Play #4 - Team Retrospective

Truly developing and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement and refinement is difficult to achieve, yet vital for M&A functions to deliver reliable maximum value. Implementing retrospectives, a fundamental Agile practice, can enable practitioners to extract important lessons from M&A deals and proactively enforce them to improve future outcomes.

Retrospectives are meetings that take place during deal milestones or after the deal closes, to review what is working well and what is not, as well as to consider how to improve on the process. The goal of retrospectives is to gauge the effectiveness of deal processes and tools and to determine a plan for future improvement.

These open discussions help to identify ways to improve processes and strengthen team alignment. Morale increases overall when team members feel that their voices are heard, and team members will likely have great follow-through on ideas they generate themselves.

To put the retrospective into play, set time to meet with your team, and send the questions you will ask ahead of time so that team members can reflect and prepare their responses should include: “What worked really well for this deal?” “What lessons have we learned that we can apply to the next deal?” and “What did not work this time that we should avoid doing on this next deal?”

Expert Opinions:
“Retrospectives are probably the most valuable thing. Have you ever worked on a project that lasted many months, maybe even more than a year, and at the end of it did a thing called a postmortem? Usually either you give each other high-fives and move on, or you complain about all the things that did not go well and you move on. Nothing changes, you just start the next project. You do all the same things that you did last time, whether they were good or bad. It is ineffective. ‘Postmortem’ means ‘after death.’ They are held after the project is already dead, so they have no impact on [the current] project and they really have no impact on the next project, because it will involve a different configuration of people, a different team, and they are not getting feedback fast enough to actually learn effectively and make changes. One of the typical Agile practices is to do feedback sessions with the team, called ‘retrospectives.’ Do a retrospective every one or two weeks, look at what is happening, look at ways to help the team be more effective, look for ways to unlock the team's latent value and the organization's latent value.”
M&A Science Interview with Richard Kasperowski, Author, Consultant and Harvard Instructor

Conduct the meeting and emphasize the importance of openness. Then, summarize the meeting’s key conclusions and commitments for improvement. Holding retrospectives will not only improve your next deal but will also build a strong culture of trust and collaboration.

The retrospective presents the opportunity for the team to reflect back on their process periodically and to extract useful lessons. The conclusions drawn from the retrospective meeting are integrated into the process before the next meeting — proven processes are replicated, and problems re-examined and evaluated. By closely examining poor processes, participants brainstorm new approaches to replace these ineffective procedures. Through this thoughtful periodic evaluation, the group as a whole engages in a process of continuous evaluation and improvement.

Most traditional projects follow a process called the “project post-mortem,” also known as “lessons learned.” If the project was successful, the project post-mortems takes the form of a big celebration — but, if not, it becomes a “witch hunt.” In either case, future improvements to the process are seldom the central focus.

Expert Opinions:
“Do a retrospective every one or two weeks to look at what's happening and look at ways to help the team be more effective. Look for ways to unlock the team's latent value and the organization's latent value and do that every week or every two weeks. If you have one idea every week for how to make the team or company better, by the end of the year you've had 52 ideas. It's not just that you had 52 ideas and you fixed 52 things, the first idea from the first week is sort of compounding interest and the interest on having made that improvement will compound throughout the rest of the year. You'll get greater and greater benefits throughout the year. By the end of the year, you've had 52 ideas to make things better and you've had all the compounding interest from the 52 weeks. The team and the organization are going to be so much better of doing that versus doing a postmortem at the end of the 12th month.”
M&A Science Interview with Richard Kasperowski, Author, Consultant and Harvard Instructor

The Agile retrospective is different and is designed to focus squarely on refining and improving the deal process, the meeting takes place periodically over the course of the M&A project.

During the retrospective, the team should engage in the following:

  1. Highlight issues that affect workflow and team dynamic
  2. Analyze the effectiveness of any plays fielded, and brainstorm potential adjustments
  3. Discuss how successful the team has been in aligning low-level work with the True North strategic goals of the initiative
  4. Review any other pertinent items affecting the deal team or the diligence process

The ultimate goal of the team retrospective is to provide a foundation for continuous improvement. In most cases, the core members of a deal team will work with each other over the course of the entire M&A lifecycle, and work together again on future deals. If they can effectively refine and improve their team dynamic and workflow with each project, the team will gradually evolve towards an ideal operating state.

Key Takeaways:

Value Proposition: holding an effective retrospective encourages the team to seek to accomplish tasks in a more efficient and effective way

How to put it in play:

  1. Examine successes as well as opportunities for improvement
  2. Consider key dimensions such as people, processes, and tools
  3. Commit to making at least one change for the next logical increment of time (e.g. per sprint/iteration or per month)

Anti-patterns to avoid:

  1. Focusing excessively on negatives or positives
  2. Continuing to do things the same way and expecting different results
  3. Considering ideas only from the most senior or experienced team member

Close the Deal; Incorporate Final Lessons

Once the deal team has begun to receive a steady flow of information from the target asset, the team naturally establishes a daily cadence of planning, executing, reviewing, refining, and delivering work items. As the team completes tasks, the total volume of remaining work items continuously decreases.

If a deal makes it through the diligence period without the deal team uncovering any major issues, the acquisition is almost sure to go ahead. Between lawyers, advisors, bankers, and data room providers, the diligence process often costs millions of dollars — if either party walks away, it is inevitably both costly and demoralizing to everyone involved. But regardless of how the deal plays out, the role of the deal team in its conventional form ends with diligence.

Following the close of the deal, Agile team members should take some time to think about the deal process as a whole, asking questions like: “what worked really well for this deal?” and “what lessons have we learned that we can apply to the next deal?” and “what did not work this time that we should avoid in the next deal?”

Once every team member has had sufficient time to reflect, the deal team should close out the diligence project and formally initiate the next phase of the M&A lifecycle: post-merger integration. The same set of Agile practices used in the deal itself can scale to accommodate the more complex needs of the integration process.