Decision-making is one of the most challenging aspects of managing alliances and business development relationships

Decision making has emerged as a major issue from a recent analysis of the comments and feedback from the hundreds of respondents to surveys that we have conducted on behalf of alliance management and business development teams. So what aspects of decision-making have caused respondents the most problems? We have identified four key factors:

  1. The speed of decision-making;
  2. A lack of transparency in decision-making;
  3. The mandating of decision-making to people or teams with which the respondent has no access; and,
  4. Decisions being made for political reasons rather than reasons of business or science.

We have collected a few quotes from respondents to illustrate the problems they feel they face when it comes to decision-making. The quotes are from actual respondents, anonymized so that any identifying details have been removed.

Speed of decision-making

"I wish they had a more streamlined decision making process so things could move a little faster."

"Response time/turn around for decisions were very slow. Turnover of personnel made it difficult to obtain update on status of negotiations."

"Risk tolerance extremely low and slow decision-making have impacted upside in growing the business. Negotiations go too long unresolved."

"Internal processes and politics within the company have slowed down key decisions that have delayed projects for up to 6 months in one case."

Transparency in decision-making

"There is lack of transparency for how/why key decisions that are made within the company."

"What would help was if those involved in communicating with their partners were more transparent in what is happening and giving a timeline for when a decision is to be made. Without this the partner feels as though nothing is going on. It is essential to keep the dialogue going even if a decision has not been made on the scheduled date."

"Perhaps due to the size of the company, there is sometimes difficulty in identifying where and when decisions are made within the organization."

"Also more understanding of decision making system is necessary for both side."

"Decision-making processes are somewhat opaque."

"[I value least the] complicated and lengthy decision making process. Obscure decisions made outside the project ad hoc committees. Very little room to argue and move forward with creative scenarios that were not in line with their former decisions. Final say is always on their side."

"Getting an overview of the internal processes and review boards which decision subjected to is very difficult to understand and therefore they can at times appear decision paralysed."

"Perhaps difficult to change with such a big organisation, but the decision process can sometimes be a bit difficult to follow for us as a small company."

"Unfortunately, often the planning/budgeting and decision-making was difficult to understand and our colleagues in the company were not able to explain this in a fashion that made sense to us. Many decisions either were not explained beyond the vague reference to 'internal priorities' or didn't make good scientific sense."

"Decision making seems to be very bureaucratic and time consuming and they appear to be in a state of re organisation often."

"Business development is a rat's nest. Decision making is totally obtuse, irrational and variable."

"The company is too self-centred and has too many decision makers and too many internal stakeholders."

"[I value least the] dealing with the bureaucracy, specifically the multiple layers of decision making. Not understanding the way decision are made. This really can negatively effect relationships and joint project teams productivity."

"All decisions have to be validated by headquarters, even if it is a local deal. That creates delays, unproductive discussion (when people from HQ are not specially aware of local situation and context) and this loss of time ends up in a loss of the momentum. This applies for legal, pricing, profitability analysis, etc. It would be easier to have a local management empowered and able to manage himself within defined boundaries."

"Sometimes decisions are made at a higher level and then brought to the team as a done deal, often without a real explanation as to the real reasons behind the decisions."

"We are sometimes talking to different people, not knowing who is the decision maker. It often appears this is by design."

"When sailing gets rough, their communication becomes difficult due to the need of getting multiple internal buy-in for simple decisions. Technical aspects that need improvement are the setting up of an extranet - it took them more than three months and the registration procedure for it is more than Byzantine. The key decision making behaviour we observed was to pause activities."

"It is not always possible to understand the decision making process or stakeholders on their side. Organizational changes that effect the project are not necessarily communicated."

The level of decision-making

"Very often decisions are internally escalated to the BU Head. Staff in governance bodies do not always seem to be empowered."

"Decision making is very top down with a lot of review and committees involved in making decisions."

"The operational project team should have been staffed with individuals authorized to make strategic decisions about the program. It seemed as if none of the team members was empowered in that regard."

"Gaining insight into their internal decision-makers and decision-making processes and navigating the internal organization can be difficult for a partner. It is also difficult for the partner-facing team since their non-partner-facing bosses may have different opinions than their own, and what they have agreed to do with their partner."

"Decisions often have needed to be elevated within the company and this leads to alliance decisions being revisited because decision makers are not always at the table."


"There seems to be a lot of politics - which affects speed of decision-making and willingness for one to stick their neck out."

"Decision making is difficult -- sometimes because the 'appropriate person' isn't available to make the decision. Other times, it seems that no person wants to be responsible for making a decision."

"Contact persons were constantly changing throughout the discussions (internal turnover, re-assignment to new positions). Information flow between therapeutic areas and also within business development was not always optimal. Basically one had to present the same story again and again and always start from scratch, slow decisions, vastly self-occupied due to constant restructuring."

"The company is dysfunctional when it comes to making research and development decisions. They start and stop for political reasons alone and not clinical data."