Back to Basics – Demystifying Integration Design, Planning & Execution – Step 1: Starting the Journey

Demystifying Integration Design, Planning & Execution

Back to Basics – Demystifying Integration Design, Planning & Execution – Step 1: Starting the Journey

M&A integration: Challenging to deliver, yet not complicated to understand. Success comes down to a few basics. Often missed or mis-applied, they are easy to spot in hindsight. To succeed, you must keep them in sight throughout the tumult of the deal. Over 20 years, on over 100 engagements, Beyond the Deal has fine-tuned its approach to integration design, planning and execution. Sharing this knowledge has created a learning dynamic. If you are preparing for your first integration or looking to improve your own approach, this series of blogs will outline BTD’s thoughts and learnings on the basic steps. You can access the entire set of posts and podcasts in this ‘back to basics’ series here.

Step 1: Starting the Journey

Congratulations – you’ve just been nominated Integration Manager for your company’s latest major acquisition. A significant, high-profile career step, AND a great learning experience. You’ve managed large change programmes before, but never an integration. Fortunately, you’ve been brought into the deal at an early stage pre-close; in fact, due diligence is only now beginning to get underway. Lots of time to ‘do this properly’ without cutting corners simply hoping for the best. Nevertheless, you still need to be efficient and focused.

But where to start? As the saying goes…at the end. Designing the combined business and planning in detail how to get there, needs to happen before Day 1. This will inform communications and prevent overly eager functional heads from running off in different directions. Your biggest challenge is making sure everyone has the same picture of the future and the route to get there – at least at a high level – before taking the first step. Better still, the acquisition is not yet a ‘done deal.’ Given the serious post-close challenges you’ve seen emerge in past acquisitions, you know that the more integration work is done up-front, the better they will be in valuing the business, deciding who will be retained from the target’s management team, and even negotiating the deal terms themselves.

You’re going to need a strong start: setting the agenda, building senior relationships across both organisations, and gaining commitment to your plan: not yet the plan for integration, but at least a plan on how to put it together. You’re tempted to start with all the deal documentation (not that there is much at this point) and start making assumptions about benefits and end-state – hey, you’re smart, you could probably come up with a good integration plan all by yourself – but you know that management buy-in is essential. The best way to do that is to get them involved directly in the design and planning exercise itself.

The first step is simple but, despite appearances, absolutely crucial: Spend a week – more if necessary: get to know all the key players, and help them get to know and trust you. Start with a kick-off meeting to outline how the design and planning will proceed and what will be delivered. Make sure to invite everyone who will be involved: ideally everyone who will have a role in delivering deal/integration benefits and managing the future integrated business. This should be followed by 1-1 discussions with each of them to hear their own views and assumptions on the ’right answer’ for integration, what objectives should be set, and what challenges they anticipate; what’s their ‘personal perspective and priority’ for the integration? Tools like a card sort exercise can be very useful here. If you can, include leaders from the target organisation who are already confirmed to be ‘coming across’. Integrations are typified by uncertainty and pace, neither of which is generally good, so use these meetings to reduce both.

The information you will learn, alongside the deal documentation will be vital inputs into the next step: confirming and detailing integration objectives. Your efforts to personalise the exercise for them now will build their support of the process, and their trust in you to be objective and capable of leading them on this journey.

In my next post in the series, I’ll discuss this second step: Confirming Integration Objectives and Benefits.


As a specialist firm with a senior team and over 20 years of experience, BTD is providing the new thinking, advice, resources and tools to help businesses get the most out of their M&A, divestment and alliance activities. If you think we can help you achieve your goals, give us a call.