InformationWeek 500: Orion Builds Efficiency Into Eli Lilly's R&D System

Collaboration, automated data collection chores expedite delivery of new products.

Mary Hayes Weier, Contributor

September 10, 2008

4 Min Read

Orion also was the beginning of a significant cultural shift in development within the ranks of Lilly's IT group. IT decided to adopt for the project "agile development," a group of methodologies for developing software that emphasizes open collaboration and speed to completion. Lilly IT used a modified version of an agile methodology called Scrum, which defines such things as how to set up smaller, dedicated development teams; specify job roles on the team; and establish a "timebox" for each meeting about the project and for each iteration of the development cycle.

The main benefit of Scrum was fast delivery of each iteration of the software, Cox says. "The approval process we went through with the senior research and development leaders was a gated process; they wanted to see tangible results before they invested more money."

Using the Scrum method, Lilly delivers new features for Orion every month, rather than the 18- to 36-month cycle typical of an upgrade. Lilly plans to use Scrum for future projects, particularly those where the requirements are well defined. Also, in code development, developers each have a "virtual" version of Orion running on their desktops; it's essentially a miniversion of the production environment that operates independently. That means if a developer is having a code problem, other developers' work remains unaffected. Developers could share the work they've done on these virtual systems with business partners to get feedback on what they liked or didn't like.

LESSONS LEARNED HIRE WHAT YOU NEED  Use consulting firms and services to supplement in-house talent as Lilly did to speed Orion's delivery. KNOW YOUR SYSTEMS  Team members should work closely with IT to ensure that the infrastructure can support the project and upgrades. SMALLER IS BETTER  Agile software development methodology works better with small development teams than with large, scattered groups.

Lilly's IT department was able to deliver the Orion prototype to business users in April 2007, less than six months after it began development on the project. After getting feedback and making some changes, it rolled out the first release to business users in September 2007. Lilly's IT group recently released its third version of Orion.

CIO Heim says the project cost $10 million, and it wasn't particularly painful on his budget, especially considering its rapid completion and its role in speeding R&D innovations.

Lilly's annual IT budget is approximately $750 million, or 4% of its revenue.



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"As a pharmaceutical company, your innovation engine and the ability to bring those innovations to market is crucial," Heim says. "If we don't innovate, we go out of business."

Such innovation requires any project manager, portfolio manager, or senior R&D decision maker to make smart, informed decisions. Lilly's IT department also is working to expose key R&D performance information in Orion to senior business leaders, by integrating it with the business side's enterprise-performance management systems, thereby spreading the knowledge even further. It's this knowledge that will help Lilly continue to innovate faster.

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