Bolster your agile team value with specialized external support.

Ensure compliance with expert reinforcements.

By: Multiple Contributors

Bolster your agile team value with specialized external support.

Listen: Bolster your agile team value with specialized external support.

Key Takeaways

  • Agile marketers can increase efficiency with additional support from specialized functions like Anchoring Specialists and Content Automation.
  • Support reduces complexity for teams in regulated industries like pharma through tasks like referencing and compliance reviews.
  • Roles like Content Stewards and Project Managers improve workflow by managing tasks and liaising between groups.
  • External teams ensure smooth sprints by handling unexpected work and mitigating the challenges of high workloads, thus allowing core teams to focus on their goals.
  • Early awareness of support services empowers teams to utilize assistance when needed.

The theoretical self-sufficiency of Agile marketing teams is an appealing concept. It suggests that a small, cross-functional group can independently navigate complex projects, pivoting as necessary and delivering value. However, the reality is often more complicated, particularly in highly regulated industries like pharmaceuticals.

For many Agile teams, external support from a vital partner helps ensure their success. By  turning to external support for certain specialized functions, Agile teams can enhance their efficiency and output while navigating critical review processes. Successfully navigating these regulatory and compliance workflows can mean the difference between a marketing team merely surviving and truly thriving.

Through many years of experience, we have developed a unique approach and set of solutions for Agile teams in highly regulated industries like pharmaceutical, healthcare, and financial services. In this blog post, we explore how this approach can help Agile marketers reduce complexity, overcome challenges, and unlock the full potential of the Agile methodology.

Agile team production 

Far from being a sign of weakness or dependence, many Agile teams rely on specialized expertise that isn't needed all the time. For instance, in the pharmaceutical industry, regulatory compliance is critical. It requires a deep understanding of complex legal frameworks and ever-evolving guidelines. While it's possible for an Agile team to have a member with this expertise, it's often more efficient to engage external regulatory consultants who specialize in this area.

Another area where external support is often needed is technology. Agile teams may lack the in-house skills to implement certain technological solutions. In these cases, they may rely on external Information Technology (IT) consultants or vendors.

Embracing external support enhances the principles of Agile marketing: Far from undermining the Agile marketing philosophy, the utilization of external support can actually reinforce it. At its core, Agile is all about delivering value swiftly and adapting to change efficiently. When external support is employed as a tool for achieving these objectives, it becomes a powerful ally in our Agile journey.

The biggest challenge for Agile teams in highly regulated industries is arguably maintaining agility while ensuring compliance. The nature of regulation is that it imposes certain constraints and requirements. These can slow down processes and make it harder for teams to pivot quickly.

There's often tension between the need for speed and innovation and the need for rigorous controls and documentation. Striking the right balance is a constant challenge. Agile teams need to work closely with their regulatory counterparts to ensure that they can operate effectively within these constraints.

Ensuring a smooth sprint

Agile marketers often find themselves stretched thin, trying to balance their core responsibilities while also managing unexpected tasks or challenges. This is where external partners can make a significant difference, preventing the Agile team from becoming overwhelmed and ensuring a smooth sprint.

For example, one of our clients had 25 Agile teams tasked with content creation, but they didn't have the capacity for the meticulous tasks involved with referencing, annotating, and anchoring every resource created. The process was not only time-consuming but also required specialized skills. By outsourcing this task to the Aquent Studios, it freed up the Agile teams to focus on the next best engagement (NBE), optimizing their productivity and effectiveness.

Another example from our pharmaceutical clients where external support proved invaluable was during label updates. In the pharmaceutical industry, changes in safety information require all in-market jobs to be reviewed and either updated with new safety information or expired. This can mean dozens of jobs being rebuilt and approved in a short time frame—a massive undertaking for any Agile team. By using an external partner for assistance with these rebuilds, the core team could continue moving ahead with the marketing plan without getting bogged down in the update process.

