Avoiding POA Chaos, Part II: Planning Best Practices

By Sue Iannone

Famous general and former President, Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  When it comes to life sciences plan of action (POA) meetings, I’d say I definitely agree with the second part of that statement.  Good planning is quite indispensable.

In part I of this series, we covered the need for a governance process to help ensure that POA meetings run smoothly and achieve business objectives.  Assuming you’re optimizing your POA process in a linear fashion, dealing with the general approach to planning comes right on the heels of establishing a governance process.  In this installment, we review some best practices for POA meeting planning.

Planning is Important but Easy to Overlook

Every POA cycle needs planning.  Unfortunately, this is where a lot of organizations fall short.  When you think about it, Marketing is busy creating tactics and building materials.  They’re not always thinking about “the meeting.”  L&D is usually busy with what seems like a million different projects, and it’s easy to lose focus on the next POA meeting.

However, that date is going to come and go regardless, so you’ve got to be ready for it.  In part I, we mentioned that preparing for a POA meeting is a lot like running a baton race.  Each “runner” (Marketing, Legal, L&D, whoever) must typically get their part done before handing it off to the next.  Delays at any point in the chain can cause problems.

L&D is usually the last runner in the baton race, so they often take the brunt of those problems.  This is why it’s very important that L&D spearhead efforts to ensure timely, effective planning for every POA cycle.

Some POA Planning Best Practices

As you work to develop and implement a strong process for planning POA meetings, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t delay getting started.

It should go without saying that you need to give yourself enough runway to get everything done.  Perhaps that’s 90 days, maybe it’s 120 days.  It’s definitely not 60 days, though I’ve seen that (and less) on multiple occasions.  In your specific company, you know how long it takes to get things through Medical, Regulatory, and Legal (MRL) review, so be sure to plan for it.  The exact amount of time needed will vary by company, but don’t forget to start with the end in mind, and then work your timelines backwards from there.

  1. Do a Needs Assessment and know what you need to build.

It’s critical to work with your key stakeholders to perform a needs assessment up front.  This will help you define the business objectives, behavioral objectives, and the resultant learning objectives for the meeting.  That, in turn, will help determine what needs to be developed for the meeting.  It sounds like common sense to say it, but it’s best to approach a POA in the same way you’d approach developing any L&D curriculum.

The needs assessment and resulting training don’t need to be super-complicated. And, if you’ve adopted a strategic mindset towards POA and established governance, you certainly need not begin this from scratch.  By attending business reviews and other key stakeholder meetings, you may already have a good idea of the needs of the business.  If your organization has not taken a strategic approach to POAs, you can still move forward in an effective way.  What you need to build stems from the focus of the meeting.

What do we mean by this? If it’s a “POA-lite” situation, meaning if a meeting only needs to share a refresh of existing materials and/or only involves one business unit or product, then simple may be the best way to go.  In contrast, if a POA will encompass a new selling model, new data, a launch, multiple teams, and so on, then it’s going to get complicated.  That will also affect timelines, so it pays to conduct the needs assessment far enough in advance to allow for either type of scenario.

  1. Line up your resources.

Once you know what you need to build for the meeting, you need to ask yourself a critical question:  Do we have the resources we need to do all this effectively?

If you do, then that’s great!  If not, then you may need to outsource some aspects of the work, and you’ll need to determine what those are.  Alternatively, you might be able to get other company personnel to help out.  For example, perhaps a Field Trainer or a District Manager could contribute as an “extra set of hands” as part of a special project.

Or, if funding is the issue, it may be necessary to ask Marketing to kick in some extra dollars to help get the job done.  The point is, you’ll need to systematically compare the resources you need with what you have, then determine the best way to plug any gaps.

  1. Don’t wait on Marketing for final materials.

In general, it’s OK to start working on your training programs before Marketing has finalized the core materials.  Draft materials will typically suffice, at least at the outset.  This will help you get a head-start, or at least minimize the effects of any delays that Marketing or other stakeholders experience.  With only a few weeks left before a POA meeting, it’s much easier to tweak a strawman workshop that is “80% right”, than to wait to the last minute and build an entire workshop from scratch.  A solid and effective workshop, that is!

For any last-minute requests or changes, have a contingency plan (which might include saying “no” if the request is unreasonable, unrealistic, or “nice to have”).  L&D professionals who oblige these last-minute changes run the risk of having poorly executed solutions and are ultimately seen as order-takers versus strategic partners.

  1. Scale best practices beyond a single POA event.

It’s best to deploy best practices across POAs in general, and not treat every POA as a unique, siloed event.  Once you have determined your POA planning process, and the best practices that go along with it, be sure to document and institutionalize them as the way to approach all POA planning efforts.  Given the transitory nature of many personnel in the L&D department, you will want to make sure that your best practices outlive any single meeting…and the tenure of any single team member.

What’s Next?

So, we’ve covered best practices for POA governance and for POA planning.  In the next installment, the “rubber will meet the road” and we’ll look at best practices for POA execution.

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