How the Pharma Logistics industry can move away from firefighting mode

Improving processes to drive productivity, with Carolyn Williamson, former Principal Packaging Engineer at Bristol-Myers

process blocks

Carolyn is President of Parenteral Supply Chain and a former Principal Packaging Engineer at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Throughout her career and through her recent experience supporting companies through Parenteral, she has seen first hand the increasing pressure being placed on those working in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

In this interview, we discuss the growing demand to be leaner, how to systemize to reduce the operational burden of key tasks and why collaboration in the industry could lead to quicker problem-solving.

Related: Mike Baird, Esko, shares three areas holding you back from packaging and labelling process excellence


Pharma IQ: What is the biggest issue that professionals in Pharma Logistics are facing?

Carolyn: “In general, the pharma industry is being asked to get their products out there faster and cheaper, and to be leaner.

It really doesn’t matter where within that process you fall – everyone is being asked to be lean.

So if you can imagine these people are feeling even more pressure and sometimes are asked to make decisions and move products even quicker but with very little resource and time to support them.

When you’re already so understaffed and overwhelmed, with multiple product lines, growing demand and people are struggling to make decisions or holding unnecessary meetings – how do you handle that?

"It really doesn't matter where within the process you fall - everyone is being asked to be lean"

There is a desire, that if they could stop being in firefighting mode, they could move to being proactive. It doesn’t matter whether you are a small or large organization, being proactive is critical.

I think one of the ways to do this is to come up with a standardized process so you can manage different staff coming in and out and reduce the thought process and the amount of work you have to do. This might sound simple, but most organizations aren’t doing this, at least not with all of their processes. “


Pharma IQ: What is the first step that people can take when looking to improve their processes?

Carolyn: “There are some basic steps. But this is hard, because if you’re already in firefighting mode you have to make the time to be proactive.

You need to dedicate time to researching your industry for new methods, you need to engage in networking and talk to other people in your industry.

You might also need to decide if you need assistance and what kind of outside resources could help you.

Then once you say you actually want to make a change, you have to go from saying ‘I’m going to take some time to research’ to ‘I’m going to dedicate my time to this’. It can take way more time than you think it will make a change and you have to have a plan or I guarantee you will not complete it.”

Read More: William Botha, Roche Group, shares insight on how to master lean leadership in logistics


Pharma IQ: What is the value in having an objective set of eyes to review your current processes?

Carolyn: “Someone with an outside perspective can find it easier to navigate your processes, they don’t have to worry about different politics or personalities, they can be very objective about what is working and what isn’t.

They can look at your process now and say what you’re doing meets requirements, but if you want to be standardized and more efficient, you could approach it in this way.

Taking an objective set of eyes to processes can reveal hidden efficiencies

There may be a process that you’re doing and you don’t even know the reason why you’re doing it, and the person who created the process may not even be there anymore. But you could be hostage to the fact that this is always the way you’ve done it or people are emotionally committed to the old or current process. Someone who is there and who is objective can help you to really review this and streamline to get to where you really want to be.”


Pharma IQ: Having worked with a number of different companies, what do you find to be commonality across the industry?

Carolyn: “I think the commonality in the industry is that everyone wants to do really good work, they believe in the product and strive to bring about the best outcome for the patient.

I just feel that what I see is that they are often overwhelmed. There are just so many things to be an expert on.

I think the industry is small, especially as you move into your niche. Therefore, it’s important to network with the people within your niche and take some of your valuable time to do so. Because there’s a lot of people who are suffering through the exact same problem as you, and we can work together to get to the solution.

Although the companies may be vying against each other with different products, all of us in the industry have the same passion and the same desire – to bring the best product for the patient.

"There's a lot of people suffering through the exact same problem as you, and we can work together to get to a solution"

So we can all help each other along the whole process. You can keep the company-specific things out and still be transparent about your day to day problems and solutions.

This can help you feel less alone and overwhelmed and more connected.”

Did you enjoy this article? Why not check out our report on Change and Collaboration in Logistics