The 6th Annual Pharma PPM Toolbox in Basel was one of the most successful events of EBCG. Attendees enjoyed two days full of presentations, case studies, networking sessions and impactful workshops with high acclaimed Project and Portfolio Management professionals from all over Europe. One of our exceptional speakers was George Kirk, Director of Global Projects at AstraZeneca. I called George a few days ago and even thought he had a quite busy afternoon, we spend some time to talk about his carrier, his session on our conference and why project management is so important to him.

Tell me a little about your background and why project management is so important to you.

I started working in the labs as a process analytical chemist and after 5 years, I became a team manager. I had a choice to make during  my career about staying in line management vs moving into project management. I was a line manager, managing and developing people which I enjoyed but I also enjoyed delivering projects. So the question was: Do I want my future career path to be purely in managing people or do I want to be involved with project management? And looking back to those years now, one of the lessons I learned is that I made a very conscious choice.  The reason why project management was my career path is because projects -in the pharma industry- help develop better medicines for the benefit of patients.

It is important to do something that drives you. One of the advantages of project management is that you get to work with a large team of people and a variety of skilled leaders as well. You don’t only focus on one stage of the development of the drug. You are involved in all of them. I love that interaction with people, that team spirit, that buzz. You have the whole plan in front of you but you are also accountable for it. You get the pleasure of delivering a project from the early stages to the post marketing safety studies and it is an amazing feeling to get the bigger picture.

Can you tell me a little more about your session at our event?

On your event, I talked about the difference between program management and project management. The reason why I chose that topic was because a lot of medicines we develop –particularly in oncology- can provide benefit in multiple diseases. They are no longer a project. They are a program. You don’t have just one plan, you end up with multiple projects to deliver medicines for different diseases. It is not as simple as a single project which has a beginning, an end and a budget.

The most valuable part of the session was after my presentation. I had the chance to sit down with other professionals and answer their questions. We sat in a little group and people could come in and out and talk about my presentation. The reason why it was so valuable was the fact that I presented to people who had a lot of experience in the field and at the end it became a discussion where all of us could share our experience.

In what way did the event help you and how do you think it will help our potential attendees?

The first thing I can point out is the networking. You can’t underestimate that. I’ve been two years in the row at the event. This year, I stayed for both days and the networking experience was much better. I’ve connected with people this year that work for other companies but we have common interests and we work in the same field. If you can come away with two new connections, I think it helps

Secondly, it is a great experience listening to the presentations. This year, I talked to some people that had presentations on risk management and it was really useful for me. I have a lot of experience in my current role but the only way to develop further is to have fresh new ideas and sometimes you don’t have these fresh ideas yourself. You get them from other people.

The third point is the feedback you get. After your or someone else’s presentation, you get to talk with people that are experts in their field. You get to share ideas, get great feedback and that way you can excel at your job and create connections.

What are your expectations for next year’s event?

It is difficult. It’s really difficult to think of improvements because it was a very well run event this year in particular. It ran very smoothly and the topics were spot on. This year’s event was a big improvement compared with the previous ones. I wouldn’t change the group sessions. All of the presentations were very good and the fact that people had the opportunity to talk to each other and get involved in the presentations was a really good point at the conference. Group discussions and breakout sessions are one of the best features on your event. The only thing that I didn’t like was the fact that I couldn’t go to all sessions (Laughs)! I wish I could attend all of them! You could actually repeat some of them because I think people that didn’t get the chance to attend, will be glad to join and learn more things.