Words from a BCBA Project Manager

October 30, 2017
Contributed by: Michal Wojcik

The major objectives for BCBA consulting internships include hands-on experience with real-world business challenges, developing business skills, and growing a professional network. As a project manager on a recent BCBA consulting project, I discovered that the best way to achieve these objectives is to actively identify and overcome the challenges inherent to consulting engagements. At the beginning of a BCBA project, team members and the project manager share a common challenge highly relevant to consulting and business – learning how to find a solution to an unstructured problem.

On my recent project, our challenge was to identify a way to analyze over 500 candidate drug targets to help focus our client’s R&D strategy. Even with five team members and eight weeks, we needed a structured framework to direct our analysis and standardize the important attributes of each drug target. We could have spent the whole project looking at 50 of these targets, let alone 500, but creating this framework kept us on track. This common issue highlights the importance of an 80/20 approach in consulting projects.

It is crucial to identify the most critical factors and remain focused on the objectives to provide the best result for the client given the real-world constraints of limited time and resources. Using this framework, I assigned each team member ~100 drug targets to evaluate. Team members utilized their scientific expertise to gather the relevant information through extensive secondary research, which is where my team members really thrived. Scientists possess an incredible ability to quickly scan research papers and pick out key information. In our weekly group discussions, my team presented their findings using our framework, which provided a common language when discussing different drug targets and focused our analysis on the key features of good targets.

The quantitative framework that we created to solve this problem enabled the ranking of candidate drug targets from best to worst, greatly facilitating the second half of our project. During the second half, we performed a deep dive analysis on the top targets for the client to pursue, which revealed another common business challenge – identifying a concrete path or recommendation when one clear answer may not exist. We found an incredible depth of information about the different drug targets during our comprehensive evaluation. However, all the targets had strengths and weaknesses.

We were thus left with a decision to make – which targets to recommend and why? Effective structuring of a business challenge can disentangle seemingly intertwined aspects of the issue and facilitate decision-making. By organizing the complicated drug target landscape into six categories, both scientific and business-related, the team identified the best mix of candidates with different benefits and risks. We compiled this final recommendation into a comprehensive whitepaper that the client could reference as they move forward with their R&D.

In the end, my BCBA team members didn’t just walk away with a new line on their resume. Through overcoming the challenges inherent to consulting projects, they gained real-world experience while working as a team and enhanced their ability to work through open-ended problems. Developing these skills is invaluable preparation for careers in all aspects of business and consulting.

Michal Wojcik is the VP of Consulting and a previous project manager with BCBA, and is a graduate student at UC Berkeley.