Chapter 5: Implementation Strategy for Agile M&A

While Agile is extremely scalable and adaptable, deploying Agile techniques within an organization accustomed to following traditional processes will require commitment to change and strong leadership. Successful adoption challenges the status quo and demands a delicate balance of innovation and organizational change management.

The term “change management” refers to a constellation of techniques designed to help support individuals, teams, and/or companies through significant organizational transformation or restructuring. The M&A process itself relies heavily on change management techniques to help integrate new acquisitions — a process which almost always entails a radical shift in governance and workflow. Teams adopting an Agile approach to M&A initiative can benefit greatly from applying these same techniques. Strong leadership and vision is required to implement change management successfully.

If we are to make the shift to a more transformational and Agile approach to M&A, there needs to also be a similar shift in mindset and behaviors. The way to achieve this is through strong leadership that aligns processes and people. Agility is necessary not only in terms of leadership, in order to facilitate a shift in behaviors, but also in the methods and the tools that you use. Fluidity requires collaboration and openness, a strong focus on early and continuous delivery of value, and a willingness to adapt and a readiness to commit every day. M&A success always begins and ends with leadership. It’s the way people own the organization, and look out for and influence each other, that really matters. Agile leadership means working to keep teams aligned and focused on value creation.

Some of the challenges that teams face when attempting to adopt an Agile approach include:

Source: CollabNet/VersionOne

Above is a snapshot from the 13th Annual State of Agile Report, published in 2019. The data shows that it is critical to manage change strategically in order to successfully execute Agile projects. This means that leaders of the organization must be educated in Agile principles so that they can champion and support the change in mindset; without their buy-in and active engagement, the organization will not adopt a new way of doing work and will miss out on an opportunity to gain a competitive edge. Teams will change only if properly motivated, usually by a broader cultural movement.

An organization can successfully apply Agile principles in multiple different ways. Given the uniqueness of each project domain and team, there is no single formula to maximize success. Some companies may adopt specific Agile techniques which advance their unique goals, while others may embrace the process as a whole. Some organizations may already intuitively follow Agile techniques, leaving for a minimal change in process. Other companies, however, may require larger transformations. In that case, companies may want to approach changes incrementally or adopt them all at once. Despite the current structure of an organization or the implementation approach they choose to take, there are certain strategies that can serve as effective points of reference.

Source: CollabNet/VersionOne

Bring in the experts

When a team without previous Agile experience wants to formally adopt an Agile process, the easiest and most painless way is to hire expert advisors to initiate the introduction. Without access to real knowledge and practical experience, any attempt to adopt a radical new process model is sure to devolve into the blind leading the blind.

Luckily, there are many ways to bring that Agile knowledge to the table. An Agile coach can provide training seminars, help teams learn to effectively field plays like the daily standup or prioritizing the backlog, and act as a resource for long-term implementation success.

In some cases, Agile expertise may be more readily accessible than expected. In companies with large IT or software development departments, entire functions may already be operating according to Agile principles. This is how the corp dev and integration teams at Google and Atlassian first started using Agile techniques — by adopting them over time, from the example of other internal company functions.