Biomanufacturing is a $133.3 billion-a-year industry in the U.S. alone, according to expert estimates. To keep the industry going, organizations rely on a wide variety of professionals from numerous disciplines — but project managers play a uniquely important role.
Project managers are the key organizer for projects and are instrumental in everything from the planning to the delivery. Given the complexity of biomanufacturing, this is not an easy task. However, if you want to start or advance a career as a project manager for a biomanufacturing company, there are steps you can take to increase your chance of success.
Understanding the Project Manager’s Role
All project managers, regardless of their field, guide projects with the goal of staying within a budget and meeting deadlines. However, the exact responsibilities of project managers vary between industries. As a project manager in biomanufacturing, you will be expected to:
- Facilitate the formation of a project’s charter, which lays out the scope and objective of the project and defines the role and responsibilities of project participants.
- Work with subject matter experts and stakeholders to develop a timeline for deliverables.
- Facilitate progress meetings to ensure all participants are staying on track and have the resources they need.
- Write progress reports to maintain a record of the project and keep stakeholders informed.
- Oversee accountability to the timeline.
- Monitor resource allocation, ensuring participants have what they need when they need it.
- Facilitate risk assessment and mitigations to prepare for and solve problems that may arise along the way.
In most cases, participants in a project will not report directly to the project manager. If you want to succeed in the field, you’ll need to be able to direct projects using good communication, time-management, and conflict-resolution skills. And you’ll need to be able to apply those skills to a broad working group made up of professionals from a variety of disciplines. It’s the only way to successfully fulfill all the responsibilities listed above.
Acquiring the Right Knowledge
Biomanufacturing is a science-driven industry filled with complex processes and procedures. However, different biomanufacturing companies expect different levels of scientific and/or technical knowledge from their project managers. Some require very little; some require quite a lot.
In general, there are two paths to becoming a successful project manager in biomanufacturing. They are:
1. Be a good project management professional.
Many biomanufacturing companies want their project managers to facilitate activities and communications with a focus on the deliverables identified within a project’s charter. These companies select project managers for their track record on delivering projects on time and on budget and do not expect their project managers to have a scientific and/or technical background. In fact, these companies often consider too much technical expertise to be a negative, as it could lead a project manager to interfere with stakeholder decisions or subject matter expert (SME) activities.
At these companies, succeeding will likely require that you hold a degree in project management/business administration and may require you to obtain PMI certification from the Project Management Institute.
2. Be a Subject Matter Expert.
Some biomanufacturing companies assign SMEs to manage projects. These project managers are expected to facilitate the project and contribute as an SME. However, the management part of the role is more focused on gathering resources outside of the SME’s immediate department than it is on other aspects — although they are still expected to be good communicators, stay within budget, and meet deadlines.
At these companies, succeeding will likely require that you have scientific and/or technical skills that relate to a specific aspect of the company’s biomanufacturing process. In many cases, these skills will be much more valued than a project management/business administration degree or PMI certification.
Gaining an Advantage
While some biomanufacturing companies don’t look for scientific and/or technical expertise in their project managers, you can definitely benefit from a general understanding of the technical and business implications of the projects you’re working on. Having this type of knowledge will give you a good perspective of the project and help ensure that you ask reasonable questions if a team member appears to be drifting out of the project’s scope.
Spending time on the production floor of a biomanufacturing facility can be an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of scientific/technical aspects involved in the industry. You can also enroll in an educational program that will advance your knowledge, such as the “Biomanufacturing for the Non-Specialist – What You Need to Know” course offered by the Biomanufacturing Education & Training Center (BETC) at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The two-day biomanufacturing course is held at BETC’s state-of-the-art training facilities and teaches the fundamentals behind the biomanufacturing process in a manner geared toward industry professionals who don’t work in the production space. It’s one of the many flexible training programs that BETC offers and can be a great choice if you want to help yourself succeed as project manager in biomanufacturing.