Does Focus Improve Operational Performance? Lessons from the Management of Clinical Trials

37 Pages Posted: 7 May 2005

See all articles by Robert S. Huckman

Robert S. Huckman

Harvard Business School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Darren E. Zinner

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: April 2005

Abstract

For over three decades, the benefits of operational focus have been touted under the guiding principle that dedicated attention to a subset of linked tasks will improve performance. The empirical evidence on the benefits of focus, however, is mixed. We explore the effect of operational focus by studying the investigative sites in biopharmaceutical clinical trials. Within a given trial, multiple investigative sites recruit eligible volunteers, enroll them into a common clinical protocol, and process them according to the same quality specifications. Because these sites vary substantially in their organizational structure, this setting allows us to examine whether focus is associated with increased operational performance, as measured by patient enrollment across a given trial. After controlling for selection, scale, and learning effects, we find that sites that focus on performing clinical trials significantly outperform those that mix trial activity with the provision of traditional patient care. Diversified sites that separate clinical trial activity and traditional patient care through a "plant-within-a-plant" structure achieve performance that is statistically equivalent to that of a fully focused site dedicated solely to clinical trials. Finally, we find that sites characterized by focus only at the level of front-line production workers experience similar benefits to those characterized by focus only at the level of management.

Keywords: Focus, operational performance, productivity, pharmaceuticals, clinical trials

JEL Classification: I10, L20, L65, M10

Suggested Citation

Huckman, Robert S. and Zinner, Darren E., Does Focus Improve Operational Performance? Lessons from the Management of Clinical Trials (April 2005). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=715441 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.715441

Robert S. Huckman (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Technology & Operations Management
435 Morgan Hall
Boston, MA 02163
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Darren E. Zinner

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
211
Abstract Views
2,258
rank
177,324
PlumX Metrics