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8 minute read

Rapid prototyping in a design sprint- overcoming innovation challenges in pharma

How rapid prototyping can help teams innovate by finding solutions to industry challenges and breaking down industry barriers.
18 December 19
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Innovation
  • Healthcare

In this post, we will be exploring how rapid prototyping in a design sprint can help pharma and healthcare businesses to find solutions to industry challenges and break down industry barriers to work towards innovation.

Digital product development for healthcare and pharma - minimising risk

Producing a prototype at speed to test with users provides a whole host of benefits for businesses.  From understanding user needs and context, to validating product features, creating a prototype makes it possible to get user feedback before you invest valuable time and money into developing a digital product. Prototypes allow room for feedback so that we can adapt features and make suggestions to improve the product before it ever makes it online, saving time, money and effort. Ultimately, it helps clients to make sure that their digital product will provide value for customers, understand any potential future issues with the UX or content, and ensure that it creates a positive customer experience.

Pharmaceutical companies and other businesses that operate in heavily regulated industries, can often see the benefits of working with design sprints and prototyping, but can be put off by the complexity of navigating the challenges of speaking to customers and innovating, while still conforming to regulations.

The right people, at the right time

From our experience, we’ve found that many healthcare & pharma professionals struggle to get ideas signed off quickly and grasp the attention of the business’ key decision-makers. We’ve seen first hand that this problem can be solved through a design sprint as it’s possible to take an idea from initial conception through to a testable prototype in just five days. Design sprints bring together cross-functional teams and should include senior decision-makers as well as regulatory, legal, medical and compliance colleagues where possible. This means that any solutions developed during a design sprint are able to be agreed with and supported by these senior colleagues from the get-go. A prototype can then be rapidly developed to allow the solution to be tested with the customer without the need for lengthy and expensive approval processes. All of the senior colleagues and stakeholders involved can then buy into the digital product right from the start. They will see the results of the user testing - and it will give them the best information and context to help with the decision making process. As your colleagues have been included throughout the process, if the business decides that they’d like to go ahead and develop the product, the potential blocker of waiting for sign off can be significantly reduced. 

This method is extremely effective as the differences in perception of risk amongst a wide stakeholder group can also be a barrier to innovation. If a key stakeholder or decision maker views the product idea as a risk, and you are struggling to find a way to counter their argument, there are few better ways than through prototyping in a design sprint, and testing it with real users to measure results. Operating a small study with a limited group of customers might seem like the sample size would not provide conclusive enough results to use for informing decisions around the product. In our experience we have been able to identify issues with the user experience, design or content of product, as well as product-market fit, with only a small handful of customers. 

The restrictive nature of the industry

Another challenge that pharma and healthcare businesses often face is overcoming the industry's strict and sometimes restrictive approval processes. These traditional processes can mean that industry professionals find it difficult to introduce new ideas and break down boundaries. By inviting senior colleagues  to attend a design sprint, it can help introduce a new process and show how innovation can flourish within the industry if accepted. Creating a prototype can help prove the value that the product would have for the business and the customer, irrespective of if the audience is HCPs, patients or even internal colleagues. 

UX as a new priority for pharma

For many years now, pharma businesses we’ve met at various conferences we have attended in the US and Europe have been talking a lot about becoming ‘Patient Centric’. However, they often find it difficult to follow through on this commitment. Reasons often sound along the lines of “In Pharma/the US we aren't allowed to do that because...” or “We need to follow industry guidelines, or our own regulatory approach for handling claims, fair balance, and required elements such as important safety information.”.

Of course, this is a reasonable consideration. Strict country-specific regulations can make it challenging to effectively communicate important information to HCPs without covering the entire screen in legalease. Regulatory bodies have specified the need to have safety information, product indications and patient information presented in a specific way, however, this sometimes delivers a less favourable user experience. In a design sprint, we take the time to think creatively in order to achieve a balance between what is mandated and the customer experience, achieving both goals. We believe that it should be a priority to ensure that this important information is presented in a clear and easily understandable way, ensuring that the specific context of the customer is considered when making decisions. 

For example, when HCPs are looking for information, they will make a choice about where they go to find it and what they are looking for. All customers  require the information to be easily obtainable, correct and trustworthy. Solutions with a better user experience that allows the customer to complete their task with ease and speed will usually be preferred. However, universally, UX hasn’t always been a very big focus for pharma companies.

A design sprint allows pharma and healthcare teams to collaborate in order to avoid the challenges described above. The key goal of rapid prototyping in a design sprint is to help keep the customer at the centre of your thinking to ensure that you create something that is viable for the business but desirable to the customer. 

Responding to change

Often, when someone enters a new career within the Pharma world having worked in another industry previously, they are surprised by the slower pace of digital transformation and adoption of common technologies and approaches used in other industries that customers have come to expect. 

Meaningful development in this area is the product of user research, understanding user behaviour and listening to feedback. We believe that this is the only way to build a lasting digital presence that creates genuine value for customers in pharma. Working in this way can be daunting at first but once a regular rhythm of experimentation, testing and evaluation has been achieved we have seen great results for our customers as they continue to strive to improve their digital customer experience. 

Graphite has delivered several design sprints with leading global pharma and healthcare companies. We followed the design sprint process to create and iterate several prototypes alongside our clients.

The Graphite team create prototypes using Sketch that can be accessed by all of the stakeholders involved using InVision across desktop, tablet and mobile devices. This can be a new style of working for many stakeholders but is often embraced by teams so that they can circulate to colleagues outside of the initial stakeholder group in order to secure their buy-in to new solutions. We can create a series of sketches and prototypes in Invision that refine our approach following feedback. Our technical team were on hand to offer consultancy advice to suggest what was and wasn’t possible to develop based on the designs.

Our Client Services Director, Jon Hume says:

“With our approach of bringing regulatory, legal and medical colleagues on board earlier, showing them work in progress designs and even early sketches to get their  input into potential solutions, we can drive forward projects that may have been parked on the sidelines for significant periods of time and deliver meaningful change for the business and their customers.”

If you feel as though your pharma or healthcare company would benefit from the design sprint process and rapid prototyping and you would like to find out more, please feel free to get in touch via the contact form below. Alternatively, you can find more information on our Rapid Prototyping and Design Sprint services pages.

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