination. If the ROI is not up to par, the campaign can be killed in favor of another which has a greater likelihood of success. Distributor / supplier relationships can be subjected to go / kill, and because of easily quantifiable metrics these decisions can be very easily gauged. Go / kill gates can even be easily and beneficially applied to the continuation of existing products. There are a multitude of other areas where life science companies can benefit from such gates as well.
Ensuring that resources are allocated to areas providing the greatest benefits is a cornerstone of a successful company. Ongoing projects and processes have a need to be periodically reevaluated to determine if they should be continued or “killed” in favor of other more promising endeavors. Despite this, life science companies rarely use go / kill decisions. Implementation of stage-gates and proper adherence to go / kill criteria will help life science companies ensure that that their resources are more optimally allocated and utilized.