Drug companies (the big ones, anyway) are companies just like the rest of them. They come with all the baggage that companies making kitty litter, microcircuitry, and frozen pizzas have - all the assistant vice presidents, all the memos and paperwork, and all the management fads. Oh, especially those.
My theory has long been that the business-school people in the industry come in, get a good hard look at how things really work, and assume that something must be terribly wrong. Surely things don't have to be this way - all the craziness, the risk-taking, the uncertainty. If you people would just implement some modern management techniques, maybe we could straighten some of this stuff out!
Maybe not. A lot of things are just plain old unstraightenable, but the managerial consultant has not been born who will tell you that. No, at many drug companies, a new fad comes rolling along every few years - some new buzzword-laden scheme that promises to re-invent, re-do, re-invigorate and basically make things work like it says in the three-ring binder that comes with the off-site course where you learn it all.
But there's something holding these ideas back at a lot of science-driven organizations. The contempt that most of the scientific staff has for "modern management techniques" is hard to underestimate. Problem is, we're used to having to prove our hypotheses, and show data (with appropriate controls, yet) in support of them. But I've suspected for years that most of the management fads that sweep through the world have nothing to back them up at all, and this suspicion has been confirmed by an article by Matthew Stewart in the latest Atlantic (subscriber-only) called "The Management Myth".
Stewart, an ex-consultant, goes into some of the history and current state of the racket, and it's exactly as I'd pictured it. Most of the time, there's no data (other than anecdotal fairy tales) to back up the latest six-sigma-good-to-great-seven-habits-of-continuous-improvement craze. When people infrequently try to gather the data, it's often impossible to do. And even when it's possible, the numbers often do not confirm any hypothesis at all:
"In many of my own projects, I found myself compelled to pacify recalcitrant data with entirely confected numbers. But I cede the place of honor to a certain colleague, a gruff and street-smart Belgian whose hobby was to amass hunting trophies. The huntsman achieved some celebrity for having invented a new mathematical technique dubbed "the Two-Handed Regression." When the data on the correlation between two variables revealed only a shapeless cloud-even though we knew damn well there had to be a correlation-he would simply place a pair of meaty hands on the offending bits of the cloud and reveal the straight line hiding from conventional mathematics."
(He also mentions something that hadn't occurred to me, that the best and highest-paying customers for all this voodoo are companies that are on their way down. They'll try anything. So if you're working for a company that's going crazy with this stuff, you might want to consider that a useful alarm bell).