The Fire Triangle: Part 2 Expert Communication

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Published: 2023/11/09 By: Tom Lazenby

In Clinical Trial Vendor Management, communication is the oxygen, facilitating every process and enabling a seamless flow of data.

Diving into the Fire Triangle’s second pillar, let’s explore the importance of effective Communication, focusing on its three primary components: Escalation, Expectations, and change management.


Escalation management acts is a safety net within the clinical trial framework. Given the complexity of clinical trials, issues ranging from data quality to supply chain disruptions are inevitable.

Escalation ensures:

  • Structured Pathway: a formal route for concerns to travel from identification to resolution. This approach ensures that each issue is directed to someone with the authority and expertise to handle it effectively.
  • Timely management: issues are resolved promptly, mitigating the risk of minor setbacks evolving into major impediments that could derail the trial timelines or affect quality.
  • Preventative Action: escalation management serves as a preventative mechanism against potential risks that could compromise the trial’s integrity.

Risks of Inadequate Escalation Processes:

  • Festering Problems: issues do not become time bombs, with the potential to escalate into more serious problems that can disrupt the clinical trial process.
  • Misunderstandings and Delays: Miscommunication can occur when there is no clear directive on how to handle arising issues. This can lead to project delays, cost overruns, and a loss of trust among stakeholders.
  • Trial Jeopardy: without timely escalation, the clinical trial’s integrity can be compromised, risking the trial’s success and the sponsor’s reputation.

Benefits of a Robust Escalation Process:

Quick Problem Resolution: Facilitating turnaround times in addressing and resolving issues, reducing the impact on the trial’s progress.
Smoother Operations: streamlined operations by defining the path issues should take, preventing bottlenecks and ensuring that the right problems are solved by the right people.
Stakeholder Confidence: It fosters trust between all parties— including sponsors, vendors, and regulatory bodies — by demonstrating that the trial is well-managed and prepared for any eventualities.

Achieving Effective Escalation Management:
Communication Plan: clear guidelines outline the circumstances that necessitate escalation, the criteria for urgency levels, and the process for escalating issues.
Clear Communication Channels: dedicated lines of communication for escalation purposes, ensuring that they are widely known and accessible to all stakeholders.
Training and Awareness: comprehensive training to all team members on the escalation process to ensure everyone understands their role and the steps to follow.
Resolution Framework: expected resolution timeframes and follow-up procedures to ensure accountability and that escalated matters are resolved within acceptable timelines.
Continuous Improvement: review and refine the escalation process based on feedback and the evolving needs of the clinical trial to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.


Expectation management is critical in clinical trials because it aligns vendor performance with trial objectives.

When expectations are well-managed:

  • Unified Vision: vendors, sponsors, and clinical sites, understand the trial’s objectives and their role in achieving them, which is fundamental for a synchronised effort.
  • Reduction of Conflict: defined expectations act as a preventative measure against conflicts and misunderstandings that can arise from unclear or assumed roles and responsibilities.
  • Compliance and Quality Assurance: vendors are aware of and adhere to the regulatory standards and quality requirements necessary for a successful trial.

Risks of Poor Expectation Management:

  • Misalignment of Goals: unclear trial’s objectives, their efforts may not align with what’s needed, leading to inefficiencies and potentially affecting the trial outcome.
  • Resource Wastage: resources may be misused or allocated inefficiently, leading to increased costs and time delays.
  • Project Derailment: miscommunication and misaligned activities can significantly hinder progress and risk project completion.

Benefits of Effective Expectation Management:

  • Efficiency in Operations: smoother operations by delineating clear paths of action for all parties involved, reducing back-and-forth and rework.
  • Enhanced Accountability: easier to hold stakeholders accountable for their deliverables, performance, and deadlines.
  • Common Goals: all efforts by the vendors are directly contributing to the common goal, which is the successful completion of the clinical trial.

Achieving Effective Expectation Management:
Comprehensive Briefings: where every aspect of the vendor’s role is discussed in depth, from the start-up phase through to trial completion.
Documentation: including scope of work, timelines, communication protocols, and quality standards.
Regular Reviews: review process to assess vendor performance against expectations and adjust as necessary.
Transparent Communication: communication of any clarifications or adjustments needed, and ensuring feedback mechanisms.
Training and Support: training and resources needed to meet the set expectations, ensuring they understand how to fulfil their responsibilities effectively.

Change Management

Why is Communication Crucial in Change Management for Vendor Oversight?

  • Clarity of Purpose: the rationale behind changes is understood, fostering vendor alignment and reducing resistance.
  • Direction and Guidance: outlining new procedures and expectations, thereby minimising confusion.
  • Stakeholder Involvement: promoting transparency and trust throughout the change process.

What Are the Risks of Poor Communication in Change Management?

  • Resistance and Misunderstanding: impeding the adoption of necessary changes.
  • Operational Disruption: changes may not be properly executed, leading to potential disruptions in trial processes and outcomes.
  • Cost Overruns: miscommunication can result in avoidable mistakes, necessitating additional resources to correct issues and leading to increased trial costs.

What Are the Benefits of Effective Communication in Change Management?

  • Smooth Transition: helping vendors adjust their operations without significant disruption.
  • Collaborative Environment: open and clear communication channels contribute to a collaborative environment, enhancing the problem-solving capacity of the vendor team.
  • Data Integrity: communicating changes effectively ensures that the integrity of trial data is preserved, even when procedural changes occur.

How Do You Implement Effective Communication in Change Management?
Structured Communication Plans: detail how changes will be conveyed to vendors, including timelines and methods.
Educational Resources: training sessions to fully equip vendors with the knowledge to handle changes in the trial.
Feedback Mechanisms: Implement feedback mechanisms to encourage an exchange of ideas and concerns, allowing for refinements in the change management process.
Ongoing Updates: keep vendors up-to-date of any developments or additional changes, ensuring continuous alignment.

Wrapping Up

Communication serves as the Oxygen of Clinical Trial Vendor Management, empowering escalation management, precise expectation setting, and agile change management.

When combined, these create an environment where issues are pre-emptively identified and resolved, expectations are transparently defined and met, and changes are smoothly integrated with minimal disruption.

Escalation management, with its structured pathway and preventative measures, mitigates risks and fosters swift resolution of issues, thereby maintaining the momentum and integrity of the trial.

Expectation management aligns vendors with trial objectives, reduces conflict, and enhances accountability, leading to efficient operations and goal congruence.

Change management, underscored by clear communication, directs and supports vendors through transitions, ensuring that the trial’s processes and data integrity remain uncompromised despite changes.

Implementing these communication-focused strategies—clear guidelines, structured plans, and open channels—provides a robust framework for navigating the complexities of clinical trials.

Tom Lazenby

Tom is the Founder and CEO of Mayet. Using his experience in streamlining operations and driving innovation in clinical research, Tom is dedicated to enhancing the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and risk mitigation strategies for vendor management and oversight.

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