Maybe you noticed – 2020 was a crazy year.

Like meeting the Pope or becoming a parent for the first time, the phrase “once in a lifetime” keeps popping up in conversation as a way to describe what we are all living through. Hopefully, in the case of last year, the description is on target and won’t happen again, in our lifetime.

And yet, given all that still rages around us, how do we make plans for the year and carry them out as we have always done? After all, planning is as important as ever – maybe more so now. It is our connective tissue while we are apart.

The planning processes may change (e.g., remote working), as may the approach to implementing our plans (e.g., technology opportunities, changing healthcare system realities). But the core essence of the plans remain – goals, timelines, financials, strategic imperatives, key stakeholders, etc.

This question – how to plan amidst the mayhem – requires many points of view and is too big for one person to attempt an answer (!), so I have turned to two extraordinary client-facing leaders on my team for their insights: Marnie Hoolahan, Managing Director, and Colleen Moore, Executive Consultant.

What follows are their thoughts – and mine – as we move forward into what is sure to be another tumultuous year.

Marnie Hoolahan:

Use Q1 as a time to reflect on your company, your asset, or even your personal goals. What can you learn from 2020? How can you prioritize the focus for you or your team?

  1. Determine the must-haves. Which items in your plan are most critical? What can you deliver against personally? How do you rally the team to support you? It is less about delivering “perfect” messages than it is providing a forum where voices are heard, collaboration occurs, and camaraderie is built.
  2. Prioritize how the work gets done. Email, Zoom, and MS Teams are overwhelming us all. Consider whether you can introduce innovative ways to conduct meetings, communicate with your team, and celebrate success. Dare I say, how about embracing some of those cool tools the millennials use, like Slack, Mural, or Monday? We use Smartsheet, and it has made a huge difference in our collaboration.
  3. Understand what success looks like. We always ask our clients when we plan for a workshop, a brand plan, a medical strategy, etc. – What do you want to memorialize about this “thing?” Is it the actual deliverable, or is the process, the learning, the collaboration that must resonate?

Colleen Moore:

Our changing circumstances provide an opportunity to think about the “so what” of our planning processes. Often, we implement processes because they have “always been done,” but it is important to understand what decisions are informed by planning and ensure a tight linkage back to the strategy.

  1. Consider the human factor. Even in the best of times, planning processes are challenging. Bake in some levity and fun in planning meetings; ensure that everyone feels aligned around the same objectives. Sometimes, in these endeavors, the process is as important as the product.
  2. Keep planning teams lean and focused. Often, companies err on the side of including a cast of thousands in planning. A diversity of perspectives is worthwhile, but ultimately, planning will be more efficient and impactful if those involved have clear, specific roles and are empowered to make decisions and move the process forward. Consider using polling tools to gather input from a broad section of the company, but leave the planning to just a few key players.
  3. Avoid process for process sake. Make it clear which decisions and outputs are driven by the planning process and how the resulting plan will be used. The best plans don’t “sit on a shelf;” they guide efforts and are referred to often throughout the year and are intricately linked with and informed by strategy.

Sue Nemetz:

Such wise insights from Marnie and Colleen with a common theme to reflect and consider what is needed for all stakeholders, including the planning team. To round out that thinking:

  1. Choose a planning framework. As we have discussed in the past, a planning framework links everyone in a clear, collaborative effort. It provides purpose, energy, and focus. So, give it a brand name, “launch it” in a company or team forum, clarify what output is expected and what each person’s contribution will be. Use virtual sharing platforms and be creative.


There are no right answers in the face of this kind of uncertainty. The imperative to continue moving forward so that we realize the benefits of biopharma’s innovation and creativity is as strong as ever.

We wish you much success in making 2021 the best it can be.