What to think when you are concerned that a consortium project is moving too slowly

curves of achievement

Bill Gates is credited with saying that "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years."

This maxim rings true for consortium projects.

During the development or at the inception of a consortium project, everyone involved is typically enthusiastic and full of great ideas and plans. Expectations tend to be very high.

After 1-year expectations often become tempered. The reality of trying to do something ambitious by bringing together different disciplines across the globe can be disappointing.

Everyone thinks "well this is difficult, but at least we will get something out of it".

The reality is that the achievement curve in consortium projects is neither one of rapid return or minimal rise and fade. It is more of an exponential curve. A slow start with a later rapid rise.

Interestingly enough, the exponential rise ofter happens around around the 10-year mark. The risk is that you interpret the slow start as a predictor of minimal achievement over the long term.

Here is the actual curve of publications produced by the U-BIOPRED consortium by year:

Publications chartv5

Beware of the sunk cost fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is a thinking bias where you judge the future value of something based upon the costs you have already invested. At any given point in time the incurred costs have little or no bearing on the eventual level of achievement.

If you apply the sunk cost fallacy in the early phases of a consortium project, you could lose out.

The rate of rise the achievement curve in the early stages of a consortium project has no bearing on the eventual level of achievement.

The exponential curve of achievement is a power law. Power laws are common in all fields and domains.

Power laws occur because of a compounding effect. As achievements are made, they add to each other.

Interaction = compounding achievement

If your consortium is not highly interactive the compounding effect will be less. If partners operate in relative silos, successive achievements will occur in isolation. There will be less of an opportunity to build upon previous achievements.

There is also a compounding in terms of the relationships. As people get to know each other, trust increases. With more trust, it is easier to work together and build off each other's ideas.

When you find yourself wondering if it is worth continuing to invest time and effort into that consortium project which seems to be moving at a snail's pace, consider that this might be normal.

It is, however, essential to ask yourself: Is the level of interaction what it could be? When the answer is no, do what you can to increase the level of interaction.

When a consortium is highly interactive, you can be confident that the compounding effect will guarantee that at some point, the consortium's rate of achievement will become exponential. 

Scott Wagers

"The Consortium Whisperer" Physician and researcher who has spent the last 12 years engaged in developing biomedical R&D consortia, as well as designing and supporting the delivery of consortium based projects.

No matter who you are, you can, and you should innovate through consortia. They are the only way to make a big difference to the future of medicine. Want to find out how? Get in touch.