The one year chronicle and learnings of a new UMT consultant
UMT CEO, Gil Makleff’s response to my question on what I could expect as a new consultant was unflinchingly honest, “You’ll be thrown in and you will either sink or swim.” We were mid-conversation during the first of two interviews I’d have with UMT in November, 2013, and Gil knew I was coming straight from a post-doc at an engineering school with no consulting or corporate experience. Curious statement for an interviewee to hear, but appealing nonetheless – I do enjoy a challenge. My idea of consulting till that point was drawn from second-hand accounts and I was eager to know what to expect straight from a primary source.
Still, much like anything else, consulting must be experienced, before one can say they know anything about it.
Moving on to January, 2014, I was now undergoing the three week new hire “boot-camp” training at UMT’s NYC-based headquarters in the hands of Sy, the company’s inimitable Knowledge Manager. Sy’s boot-camp was peppered with witty and memorable anecdotes from his consulting experience. With wisdom which comes from years in the field, he had much to share about change management, handling opposing viewpoints between C-suite executives, and providing solutions to recalcitrant stakeholders who may be unable to adequately articulate their problems. (In hindsight, this is pretty typical. By listening carefully and asking pointed questions, a good consultant unearths pain points and delivers a solution to problems the clients may not even think they have.)
Sometime in the second week of boot-camp, I learned that I was to be placed at a pharmaceutical client in NJ. Intrigued by Pharma, I read what I could about the client and its R&D pipeline. Despite not knowing much about the project I was assigned to, I was fairly certain I could handle it. After all, I had scientific training, and surely drug development was something I could manage! I spent my boot-camp breaks in rather naïve reveries of how I’d help manage clinical studies using the iron triangle, work with scientists, restructure lab protocols, and so on. Sink or swim? I’d be surfing!
Imagine my surprise when I learned on-site that I was going to support program management on the “commercial” side of the business rather than R&D, i.e. drug launch, sales, marketing, and supply chain-related matters. Right…
Through the mentorship of more experienced team-members and constant questioning curiosity on my part, I was able to quickly mature my industry knowledge. By the middle of 2014, I had acquired enough pharma-specific knowledge to advise stakeholders on content-related issues. As I immersed myself in UMT methodology, I was able to deliver to the client what they wanted using our tools and practices.
However, I still wasn’t delivering what I thought was needed. The brand launch I helped support was disorganized, with poor communication between the brand lead and the various functions. As a result, there was slow cross-functional reaction to tactical delays which were all leading the launch past its scheduled date. The brand lead and team were like a conductor and orchestra playing to different sheets of music. With the aid of white papers, case studies, and my own experience in the brand, I crafted a deck of launch best practices for the brand lead. Working with other UMT team members, we then established an integrated launch timeline report for the brand team. Building on this, we are now developing a launch platform solution to enable a more uniform approach to the commercial portfolio of launching drugs at the client. If successful, the tool will provide resolution to two major pain points within the organization: no historical launch playbook and no standardized launch execution or management.
It is now February, 2015, and I am in a place where every day is a new challenge that I’m more than equipped to deal with. Ultimately, I’ve found that consulting is a constant assessment of and reaction to the client environment, understanding pain points anywhere from those bothering a single stakeholder to the organization at large and, at the end of the day, always over-delivering. And since I’ve been fortunate enough to work with exceptionally bright people – I am richer for the experience, both professionally and personally. I look forward to year 2 and am excited for what the future holds.
These are choppy but sunny waters, and I’m swimming.