Becoming a digitally-enabled trusted partner, putting customers at the core
Charles River Labs set a goal to become a “Digitally-Enabled Trusted Partner” that integrates expertise, seamless offerings, and digital delivery to enable customers to accelerate the development of high-quality medicines for patients. To achieve this, they recognized the need to rethink their approach in three key areas: customer engagement, internal employee interactions, and their technology foundation.
With McKinsey’s support, Charles River started with a Digital Diagnostic that was focused on understanding its starting point for how it engages with customers externally and what customers thought about that experience, internal operations required to deliver customer impact, and its capabilities on critical enablers of these processes – from technology to talent to data and beyond. Critical to this work was identifying the value at stake, uncovering customer pain points and unmet needs along the buying journey, and providing digital, design, engineering, and data capabilities. These inputs helped build the business case across multiple initiatives and prioritize where to start. Charles River completed this three-month diagnostic phase with a vision for a new digital enterprise and a minimal viable product (MVP) to deliver an online customer engagement and interaction platform.
“One thing the digital transformation has done for our employees at Charles River is to allow our employees to become innovators. They can recognize aspects that could be optimized, reconsidered from different perspectives, and gather feedback from each other to develop improved tools and processes that significantly impact our customers' experience positively.” – Pam Walker, Corporate Vice President & Global Head of Operations, Charles River Laboratories
The company spent the next three months mobilizing for the digital business build. The team prepared the technical foundations, user stories, and user-tested digital experience to be ready for the first sprint. To ensure they had the right set of capabilities going forward, the team set up an “agile talent win room” to quickly source new talent and upskill existing employees on agile methods, sprint cadence, and ceremonies, as well as the specifics of new roles such as product owner, product designer, and scrum master.
“Adopting agile ways of working and design thinking changed the way that we think about technology, transforming us from long 12- to 18-month deliveries to short, frequent delivery that is regularly reviewed with customers so we can quickly pivot based on the value that we're creating.” – Mark Mintz, Corporate Senior Vice President & Chief Information Officer, Charles River Laboratories
From there, the “digital factory” was launched—the MVP was called “Apollo,” representing an entirely new way of engaging digitally with customers and collaborating as an organization, all enabled by a new technical architecture, including a cloud environment and master data architecture stood up by the team. Apollo provides customers the ability to track their projects in one place, and have access to near real-time data, so they know how each project is progressing. This platform has enabled Charles River to build a richer relationship with clients, becoming a true adviser and thought partner on their drug development journey.
In six short months, the team completed and launched the MVP. Apollo is now on a scale-up release phase, and in the spirit of lasting change, the company thinks of it as a “lifestyle rather than a diet.” They continue to deploy the new agile methodology across the organization to solve problems in innovative ways.
“Our cultural shift has been incredibly exciting to witness. We are working with greater transparency, making work more visible. and embracing agile practices, which has enhanced team accountability. We are now a different and better company. We are moving at a speed we’ve never seen before. Every day, we wake up with the goal of transforming and elevating the client experience. That this is now a reality and an ongoing effort is ground breaking.” – Gina M. Mullane, Corporate Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, Charles River Laboratories
It has been three years and Charles River is successfully scaling across the entire enterprise, including customer-facing interactions, e-commerce, employee collaboration, lab operations, and automation in finance. They have an at-scale digital factory and have expanded from 3 agile pods to more than 20 across multiple business units and functions, dramatically accelerating the speed of delivering new products and services. It also has a best-in-class customer enablement platform. And at Charles River, they remain customer-focused, using design thinking in each product and service launched to meet customer and employee needs. Ultimately, Charles River has successfully shifted from being a science organization to a science and technology organization and better able to support patients by accelerating drug development.
marketing needs to turnaround a project, down from 28 days
employees and leaders
trained in agile work methods in less than six months
annual run-rate impact
identified over the initial three years
months to launch
new digital products and services, down from 12-18 months
This playbook, which McKinsey has been developing and using with clients for the past six years, lays out exactly what it takes to build the capabilities to continually create great customer experiences, lower costs, and build value.