These examples highlight how specialized external support can ensure a smooth sprint and make Agile marketing possible. By taking on additional or unexpected work, external support allows the core team to stay focused on their sprint goals. This can be particularly helpful when unexpected tasks arise, such as an urgent label update. Using an external partner to handle this work ensures that these additional tasks can be handled in tandem with the team's sprint goals.

Specialized teams

Introducing highly specialized roles like Content Stewards can greatly improve workflow efficiency for Agile marketers.

The role of a Content Steward has evolved from merely identifying and sourcing content based on the team's objectives to becoming a true “job owner.” They are responsible for driving the project through the requirements of project management software and ensuring that every task aligns with the team's overall goals. Content Stewards essentially function as project managers, maintaining all job statuses and liaising with third-party vendors and support groups. They work closely with every team member and outsource support groups, offering architect support and performing quality checks on the work of Copywriters and Designers. They also manage Medical Legal Reviews (MLR) and serve as liaisons for deployment vendors.

In essence, the Content Steward is the hub of the team, touching the job at all stages and keeping priorities moving. Their role ensures smooth communication and coordination among all participants, leading to improved efficiency and productivity.

When it comes to supporting an Agile marketing team, several outsourced functions can be beneficial:

  • Anchoring Specialists: These functions link all jobs to references and support materials, ensuring that all content is properly credited and traced back to reliable sources.
  • Content Automation: These functions assist with derivative job creation and label updates, streamlining these complex processes.
  • Pre-submissions Team: This function prepares and sends resources to regulatory bodies like the FDA for approval, ensuring compliance with all necessary regulations.
  • Reference Stewards: These functions upload, pre-anchor, and maintain references for use in jobs, ensuring consistent and easy access to necessary information.
  • Editorial Support and Project Managers: These functions may be available from creative agencies, providing additional support and guidance.

By incorporating these specific functions into their teams, companies can ensure that all aspects of their Agile marketing projects are effectively managed, leading to improved workflow efficiency and, ultimately, more successful project outcomes.

Enhancing efficiency and flexibility with external support

Agile teams can sometimes face challenges, such as hurdles in gaining internal regulatory approval or managing heavy workloads and staff vacations. These issues can potentially slow productivity and disrupt continuity. But, enlisting the help of an external agency can be a game-changer.

External support can expedite processes by pinpointing friction points and supplying clients with data and best practices to prevent future delays. This additional aid helps enhance the efficiency of the team and makes regulatory approval smoother.

Teams can further refine their processes by leveraging insights from external consultants, gaining fresh perspectives on job tracking and quality control. The Agile methodology fosters open communication, so team members should feel encouraged to propose improvements during sprint retrospectives. If group settings aren't comfortable, they can confer with the Certified DevOps Leader or Scrum Master. Overcoming productivity challenges in Agile teams requires in-depth issue analysis, proactive communication, and a readiness to adapt, all of which can be bolstered by external support.

External consultants can also provide much-needed flexibility and additional coverage in “floater” roles. These cross-trained individuals can manage tasks across various brands, ensuring continuity during periods of high workload or staff absences.

Unique strategies like cross-training core members or implementing a buddy system among Content Stewards can provide backup support. When workloads become overwhelming, communication with the Scrum Master and Certified DevOps Leader is essential to adjust sprint priorities. With an external support team at your disposal, managing workload becomes more efficient, making your Agile team more resilient and adaptable.

Increasing productivity

Leveraging external support is frequently overlooked in traditional training courses in the Agile world. However, recognizing and integrating this aspect can significantly enhance a team's efficiency and output.

Agile is a relatively new approach within the pharmaceutical industry. As such, teams often adopt a “learn as we go” mindset, making them open to additive workflows. This methodology of trial and error, and the invaluable learning that comes from it, has been a key component of success for many teams.

One of the ways we've demonstrated the value of external support to our clients is by providing Agile Digital Teams (ADTs) with comprehensive overviews of available support services. Before they even create their first jobs, client teams are made aware of all the ways they can lighten their workloads and utilize the expertise available to them. Each team can decide which services they need based on their unique requirements. Importantly, this support is not a one-off; it's available continuously or for individual occurrences as needed.

