16 Jun Back to Basics – Step 5: Preparing for Effective Integration – Governance & Reporting
Back to Basics – Demystifying Integration Design, Planning & Execution
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 you 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.
Preparing for Effective Integration – Governance & Reporting
Plan with clear objectives and accountabilities? Check. Teams in place to manage your integration workstreams? Check. Integration manager to captain the ship? Check. Everyone briefed and ready to go? Check. Well…provided everything goes exactly as you’ve planned. And it won’t. Check-mate.
Integration programmes are large, complex, and dynamic. One of the few certainties is disruption. Unexpected disruption. And no, your Risk Log does not allow you to ‘plan away’ these disruptions. No one would travel on a ship without a bridge and a well-trained crew. So, before you set out into the deeps of integration, you must install and test the structures that provide you with visibility and control of your programme from before Day 1 through to delivery of the final deal benefit.
While what follows may sound familiar to a seasoned project or programme manager, there are traps for the unwary. Too often the most experienced are also the most at risk of getting caught in one of these ‘whilrpools.’ Before discussing specific steps to take, consider these truths:
- Programmes are king, projects are subjects: Integrations are programmes, not projects. This is not mere semantics. It reflects fundamental differences manifested in ambiguity, interdependence, and fluidity of your journey. Projects are clearly circumscribed with defined inputs, expectations, and metrics. They can change, but not much. Programmes are strategic – they aim to transform the business working through the projects and in an integrative fashion. They place very different demands on their leaders and managers , and the best way to manage all of them. If you’re not familiar with the distinction, look it up;
- Stay in your lane, and talk: Rethink the role of ‘central’ programme management or a central programme/integration management office. As a general rule, the core role of an IMO is to facilitate and support, not to develop and enforce standards. If your IMO has become, the ‘programme police’, revisit its charter. If the integration manager sees her role as mechanically consolidating and analysing workstream update reports every week, recast the role.
- Use the right tool for the job – not the ‘only’ tool you have: Integrations succeed, not through the adoption of one consistent approach across all workstreams, but through the ability to flex their approach to reflect the different needs, capabilities and cultures of the business, and indeed of the individual workstreams within the programme itself. The best way to manage the integration of two finance IT systems is likely not the best way to manage the adoption of new ways of working in sales. Similarly, the rigour and structure needed for the first few weeks post-close as you gain control of the business will differ significantly from what’s needed in month nine as functional teams adjust to a new organisational structure. This isn’t to say that it should be a free-for-all – consistency can help you manage change, but too much of it may make it hard for your teams to deliver You may need different approaches and tools for different groups at different times pulled together in your programme management.
- Be smart – decisions are always tradeoffs: Go back to basics – good programme governance must help you monitor and manage six things: resources, dependencies, costs, benefits, quality and risk. Knowing where you stand with each of these will allow you to remain agile as circumstances change and new priorities emerge. It will allow you to understand and predict interdependencies. Keep governance light, pragmatic and focused on the above six items: How you manage them should be less about generic best practice and more about making sure that you are doing it in a way that works for your programme, your people, and your organisation.
With these principles in mind – and recognising that programme governance must be tailored to your needs – here are the basic components:
- Risk Management: Most people overcomplicate this element. Three key tips that have helped our clients:
- Consider risk in three distinct areas: First, risks that would prevent your integration from succeeding on time. These include standard risks that ‘everyone’ considers, like delays in the integration of an IT system or insufficient customer communications. Second, risks that your integration programme poses on day-to-day business. Too often teams fail to consider these ‘honestly’ despite their ubiquity. Events like staff burnout, customer defections and external meddling from regulators loom on the integration horizon. Third, risks that external factors and actions might pose to your integration. While a global pandemic might not have been considered sufficiently likely to include a few years ago, economic downturns, foreign exchange rate changes and competitor response regularly impact integration priorities.
- Give each identified risk an owner, to develop and complete actions to manage that risk. Use some type of visual risk chart to display the entire risk environment. Create accountability.
- Do not delude yourself. You have not exhausted the full range of risks your programme will encounter. Make sure your team is prepared and able to act quickly. Institute ‘early warning’ metrics to indicate approaching ‘storms.’
- Resource, Cost & Benefits Tracking: Your benefits & objectives model (posts #2 and #4 in this series) should provide the data you need. So, active management of these should be straightforward. Ensure organisations have the mechanisms in place (e.g. timesheets) for things like tracking internal time and labour cost spent on integration. This lets you make important tradeoffs quickly and consistently. Keep a keen eye (and metrics) on value delivery versus plan. It’s the only honest way to measure the acquisition’s benefits to the business.
- Reporting: Visibility between integration workstreams and the wider business is critical. Formal reports and integration system dashboards should include not just workstream status, delivery of milestones, costs, benefits and risks, but also metrics the integration’s impacts on the business – positive ones, of course, but especially negative ones. Typical metrics for negative impacts include unintended staff departures and absenteeism, customer satisfaction and churn, and accident rates. Your businesses may already measure the ‘right’ things, making it easy to ‘turn up the dial’ on some of these metrics by adapting them to integration (both collection and ‘warning levels’).
- Meetings: Standard regular meetings include Steering Committee or Integration Board to escalate and resolve issues, and make key course-correction decisions; and cross-workstream meetings to discuss dependencies and programme changes. Consider other meetings as your integration demands – to review specific workstreams, discuss risks and issues, or review and approve programme changes. Don’t overcomplicate things, but don’t get trapped in the ‘this is how we always do it’ whirlpool.
Remember, good governance is not the same as good programme management: The mechanisms you’ve instituted provide instrumentation, lighting, and communications throughout the ship. You still need a crew, a navigator and a captain to get to your destination while avoiding whirlpools, icebergs, and ‘the kraken.’
In the next post in the series, I’ll discuss what can be the single most important element in integration: helping the crew and passengers on board remain engaged in, and supportive of, your journey and the final destination.
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.
 A good starting primer can be found in the PRINCE2 body of knowledge: https://www.prince2.com/uk/blog/project-vs-programme.