On Outsourcing

Our dear colleague, Dr. Derek Lowe, had a post yesterday presenting a letter from a reader addressed to C&EN that they felt wouldn’t be published because the author wishes to remain anonymous.

While I lack the reach of Derek’s In The Pipeline, this humble blog is at least on the pixel side of the mag. Of course, everyone here already has In The Pipeline in their blogroll, but I thought I’d offer further support to Derek’s reader in their response to a C&EN article on outsourcing to provide some realism that might not be appreciated by industry beancounters:

In a recent edition (25th Oct 2010 “The Grand Experiment”) you state that Merck & Co targets 25% external R&D and that AstraZeneca is striving for 40%. I recently talked to all the project managers which oversee our current collaborations. The stories of naivety, incompetence and missed deadlines by the outsource companies were legion. The managers I talked to mostly used in-house resource and expertise to paper over the cracks. Why?

When asked whether they had reported these problems up the chain of command, the answer was always no. The reasons?

1 “If we have four collaborations and mine is the only one reporting problems, which three project managers do you think will get a bonus?”

2 “They won’t believe me, they will just think I am trying to protect jobs here”.

3 “You can’t swim against the tide”.

4 “When it goes bad here, I might be able to get a job with the collaborator”.

5 “My next job will be outside chemistry as a project manager. The last thing I need is any negative vibes around this collaboration”.

6 “I want to be the out-sourcing manager when that is all that there is left here. Do you think I want any trouble to become visible”

So, as far as senior management know, it is all going very well.

Unfortunately I can’t attach my name and organization. I need a job too and telling the truth is not always that popular, as many out-sourcing managers will have experienced. . .

Derek, of course, frames the discussion as only he can. His whole post is always worth reading for context but he closes with, “What you don’t want is Something Upper Management Will Be Told Is Going Great, if it’s really not.”

Author: David Kroll

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  1. The letter was sent to C&EN, and it reached my desk this morning. Because the letter writer identified him/herself to me–which means it is not an anonymous letter–I decided to publish it with the identifier appended to the letter: Senior medicinal chemist, Largepharma. It will appear in an upcoming issue of C&EN.

  2. Thanks for giving this some publicity on this end! This sort of thing is a problem in any hierarchical organization, but managers need to be constantly reminded of that. . .

  3. Fantastic, gentlemen! Thank you, Derek, for originally posting the letter and stimulating the lively discussion at your blog. And thank you, Rudy, for being so responsive to the writer’s message – a perfect example of where a pseudonym is entirely appropriate. I’m certain that when this letter is published in C&EN it will generate even more letters in discussing a central issue of concern to chemists.