A young blonde woman smiling at the camera.
Claire Waddell. Image: BMS

What it’s like moving into a project manager role in pharma

21 Apr 2022

BMS’s Claire Waddell shares the tips she has picked up throughout her career on prioritisation, productivity and time management.

Claire Waddell is a project programme manager at the Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) Cruiserath biologics facility.

Waddell studied chemical engineering at University College Dublin (UCD) and went on to work in a variety of roles such as a process engineer and project manager in manufacturing plants and R&D facilities.

She has been in her current role since 2020 and told SiliconRepublic.com that the position has allowed her to use her experience while also developing her people and financial management skills.

‘The hardest part in the role is accepting the list of tasks never really ends’

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

I started in BMS Cruiserath as a project programme manager in September 2020. One of my favourite things about my role is that every day is quite varied. I usually start with checking emails, addressing any urgent queries.

There are regular daily/weekly meetings hosted on Microsoft Teams which I would attend, where we escalate or resolve any issues, discuss achievements and recognise others for recent support or successes.

Typically, I will be involved in Microsoft Teams calls throughout the day, resource planning, scoping new projects and preparing presentations or communications for project leadership governance meetings.

What types of project do you work on?

My role is to manage a team of project managers and project engineers to deliver expense and capital projects through the full project lifecycle from initiation to close out in a multi-product cell culture (MPCC) biopharmaceutical facility.

I studied as a chemical engineer in UCD and have worked as a process engineer and project manager in manufacturing plants and R&D facilities. The projects programme manager role allows me to use my experience and also further develop my people and financial management skills.

I work on a wide variety of projects such as equipment and capacity upgrades, facility renovations and infrastructure upgrades, to support the development and launch of the pipeline of biologics products.

The projects can range across manufacturing, maintenance, environment, health and safety, quality control, manufacturing science and technology, and process analytics departments.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

The projects we work on require a focus on safety, schedule and budget adherence in addition to complying with good engineering practices, company policies, regulations and codes.

Effective communication is particularly critical to ensure these deliverables are met while collaborating across the project teams and organisation. This has become even more important while working in the Covid environment where workshops, design reviews, presentation updates are now completed virtually through online Microsoft Teams meetings.

Problem solving and root cause investigation skills are used every day to develop and implement solutions. Time management skills are also important and the ability to manage multiple projects and deadlines while adapting to changing business needs.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

I suppose the hardest part in the role is accepting the list of tasks never really ends! I sometimes find with multiple meetings and presentation preparations, that some of my individual project work can be left to later in the day. So, it’s important to assess the long list and ensure the key projects critical to safety and business continuity are prioritised.

The engineers and project managers I work with are supportive, helpful and adaptable, which has made starting a new role in a new company during a pandemic much easier.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

I was extremely lucky to have worked with some excellent engineers in my career and learned time management and prioritisation skills to improve productivity. An important tip has been to firstly talk through any issues or problems with peers. The sharing of experiences and leveraging others’ learnings can be an efficient way to solving most problems.

With the coronavirus pandemic, the ways of working have changed greatly. Working from home can sometimes be difficult for productivity, however I have found keeping to a routine has helped. Making sure I get outdoors at some stage for exercise and daylight has been really helpful. I live quite close to both the sea and the mountains, so I have a few options!

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

I have learned that the role is not to just deliver projects, but it is also very important to understand the fundamental problem or need for the project by completing further scoping, assessments and design reviews with stakeholders.

This process ensures you have developed the right solution to meet project requirements and is something I really enjoy as I have always loved problem solving and working in a team-based environment.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

The BMS Cruiserath MPCC facility was constructed in 2016/2017 and has a robust pipeline. After the initial construction and biologics facility was delivered, there have been projects to support existing products and projects related to new product introduction and tech transfers.

The projects group are required to use innovative and novel approaches for design, function and construction to meet the business needs.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

Working closely with the people in the projects team is the part I enjoy most about my job. There is a sense of urgency, accountability and fun with each project we work on.

The projects team at BMS Cruiserath successfully delivered the expense and capital portfolio for 2021, which is an outstanding accomplishment showing excellent flexibility and adaptability.

I have already learned a great deal in my first year of working in the group and look forward to another successful year, learning and developing as an engineer and delivering projects with my team.

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