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Fire Fighting or Fire Prevention

Designed for pharma planners by a pharma planner.

We love and respect our fire fighters!  They risk their lives to have our backs and yes they are heroes!  But, what about those who work to prevent fires?  Aren’t they heroes too?  By preventing fire, they save not only our lives, but also fire fighters’ lives!  As people who work in the background, fire-preventers are often understated but crucial!


Why am I talking about fire-fighting and fire prevention?


Well, pharmaceutical supply chain teams are often compared to fire fighters!  There are so many “fires” to put out in our line of work.  I remember once I had a boss who loved the spotlight as a “fire fighter”.  When there was a glitch in the supply chain, he got so excited and pulled together meeting after meeting to “fight the fire”.  Afterward, he would call a meeting to celebrate and write a report to his boss on how he had saved the day.


I admired his high energy and resourcefulness.  But what troubled me was that the same fire would flare up again down the road.  He was a good firefighter, but he didn’t analyze why the fire started in the first place and how to prevent it from happening again.


In pharmaceutical supply chain operations, good supply plans should be equipped with “fire prevention” measures:  scenario analysis, upside and downside plans, expiry risk alert, product life cycle transition plan, jurisdiction control.  When these are missing, a team resorts to constant fire-fighting. 


A vivid example was when a company I worked for rushed to scale up the drug product manufacturing process.  Working in silos, the manufacturing head met with the executive team and got approval to move forward with the project.  Once the news reached the supply chain team, I was surprised to learn the amount of drug product coming out of the validation batches.  Some of the production batches had already been committed with the CMO, so I worried we might face huge expiry risk.  I performed some scenario planning, calculating expiry risk under different scenarios and finally concluded the validation batches needed to be pushed out by a few months to avoid an expensive inventory write-off.  The ability to run expiry risk under different scenarios in this example is a great “fire prevention” measure.  It saved tens of millions of dollars for the company, not to mention its reputation on Wall Street.


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