By Kison Patel and Sue Kim-Ichel
1. Ask teams to be self-reflective and solicit feedback from them
2. Implement “stand-ups” for every work stream
3. Use stand-ups to produce a centralized milestone map and/or calendar
4. Engage in post-deal retrospectives
5. Start utilizing some Agile-esq tools
6. Consider an Agile coach
There is an old adage comparing the process of mergers and acquisitions to trying to complete a large puzzle when your right hand and your left hand have never worked together.
To put it lightly, mergers and acquisitions revolve around a plethora of moving parts; further complicating matters is the fact you suddenly have two companies and additional stakeholders that now need to work and communicate together fairly seamlessly in order to bring the deal to completion.
Consequently, during the process of M&A, it is not uncommon for teams to make mistakes because they do not have the right methods in place.
Perhaps they make inappropriate decisions because they fail to recognize the jobs and priorities of other teams; in turn, perhaps this causes delays because tasks were not executed properly and/or efficiently.
In addition to mistakes riddling many M&A deals, I often hear from companies that they would like to get deals done faster, improve stakeholder buy-in, and close information gaps.
The solutions to these pitfalls lies within the principles of Agile.
I know, I know.
You’ve already heard about Agile, and you already have a way of doing things that works for you and your teams (or perhaps just the thought of another corporate buzzword makes your eyes glaze over and body shudder).
Much like following a diet plan, applying Agile principles to your company does not have to be an all or nothing approach.
Sure, when executed thoughtfully and completely from the top-down, Agile’s methods produce immensely positive results such as increased accountability, improved transparency, strong governance of work streams and teams, and robust communication.
But simply implementing some “sneaky” Agile into the process of M&A will benefit all stakeholders.
A nonjudgemental conversation with your teams is a great place to start. Asking teams about how they are currently operating and then asking how they would like to operate in the future not only provides valuable information and improves morale, but also opens the team up to change in a subtle way.
Oftentimes, through these conversations, it becomes evident that Agile principles can help the team reach its goals.
By beginning in this manner, teams don’t feel Agile, or change for that matter, is being forced upon them, but rather they see Agile methods as resources for helping them reach their goals.
These self reflective conversations work best when they happen regularly, such as every 6 to 8 weeks.
The team can talk about continuous progress and institute changes to processes and expectations in a proactive matter.
This type of approach is basic change management.
In order for employees to buy into any kind of change a receptive and trusting environment needs to be in place.
Transparency is one of Agile’s key principles and nothing creates extreme transparency like daily stand-ups for teams.
The stand-ups do not need to be long, perhaps only 15-30 minutes, but the advantages are extensive.
The facilitators of the teams should also meet, perhaps weekly or bi-weekly, and the reporting up should continue until it has reached the top-level.
This reporting eliminates redundancy and gives teams power (specifically, the facilitator should be protecting the team from distractions so that it can get things done).
Additionally, the communication that stems from all of this upwards reporting helps to establish clear-cut roles for all workers and teams. In turn, this allows for thoughtful decision making - yes, teams and workers should have clearly defined responsibilities and points of focus, but none of the work, nor the decisions, are made in a vacuum.
The particulars extracted from the communication outlined above gain power when they are put to use.
The most successful Agile companies take this information and create a centralized map and/or calendar to show what everyone is working on and the goals everyone is working towards.
Again, this keeps roles and expectations clearly defined, eliminates redundant work, makes for smarter decision-making, and keeps stakeholders happy.
Similar to the advice in my first tip, having an open and honest conversation with team facilitators after deals close produces incredibly valuable information and opens the door to planning and enacting change.
Again, the aspects of the deal that used Agile strategies will most likely have been proven successful, increasing employee Agile buy-in, and areas that were not successful, or that could stand to be improved upon, might be best solved using additional Agile principles.
Also, once again, this approach, centered around the input of the facilitators, allows for employees to have a voice, thus making them less resistant to change.
After a deal is executed, why would an M&A team want to have a retrospective?
It forces them them to reflect, and the point is to continuously improve processes going forward on future M&A deals.
By examining what the team should do better, the next deal they execute will be more efficient, faster, etc.
Jira, Trello, and DealRoom are just a few of the many technology-based resources companies can use as catalysts to become more transparent, more organized, and more Agile. Surely, using these tools alone will not mark a strong shift towards Agile, but they are solid starting points.
Finally, if you are truly committed to becoming more Agile, recognize that you might need to call in the experts.
Eliciting the help of someone who has had success in a truly Agile company is invaluable because everyone involved in the M&A process should be coached - stakeholders, team leaders, team members, and upper level management.
An Agile coach can alleviate some of the stress that can come with initiating a large change and he/she can assure that you are taking the correct steps to maximize Agile’s benefits.
Undoubtedly, Agile’s principles are perfect for the fast-paced world of M&A, and with its ability to transform (and speed up) the process, Agile is certain to be the future of M&A.
Taking small steps to become more Agile and increase employee buy-in will allow companies to move to the forefront of the global economy, and those who refuse to adapt will be left behind.
As Ben Franklin said: “when you are finished changing, you’re finished.”