This blog marks the beginning of a three-part series titled 'Pharma’s Conundrum: Designing Beyond Concept' by John Dyson. The series provides a practical perspective on the evolution of project design within the pharmaceutical industry. In this initial post, we explore 'Product Iteration: A New Approach to Scheme Design – Minus the Mission creep.'

Over the last few years I have spent much of my time working on and thinking about projects in the very front end. Working to try and ensure that the purpose, value proposition and mission of companies are clearly expressed in the projects they decide to commission. Trying to do this well requires a different engagement with a client organization. Not one of waiting for a specification or brief, but one of asking searching questions, being curious, and, at times, challenging. There is a great deal of evidence that demonstrates that these approaches lead to projects which conceive of value well beyond normal experience.

The working assumption generally held in the pharmaceutical industry is that beyond the formulation of an accepted project concept, iterative and questioning approaches offer less value and maybe pose risks in later design stages. Therefore, the approach is to decide on a single concept to integrate the engineering structurally in an EPCM type contract and to focus purely on deliverables.

This idea does not match reality and undermines the ability to both hold on to and even augment the delivered value. As described by Henry Mintzberg about business strategy, engineering design will always include a combination of deliberate and emergent components. 

Pretending a high level of fixation at best is counterproductive and at worst destructive to the project’s ability to deliver value. This is not the dreaded “change” or “scope creep”, it is about how the proposed project scope will naturally mould and how it can be integrated with how it will be delivered both in its physical, digital, and operational forms. This integration itself will not leave the scope unchanged, the scope and concept will require adaption.

The question is how we use this emergence to the advantage of the project and the recipients of its value. The selected approach to Basic/Scheme Design and Detailed Design will impact the project’s ability to deliver the project intent and optimise value. This includes the way the work is planned and the way organizations are contracted and integrated.

In my next post, I will discuss Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and how value can be delivered and efficiencies derived from its application. In this blog, I reflect on how you approach planning for design with emergence.

I was asked to look at creating a schedule for the design of a modular, intensified-pharmaceutical plant, beyond its conceptual stage. This project looked at delivering a new technology to the company in a new and radical way. Although the core ideas had been established, the next question was how this concept would be physicalized in a way that preserved and enhanced its potential value, in a business, like all, with multiple levels of moving parts.

The standard way of scheduling such a study simply results in stress for those doing the work and/or the project manager. Scheduling an organic integration is like trying to Christmas-wrap a puppy. We first looked to use a critical chain approach to planning, which naturally allows for flexibility in the schedule. The ideas were helpful and certainly better fit the real world. Combined with the concepts of “Focus and Finish” rather than “Meet the commitments” it provided a better collaborative and coordinated approach.

What we realised though was that there were parts of the schedule which were even more organic than buffers or “Focus and finish” could accommodate. We therefore striated our schedule into four layers:

  • Integration of scope and design and delivery process
  • Design Sprints
  • Deliverables
  • Key interactions

The critical chain ran through Integration Strategy (1.) and Design Sprint (2.). The actual tasks for Integrating Strategy were very tricky to tie down. This included understanding the design space which would bring together modular design coordination between process blocks and utilities, whole plant build sequence, process scale and duplication; and the evolution of the ‘platform’ that would meet the business needs in the future. The approach we took for this was to plan a time of iteration between process, engineering, systemization, and business-focused expertise, assessing the Last Responsible Moment for drawing this activity to a close. This would allow time for the Design Sprints to deliver the integrated design to the required definition at the end of the study.

The design sprints themselves were appropriately segmented, cognizant of the fact that the final sprint should be quicker as more of the outstanding questions would have been generically answered.

Many of the deliverables (3.) could be sequenced traditionally and could be tracked. The trick was that as far as possible they should be de-linked from Integration Strategy E.g. the fundamentals of a process P&ID or a Functional Specification are not linked to the scale of the process or its capacity. 

The coordination of key interactions (4.) was vital to have the full integrated design. Including discussions/reviews with the client, conversations, and formal RFQ with supply chain. If done with thoughtfulness they could help lubricate and develop the thinking, rather than creating disruptive re-work. The difference between iteration and re-work needed to be understood.

This was not a highly detailed schedule, to try and develop that would have been counterproductive. I believe it presents a way to plan and progress design within the complex area of new-technology-realisation which requires thinking beyond our traditional approaches of design stages led by deliverables. 

If we wanted to not only preserve the value identified in an innovative concept and technology but to enhance it, we needed to change the way we approach basic/scheme and detailed design.  

John Dyson, Consultant, Bryden Wood, The Dyson Project, GSK, University of Birmingham

Professor John Dyson spent more than 25 years at GlaxoSmithKline, eventually ending his career as VP, Head of Capital Strategy and Design, where he focused on developing a long-term strategic approach to asset management.
While there, he engaged Bryden Wood and together they developed the Front End Factory, a collaborative endeavor to explore how to turn purpose and strategy into the right projects – which paved the way for Design to Value. He is committed to the betterment of lives through individual and collective endeavors.
As well as his business and pharmaceutical experience, Dyson is Professor of Human Enterprise at the University of Birmingham, focusing on project management, business strategy, and collaboration.
Additionally, he is a qualified counselor with a private practice and looks to bring the understanding of human behavior into business and projects.
To learn more about our Design to Value philosophy, read Design to Value: The architecture of holistic design and creative technology by Professor John Dyson, Mark Bryden, Jaimie Johnston MBE and Martin Wood. Available to purchase at RIBA Books.