Speaker Interview with Ken Carlson, Project Planning Group Head at Pfizer

Time goes so fast, doesn’t it? The 2nd Annual Pharma PPM Toolbox in the US will kick off on February and -believe it or not- we have less than 3 months to put all the final details together. That’s why it is time to get to know our speakers more. One of our remarkable speakers is Ken Carlson, Senior Director, Project Planning Group Head at Pfizer. Despite his busy schedule, Ken had the time to answer to my questions regarding his presentation during the Pharma PPM Toolbox in New Jersey.

Tell me a little bit more about your background and your career.

I have over 35 years of drug development experience, all but the first 18 months of it at Pfizer. I have held a variety of roles during those years. I started in a role where I programmed the analysis of clinical trials. I held a variety of roles of increasing responsibility in programming, data management and drug safety until I found my true calling – project management. I have now been working in several different project management roles for over ten years, ranging from being a project manager on a Phase 3 project to leading a team of project planners (schedulers).

Through all stages of my career, I became involved with participating on or leading, change initiatives. Many of these efforts have been at the organization-wide level. Most recently, I transitioned out of my line management role as a team leader for project planners to focus my time on the program management of an effort to improve Pfizer’s regulatory submission process.

I have been active in the PMI Pharmaceuticals Community of Practice and its predecessor organization, the Pharmaceuticals Specific Interest Group (SIG).   I hold an MS, an MBA and a PMP certification.

What made you focus on Project Management?

I think these are three reasons I ended up focusing on project management:

  1. I love implementing change and making an impact;
  2. I am naturally organized and think like a project manager – it’s just the way I am wired; and
  3. I like working across functions in a team-based world, which is exactly the setting where project managers work.

Can you elaborate more on your presentation on Pharma PPM Toolbox?

Anyone working in this field has heard and seen, how difficult it is to implement change. The failure rate of change initiatives is depressingly high. While I acknowledge implementing change is challenging, I believe that with the proper application of some key project management methods and approaches, you can greatly increase the success rate.  In my presentation, I will pull examples from three large change initiatives I have led at Pfizer. All three are at the organization-wide level and all are relatively recent – the oldest was implemented in 2014. While the success rate was high, not everything worked perfectly.  But I learned from the things that did not work all that well, and I will share my views on why they did not work, so the audience can benefit from this experience. I will outline the key project management tools, processes, and tricks that are keys to success.

In your opinion, what is the #1 takeaway of your presentation?

The most important thing to get right on a change initiative is stakeholder management. You need to understand who your key stakeholders are, carefully analyze their needs, and develop a communication plan to address these needs. If you do not get this right, or at least close to right, your project is almost guaranteed to fail.

If you want to know more about Ken and get a sneak peek of his presentation during the Pharma PPM Toolbox in New Jersey, request your agenda today and join us on February 9th & 10th in New Jersey.