From pyramid to communities: How pharma company reinvented themselves using Scrum

A pharmaceutical company (Roche Pharma Finland Oy) decided to transform their Operating model in late 2018. The implementation phase of the new Operating Model started in November 2019. The CEO of the company had three primary goals for the change:

  • To become more customer-driven instead of being product-centric
  • To transform the organisation from a pyramid to communities
  • To switch the leadership mindset from being in control to knowing what is going on

Ensuring alignment towards the common goal was the biggest issue in the new Operating Model and the company was using a "North Star" that would guide everyone in their decision making. Their North Star was "Better Outcomes for more patients faster".

Roche Pharma Finland had been experimenting with Scrum since late 2018 and after some positive experience they decided to go "all in" with Scrum at the end of 2019. Scrum was seen as a light-enough structure that would steer them towards the desired state. To support Scrum, they reorganised and created autonomous teams. Now each team was (in theory) fully capable of delivering the needed service to any client.

Change did not happen without pain and external coaches (us) were invited to help them through the process. Our initial assignment was to put together a base in all teams, boundaries that would help teams to self-organise. Eventually the work grew bigger and we helped teams in numerous ways to improve their work - and the lives of their patients.

After just few weeks the world stopped as Covid-19 restrictions kicked in. A pharmaceutical company was especially vulnerable since their customers were high-risk individuals (doctors and nurses in hospitals) - all in-person contacts were cancelled immediately and company needed to re-invent most of their working practices. This included team work (from post-it walls to Trello), customer contact (live meetings to Google Meet) and marketing events (from conference travel to organising virtual events). After 9 months it became obvious that Agile and Scrum was indeed a competitive advantage. Despite working in a highly regulated environment, they can use learning, experimentation and team work.

This experience report shows how we created Scrum Baseline for teams and how key elements of Scrum (Product Backlog, Sprint Planning, Sprint Review and Retrospective) were designed in this context. We link this learning into Cynefin "Enabling contraints" We also share our learnings about becoming a team - working as a real team that was one of the key ingredients in their success. We also discuss what are the success factors for teamwork in remote setting and how to make a transition from office-centric setting to online collaboration.

Sami Lilja Jarkko Kailanto Marita Saanila-Sotamaa
Session Format