Managing uncertainty in drug discovery & development and the role played by SWOT analysis

Managing uncertainty in drug discovery & development and the role played by SWOT analysis

Dr Pete Harpum
Affiliate Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management
Managing Director, Harpum Consulting



During our work helping clients improve their capability to better manage uncertainty, we have found that the differentiation between Uncertainty Management (UM) and SWOT analysis is not always clear. To help separate out the concepts, and place the UM process and SWOT technique within the overall Portfolio, Program and Project Management (P3M) context, we put together this white paper. The discussion is specifically focussed on UM and SWOT in drug discovery and development organisations.

There are three parts to this paper:

  1. A comparison of the Uncertainty Management process and the SWOT analysis technique
  2. The business value of managing uncertainty
  3. Insights on how to build uncertainty management into day-to-day project management

SWOT and UM compared

A reasonable starting point for this section is to define and describe what is commonly understood to be meant by both SWOT and UM.


SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – is a technique used to aid and support strategic thinking, and is commonly employed when developing corporate, divisional, portfolio, program, and project strategies[1]. It is also sometimes used when developing department/function strategies. The technique was developed to aid the understanding and summarization of key issues in the business environment and assess the organization’s capability (and core competencies) to respond strategically. Therefore the analysis is primarily about defining alternative strategic options to maximize competitive advantage. This applies equally at whatever level of the organization the analysis is carried out at (Johnson, et al, 2006; 148).

In the drug project environment, a SWOT analysis is very useful in the strategy development process. Carrying out a SWOT analysis enables multiple alternative drug project strategies to be developed, refined, and proposed to Governance (Harpum, 2010; 175-192). Business leaders are then able to use the analysis to inform their decisions on what the most effective drug strategy is likely to be, given the overall business position and the competitive environment at the time.


To read entire paper (click here)


Pete Harpum, PhD


Dr Pete Harpum’s research has been in several related areas, both as an academic and as a management consultant. In academe his doctoral research included managing design in aero-engine R&D environments. Other academic research includes the project manager’s role in managing technical aspects of projects, and managing fuzzy front-end project work in life science companies. Pete has led academically rigorous consulting research on practitioners’ perspectives of best practice project management in drug companies.

Pete’s vision is built on several strands of thinking: Firstly that project management is the fundamental approach applied in many industries to New Product Development. Secondly, that factors leading to project success have consistently been shown by the research to be related overwhelmingly to behavioural aspects and the context in which projects are carried out. Thirdly, project management can be applied holistically, and should encompass the front-end work of projects to translate corporate/R&D strategy into project strategy, business case definition, and negotiation and agreement of realistic project goals.

Pete is Affiliate Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, teaching on the Advanced Master’s Degree in Biotechnology Management. He also carries out post-graduate lecturing and research on P3M for The University of Manchester, Chalmers Business School, and Manchester Business School. He has edited for Wiley the book Portfolio, Program, and Project Management in the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Industries, published in 2009 (ISBN: 978-0-470-04966-2). He has also published on design management, project methodologies, capacity management, management control, project success factors, and best practice in life science project management.

Email: [email protected]


[1] Project strategies may be at the drug level, or the functional project level, e.g. clinical trial, regulatory submission, etc.