Pharmaceutical Industry Case Study - Merck

Find out how we work with global companies to achieve world class project management for their customers using Project Management Maturity Models.

Merck is a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials. Worldwide around 50,000 employees work to further develop technologies that improve and enhance life – from Biopharmaceutical therapies to treat cancer, infertility and multiple sclerosis, cutting-edge systems for scientific research and production, to liquid crystals for smartphones and LCD televisions.

Merck Millipore is a membrane filtration and device manufacturing site that provides sterile absolute filtration products for exacting Medical Device and  Pharmaceutical applications.


The Achievement

With world class project management excellence as their goal, Merck decided to work with Velopi as a partner with two distinct advantages to help them with the edge to succeed:  the expertise to design and support the development of their project infrastructure and processes, and the implementation capability and experience to support them in successfully introducing and training their people in new project management work practices.


The Challenge

We wanted to understand how we could improve and optimise our Project Management capability as an engineering services organisation. We wanted to ensure that we were aligned with world class standards such as Project Management Institute (PMI).


Working with our Engineering and Maintenance Manager we identified the need to improve our people’s capabilities and the processes, technology, policies and standards for project management.


The Solution

Our objectives were to improve our project management standard, so we looked for an expert external partner to help us. The partner needed to have a successful record in helping multinational companies like ourselves develop their project management capability into a more mature, effective and efficient approach. Velopi was the partner that we selected as meeting these criteria.

Velopi started the process with us by conducting a Project Management Maturity Assessment of our CAPEX Engineering. We used workshops facilitated by Velopi to help us understand where we were at that point in time, where we needed to get to, and to identify a prioritised roadmap for improving our project management delivery.  We decided what kind of a portfolio type approach and what level of maturity we wanted to achieve. Rather than a full PMO office type support structure, we chose to define the process to enable repeatability with people trained on it, with the structure and implementation of phases and gate reviews etc. This structured approach was agreed to be the goal and would represent a considerable step forward for us as an organisation.

Velopi captured the findings of the workshop in a report with recommendations.

Our CAPEX Engineering work is divided into two project types: 

(a) Large scale investment projects

(b) Smaller engineering & maintenance improvement projects from €10,000 to €100,000 spend.

We found from the Maturity analysis that we were managing the larger scale investment type projects very well and effectively –a good structure, a fairly repeatable process, with the same people involved and familiar with what needed to be done. We identified that there were opportunities to improve, for example documentation. So, for the large scale projects, we were at Level 4 of the Project Management Maturity Model – repeatable, defined, and managed. We set achieving Level 5, the deliberate optimising and improvement of our processes for project managing large projects, as our new objective.

However, our project management maturity for smaller improvement projects was at a lower level of maturity. It was here that we needed to do most work to get a consistent and repeatable project management capability in place. These small projects were being managed by Technical Maintenance Staff. We identified opportunities in the project management processes for this type of project which needed more organisational support to move successfully from execution to completion and hand over. We found that the Technical Maintenance staff who, while technically good in terms of competency and understanding what needed to be done, often did not have project management training and we were relying on their prior experience and training rather than an in-house standard.

So, for the small project types, we identified weaknesses in our project infrastructure and in our reliance on a mixed level of skills and individual performance capabilities. To achieve the long-term consistent management of small projects that we were looking for, we set moving from this initial starting point to achieving a repeatable, defined process that is measured and managed at Level 4 as our objective.

After this first phase, our next stage was to engage with the key stakeholders. With them, we were able to go through in great detail each step and phase, ultimately delivering the documented project management guidelines in December 2018. So that took a full year with engagement from our finance team and all our project managers, mapping each deliverable and taking our projects from initial concept to closing phase and handover.

At the end of 2018, we delivered training to all the people who would be using the process and we started the new process in January 2019. We also simultaneously introduced the use of Microsoft SharePoint to eliminate documents being stored in different places. With SharePoint now in use, we have the added very useful benefit that we can give access to external contractors.


The Results

Since January 2018, any new projects for CAPEX engineering have gone through this process. Initially, the new process was quite foreign and alien to the way things were done on the ground. The things that are important to us are now reflected in it - thoroughness in approach, the importance of communication, the identification of risks etc.

We now have a single documented and repeatable process defining how we execute projects which everyone can follow and understand where they need to put their files.  Instead of differing skillset levels, the technical team are all now upskilled to a common project management approach that is specific to how we work in Merck.

Instead of a multitude of different charters, risk assessments and forms, we’ve standardised templates, even down to the project folder structure on SharePoint. So we’ve achieved a uniform approach to how we work on small projects. This infrastructure helps any  ownership transitions when unplanned changes occurr.

My Manager is now the gatekeeper of all phases with projects coming in to the steering committee to oversee the projects so projects are not progressing through gates until they're ready and checked. With the new visibility, management communication has consequently greatly improved benefiting both how resources are allocated and our relationships with our internal customers. Resource availability and resource requirements are now being put in as a deliverable which benefits us in acting as the project managers

We carried out a post implementation review after 12 months with Velopi. We looked at lessons learned and reviewed the process. Based on the review, we'll make a few more changes but the process itself is now largely in place. We will introduce checklists for each of the Phase & Gating as well as for the deliverables. We're also looking at doing a visual, kind of a wall graphic indicating where a project is in the process and having the project formally displayed. We will continually enhance  any aspects  as part of our continuous improvement plan. But the fact that we now have a system in place allows us to identify, prioritise and focus on this.


Brendan Williams, System Engineer, Merck, 2019