What is a good Critical Success Factor (or: Strategic Imperative, Key Driver) for your brand in today’s VUCA pharma markets?

By Edouard Demeire, expert-trainer of The Pharma Brand Planning Course.

A VUCA world calls for adapting your brand planning process

As pharma markets are increasingly volatile (the V in VUCA) and complex (the C in VUCA), brand teams struggle to develop and/or implement their strategy because they lack strategic agility and cross-functional alignment in their brand planning process.

Some try to encompass commercial, medical and access in more comprehensive plans. Others cut lengthy PowerPoint plans and revert to 90-day tactical planning cycles, focused on maximising customer experience through design sprints.

But what is often lacking is consensus on well-defined and specific longer-term goals.

In VUCA markets, brand teams need to have Vision, Understanding, Consensus and Agility (also VUCA) to address their market. Planning processes – whether conventional plans with a SWOT or more agile ones that use Lean Business Model Canvas – should start with insight building, then move to building strategy and end with tactical implementation and control. Implementation and control cycles might be annual, 90 day or real-time.

In a rapidly changing, complex environment it is even more important to tighten the link between long term strategy and real-time tactics. That is best done by defining 3-4 sentences or statements which the whole cross-functional brand team knows, understands and adheres to, and which can be swiftly adapted based on market events which occur at any time.

Some call these statements Critical Success Factors (CSFs), others Strategic Imperatives and yet others, Key Drivers.

The 4 criteria of a good CSF

A good brand plan has one single list of CSFs (synonyms: Strategic Imperatives, Key Drivers) of 3-4 sentences that should:

  1. Read Customer-centric.
  2. Inform the whole team as to which market insights are crucial.
  3. Build consensus about ‘where to play’ and ‘how to win’.
  4. Facilitate agile re-allocation of resource across tactics.

Bad examples of CSFs are sentences like ‘Obtain clinical evidence’, ‘Roll-out health economic arguments’ or ‘Increase digital’ … because they do not provide the Vision, Understanding, Consensus and Agility to the team. They are actions, but not customer-centric CSFs.

CSFs should have some relation to ‘where to play’ and’ how to win’. For example, say drug Y is cost-effective, but administrative level budget holders struggle to find a hospital budget to finance that drug as a 1st line therapy for patients with disease X. A well-defined CSF could then be written as:

“Facilitate finding budget for all 1st line X-disease patients through a stronger consensus of Multi-Disciplinary Teams (in hospitals) for the need to find funds for cost-effective therapy Y”

This CSF meets all 4 criteria:

  1. The mindset (belief & behaviour) of the Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) members in hospitals needs to change.
  2. Critical insights are cost-effectiveness data and insights on how MDT teams can obtain consensus.
  3. The ‘where to play’ (target market) are all first line patients with disease X and the ‘how to win’ is by communicating that ‘drug Y is cost-effective’.
  4. It facilitates agile implementation. If in hospital A prescribers need to drive the MDT’s consensus, the single point of contact (or matched pair) with the prescriber needs to act. If in hospital B generating consensus means that budget holders in the MDT need to express conviction, the matched pair with the budget holder will need to act.

3 or 4 of such CSFs should drive activities, executed by the relevant team members, which are then followed up with tools such as Kanban and shared transparently in frequent but short team updates.



Learn more about this topic at the following short duration course(s):



Subscribe to CELforPharma's newsletter to receive tips & insights from our expert faculty:


Please indicate your domains of interest:

Interested in domains

By subscribing to this newsletter, I accept the Privacy Policy.