This presentation on available support services is made to all ADTs and also made to the directors of established ADTs, ensuring they're aware of the resources at their disposal.

The ability to tap into external support whenever a new or unique need arises is a significant advantage for Agile teams. They know they can reach out to Aquent Studios for support.

Looking to the future

As we look to the future, the role of external support for Agile marketing teams is poised for significant evolution. The integration of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in this transformation.

Automation, in its various forms, has the potential to greatly enhance productivity within Agile teams. However, it operates under the assumption that all inputs are compliant with label requirements, recent regulatory brand or class guidance, internal client approval hierarchies, and so forth. Ensuring that these inputs are consistently applied, which involves ensuring that team members adhere to these guidelines, will still necessitate oversight for the foreseeable future.

Consultants and creative agencies, being integral to in-house teams, should remain vigilant about potential roadblocks encountered by Agile teams. By staying alert, these larger organizations can offer timely solutions before problems escalate. Automation has been a key component of the support Aquent Studios provides.

The industry is already at the forefront of AI adoption, and agencies that can keep pace with them stand to benefit greatly. As AI and automation continue to advance, we can expect them to play an increasingly prominent role in shaping the nature of external support for Agile teams. This will involve not only leveraging these technologies to streamline workflows and boost productivity but also maintaining the necessary human oversight to ensure consistent compliance with various regulations and guidelines.

The future of outsourced support for Agile teams is exciting and dynamic, fueled by the integration of human expertise and advanced technology. As we move forward, the ability to adapt and evolve with these changes will be crucial for success.

About the Author

Image of Author

Cassie Mangiaruga

Content Steward Team Lead

Cassie is an inquisitive problem-solver with a strong work ethic and leadership skills. Since joining the Merck account almost six years ago, she has worked her way across the U.S. market in both Oncology and Non-Oncology. Cassie is currently the Team Lead for the Content Stewards on the Agile Digital Teams in Oncology. Prior to joining Aquent, Cassie was a Legal Assistant at multiple law firms, which gave her the passion for doing the right thing and helping those in need.

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Steve Kreshover

Managing Director, Aquent Studios 

Steve joined Aquent 5 years ago to manage one of the organization's largest and most important client engagements.

He is a veteran of the pharmaceutical marketing world with more than 30 years of leadership experience whose career has included senior account service and strategic oversight roles at some of the most prominent agency networks. In the process he has worked closely on product portfolios with Novartis, J&J, GSK, Merck, and several biotechs. His knowledge across multiple therapeutic categories provides invaluable insights into many of the marketing communications and operation challenges our clients face on a daily basis.

He also spent significant time at Merck helping lead their in-house global MarComm function. In addition to overseeing the Merck Marketing and AOR relationships, he served on brand steering committees which drove strategy, budgeting, and tactical development. Steve also led several initiatives which shaped annual planning, promotion development and regulatory reviews and many others that positively impacted operational efficiencies.

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Sue Tuttle

Anchoring Specialist Lead

Sue has worked in various marketing positions within Merck for more than 5 years, from Content Automation supporting all Merck brands, to her work with the Oncology Agile Digital Teams, as Content Steward, CS Lead and Anchoring Specialist Lead. Prior to her time with Aquent, her 25+ years as Editor and Manager in the publishing industry provided her with the—some might say overabundance of—attention to detail needed to excel at quality assurance, training and project management.

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Nancy Vaidya

Director, Strategic Account Operations

Nancy takes pride in being an employee at Aquent for almost 18 years.  During her tenure, she held multiple assignments at Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and is currently the Director of Strategic Account Operations on the Merck engagement.  She is an excellent troubleshooter and an “Out of the Box” thinker.  She was instrumental in identifying new business initiatives which contributed to the significant revenue growth for this account.  While managing the operations and execution of the teams, her process driven thinking led to the creation and growth of several teams supporting the therapeutic areas of oncology and vaccines.  Nancy's expertise in reporting, analyzing and developing solutions has been a major contributor to Aquent's success at Merck.

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