A Want or a Need?

A want or a need? Just put it on the corporate American Express card

What do we spend our money on to conduct a clinical trial?

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Money Matters: This week is payday!  Hope you have nice plans for Independence Day in the US, that you enjoyed Canada Day to our friends up North, and Happy Tuesday to everyone else.  

Today’s topic falls under the theme of trial fiscal management. Like a steady paycheck, you can look for blog updates on financial topics in this semi-monthly series.

My team at work just wrapped up a large multi-national Phase II CNS clinical trial.  As June ended, we handed over the final invoices and accruals to the friendly folks in finance.  By the numbers, we utilized somewhere around 20 individual vendors to support various trial activities.  Some were big ticket vendors (3 Contract Research Organizations, 3 Central Labs, Biostatistical Services, etc.) and others were smaller partners (Translations, Centralized Recruitment, Printing, Meeting Planning and Travel services, Patient Incentives, etc.).  So here we are in July, doing our Lessons Learned, filing away all the trial artifacts to the Trial Master File, and sealing up the central file archives.  It is an ideal time to pause and ask, “Did we get what we paid for?” Our Board wants to know did we spend our money wisely?  I’m thinking of future trials and reviewing all the actual costs, out-of-scope costs, change orders, and individual vendor metrics.  Would I want to work with any of these partners again? Can I afford it?

If it Were my Money

I regularly dispute invoices, defend contract terms, and scout out budget savings.  Whenever finance sends me a new Purchase Order or Service Agreement in Docusign I just think down the road three months,12 months or more and ask, “Will I be able to defend my signature and authorization for payment?”  More directly, “If it were my money, would I be comfortable with this transaction?”  Obviously, as a Program manager at my company, I have the companies best interest at heart and this exercise is a nice pause before I sign away the treasure chest.  

But Do I Really Need it?

clinical trial manager goes shoppingClearly, by the time contracts make their way to finance, my team has already made a thoughtful vendor selection.  I know for myself at work, when I am evaluating a new service partner or product my first concern is always, “Will this save me money, time, and frustration downstream?”  

So a few days ago I received my catalog for the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. At around this same time, my husband started parroting Suze Orman’s Financial Tip for July, “Is it a want or a need?”  Are you kidding me?!? The timing couldn’t be any worse! Thanks a lot, Suze. Now I’m going to have to invent some reasons for my husband as to why those Cole Haan pumps are a wardrobe essential…

Suze’s Tip of the Month Before you buy anything ask yourself is this a need or is this a want? If it is a need of course you have to buy it. If it is a want, walk away.

Stay with me here, I promise the Nordstrom sale is related to clinical trial finance.  One of the most important questions I can ask myself before selecting any service partner or product is, “Do I really need this?” A big part of my role is to suss out alternatives, inefficiencies, and to forecast and redirect us around future pitfalls.  If the product or service doesn’t help with this latter goal and it is simply fun, interesting, pretty, or nice to have then I’m absolutely obligated to recommend against implementing it.

OK, Maybe I Just Want It

I’d love to have your thoughts or comments on how you honestly evaluate wants versus needs when operating a clinical trial below or via email.  If you can get by with less, should you?  The total cost of an item is not just the initial purchase price added with the ongoing maintenance price.  We must also measure the time, frustrations, and resource savings with implementation; these items can be more difficult to quantify and predict.  At various times in my career, I have found that wanting to save money has had the unintended consequence of costing the team more money or inefficiency in the long run.  You usually get what you pay for, no more and hopefully no less.  The ability to distinguish between wants and needs is a crucial part of the clinical operations toolkit.

See, I told you I could relate the Nordstrom sale to work!  Now if I can just get my boss to give me some time away from the office next week to shop…since it is work related and all.

Are you interested in other relevant posts from the Money Matters series?

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About The Author


Nadia Bracken, lead contributor to the Lead CRA blog and the ClinOps Toolkit blog, is a Clinical Program Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.

1 Comment

  • Nickolas

    August 2, 2014

    Exceptional post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Appreciate it!

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