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The Best Metrics to Track For in Biotech

By Praveen Tipirneni, CEO of Morphic Therapeutic Inc. Originally published on Quora.

Most companies measure the success of their team using metrics like revenue, sales, and earnings.

That’s not always feasible at a biotech company. It might be a decade or more before the company actually profits from a drug. With timelines that stretch years into the future, biotech needs a way of measuring team dynamics in the here and now. Do we think they can deliver in the future?

The problem is that most metrics are backward-looking.

“How many units did we sell last year? Did we accomplish our goals last quarter?”

But teams need metrics that are forward-looking. This way, the team can determine if they’re likely to hit their milestones, rather than assessing performance in the rear view mirror after it’s too late to adjust.

I modified a set of metrics that are helpful for measuring team dynamics in a biotech startup. And I turned them into a survey we give to management and teams periodically.

It’s a great way to see if we’re heading in the right direction with a strong, motivated team. All the metrics on the survey use a simple 1–5 scale. The higher the number, the better. A low number shows where there may be an issue among the team.

Here’s what it looks like:

And these 12 metrics help answer three of the most pressing questions about a team.

Are Staffing Needs Being Met?

It’s tough for any team to reach their full potential if they’re understaffed or underskilled.

That’s why we compare statements like:

  • Few others on the team know what to do versus All the others on the team know what to do
  • We don’t have the capabilities we need versus We have all the capabilities we need

These measure whether or not the team has the skills and team support they need to do their job best.

Using these metrics, I discovered our team was slow to recognize when we didn’t have all the technical skills we needed. Going out and recruiting someone with a high level of expertise takes time, and sometimes there were delays in adding those skills to the team. But it’s always better to know that now, when the problem can be addressed thoughtfully.

Is The Team Gelling?

We use a lot of metrics that measure the cohesiveness of the team.

We want to know if people are easily assimilated when they join the company, how fluid our teams are, and whether people are cooperative when the team implements decisions.

To figure this out, we use the statements:

  • Few people on the team can depend on one another (get things done on time and meet expectations) versus All people on the team can depend on one another (get things done on time and meet expectations)
  • Few people on the team know what information is important to others versusAll people on the team know what information is important to the others
  • Few people on the team understand one another versus All people on the team understand one another — we “speak the same language”
  • The work has no personal significance to team members versus The work has much personal significance to each member

There are so many scientific disciplines that are required for drug discovery — from biology and chemistry to toxicology and genetics — and sometimes these different groups can become functionally isolated. We want to make sure that information is flowing freely, and that our team is working cohesively.

Is The Team Confident?

One of the questions on our survey asks whether or not there are hidden agendas regarding a project.

Obviously, we want as few hidden agendas as possible, but we ask questions like that because we want the team to be working in a way that will lead to success later on.

Hidden agendas, a lack of transparency or dependability, or other team dysfunction makes it unlikely that we’ll hit those long-term goals. They sap the confidence from a team. We’re interested in understanding if people are comfortable challenging each other, if everyone is contributing in meetings, and whether data is being freely shared.

The statements to gauge confidence are:

  • Few people know the team’s goals and have a well defined role versus Each person know the team’s goals and has a well defined role
  • On this project, there are many hidden agendas versus On this project, there are few or no hidden agendas
  • The group doesn’t believe the work impacts society positively versus The group believes the work is purposeful and positively impacts society
  • Few on the team feel safe to take risks, voice their opinions and ask judgement free questions versus All on the team feel safe to take risks, voice their opinions and ask judgement free questions
  • Few feel like they are making progress daily versus Everyone feels like they are making progress daily
  • Few feel a sense of agency/ownership of the work versus Everyone feels ownership of their work

Determining Success

We use these metrics to figure out whether we’re moving in the right direction.

In a biotech startup like ours, the assumptions to knowledge ratio is very high because we’re still in the early stages. We perform scientific research in areas that haven’t been explored before. The goal is to constantly test assumptions to decrease risk and increase knowledge.

The metrics help us figure out if our team is able to do that, improving quarter to quarter.

And the survey also leads to great discussions. Both management and employees can take this survey in different situations. Sometimes, they come up with different answers. Management might believe a project or team is doing well, that they aren’t short on any key skills. But employees believe they are missing essential skills. Now, we can reassess and fill in the gaps — instead of discovering it later once we’ve missed our objective.

The forward-looking metrics serve as an early warning system that helps solve issues before they grow into major problems.

They work for nearly any company but are especially helpful at larger companies. At smaller companies, you know what’s going on at some level. You don’t lose track of projects and can usually see what everyone’s working on. It’s harder for someone or something to stay hidden.

But the survey works best with honest answers. These metrics only show issues if employees feel comfortable telling you what’s going on right now. If they do, you’ll always have consistent feedback that ensures your team is strong and your company is moving in the right direction.

By Praveen Tipirneni, CEO of Morphic Therapeutic Inc. Originally published on Quora.
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