February 21, 2022
 min read

My Story: How I stumbled into Project Management? (Thank you, Humira)

How I accidentally (although fortunately) stumbled into Project Management

In 2006, I had just sold a specialized CRM system for the pharmaceutical industry in an enterprise deal to Abbott. Veeva did not exist as yet. And I had successfully beaten Salesforce, Dendrite, Cegedim, Stay-in-Front, Microsoft Dynamics, and a few other CRM vendors of the day to win a multimillion-dollar deal for the small software company in Australia that I was working for at the time.

Impressed with my year-long work that finally ended in the partnership, Abbott offered me a fantastic role to join them.

Abbott was launching a multibillion-dollar drug, Humira, throughout the world for several indications. They wanted to run a disciplined operation for launching the indications, each building upon the lessons from the previous one, from one country to the other, in a 54 country region from Japan to Germany.

With Humira, Abbott was third in the market, right behind Enbrel from Amgen and Remicade from Johnson & Johnson. For consistency of brand narrative across their global audience of doctors in multiple specialties, Abbott wanted to align their pharmaceutical reps everywhere to deliver the same product messaging and benefit story to every doctor within each target specialty worldwide.

On the first day, my boss asked me to prepare a “project plan” to help align various launch teams for different indications within the countries preparing for their respective launches. The objective was to harmonize launch strategies, marketing tactics, and technology systems across groups to execute launches flawlessly in every market in the face of heavy competition.

It was the first time I used Microsoft Project.

I had no formal education or prior experience in project management. I had to rely on my organized and systematic approach to work, which helped me pick up the art and science of project management.

The PMs in our IT team were adept at MSP, so I did not have trouble learning the PM concepts behind the tool's capabilities. Soon, I realized that while MSP was powerful, it was designed for specialist practitioners of the profession. It was perceived as cumbersome by the folks running our launch teams everywhere, who did not use it, and neither did their team members.

PMs managed the cross-functional projects at a very high level via Powerpoint slides and in some functions on Excel spreadsheets.

However, I realized we needed a simple yet easy-to-use methodology and system to coordinate efforts among and within teams effectively.

I was curious, really intrigued with the power of project management, and was hungry to learn about ways to simplify it, so I dived in to learn all that I could find about different methodologies and tools.

Among methodologies, Agile was new then, and TCM had just come out, so I started learning everything I could find about the whys and hows of PMBOK and PRINCE2.

Fortunately, I was pursuing an MBA in parallel then, so I got a lot of help from my professors and peers to quickly learn and absorb the material.

In prevailing technologies, I came across PPM tools like Primavera and Planisware, which were too complex for regular folk. Most PMs I met who were using them also struggled with them. I experimented with many of the lightweight task management systems of the day, but they fell short of the sophistication we needed to coordinate workflows among teams across countries.

Ultimately, we settled on using Microsoft Sharepoint to design a system internally. With just enough elegance to do all the jobs needed, from task to project, program, and portfolio management — yet simple enough for every kind of user in all the functions. We had a talented global IT team who knew Microsoft technologies well, so it was a solid decision.

We had ample resources and management support to build, implement, and roll out the system. So for the next two years, our team worked hard and long to create something that could work.

Our concepts and ideas about the methods and processes we wanted to support were sound. I had interviewed dozens of users at different levels, from every type, culture, function, and complexity in roles that we wanted to support. And we created detailed spec documents on what we would need in the system.

But Microsoft Sharepoint proved too inflexible to mold into what was needed. And the compromises we came up with due to the technology’s limitations were rejected by the end users when we tried to implement them.

Building our own PPM system proved to be too much effort and a drain on resources, so we had to abandon the effort. We ended up executing the launches with slides and spreadsheets - and a LOT of costly top-tier consultants. Technology failed in reducing costs and improving efficiency.

In summary, while I successfully supported the Humira launches by rolling out a unified CRM for Abbott throughout our international markets, I could not get the pleasure of implementing the elegant PPM system our team had so painstakingly envisioned.

My journey into the project management world was sudden and based on the need of the hour. I did not plan it. Yet I’m very grateful that I stumbled into it, for it introduced me to my true calling of organizing work and uniting teams.

Today I’m wedded to the practice and profession of project management. I have made the conscious choice to dedicate myself to the global PPM community and spend my time helping people who help others achieve their objectives.

Have feedback or thoughts? Please get in touch. I would love to learn from you.

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