Adopt Agile Ways of Working

Adopt Agile Ways of Working

Note: This is part of a series of posts about driving transformation through Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A). Here’s my first post. This summarises the M&A challenge and the ten recommendations I have for success.

The Power of Ideas

When a powerful idea surfaces in one industry, it doesn’t take long for people to see how it can be potentially applied elsewhere. Take the concept of agile software development. It all started with a Harvard Business Review article on product development back in 1986. What it said was that companies need to move away from the old, sequential approach to developing new products towards a faster and more flexible way of doing things. The exercise was likened to playing a game of Rugby.

While originally a product development concept, it was the software industry that saw the true power behind the idea. It grabbed the ‘ball’ (so to speak) and ran with it. Today scrum sessions (from the game of Rugby) have become almost ubiquitous in software projects around the world.

What makes the Agile approach so potent is the way it responds to ambiguity and uncertainty. It’s really an approach capable of being applied to any industry. Just as software developers use Agile methods to respond to changes in project requirements, the same methods can be readily applied to almost any kind of business change, particularly when the end result remains uncertain and still open to discovery.

While Agile methods are incredibly important what’s really driving the whole Agile approach is a particular mindset and set of behaviours.

The Agile Manifesto

What the Agile Manifesto makes clear about mindset and behaviours is that success is more about people than it is with process. A cursory glance at the manifesto shows that people activities on the left precede process activities on the right.

Agile applied to M&A

So for the Agile approach to successfully work in the M&A industry, for example, there needs to be that similar focus on people and not just process on its own. The challenge, however, is that the business of M&A can be quite conservative with a strong transactional mindset and set of behaviours at its core. With industry professionals so entrenched to a particular way of managing deals, it can be quite hard to win over hearts and minds on a different approach – unless there’s a very valid reason for changing.

That reason for change has come as organisations begin to move away from traditional acquisitions towards a more audacious and aggressive form of deal making. This is seen with the impact that digital and other technologies are having on the modern economy. Organisations increasingly find themselves having to transform what they do simply to compete and remain relevant. And as many corporate development specialists are aware, M&A is often a cheaper, faster and more effective way to make that transformational change compared to the organic alternative.

But if organisations are using M&A to transform what they do, then they must also transform the process of M&A itself. The transactional approach to M&A no longer fits the bill.

The transactional approach to M&A will not deliver transformational results.

The Three Key Factors for M&A Success.

Before addressing how the M&A process must change, it’s useful to understand what actually drives sustained M&A success. At BTD Consulting we believe success comes down to three critical factors:

Process. Best practice methods, tools and templates required to govern, monitor and support the behaviours and people

Experienced People. Required to intelligently apply process and promote the behaviours.

Leadership. Right leadership behaviours required to enable people and process to perform as they should.

We believe predictable and consistent M&A success rests on process, experienced people and leadership. So if we are to make the shift to a more transformational (and agile) approach to M&A, there needs to a similar shift in mindset and behaviours. This must happen in conjunction with the introduction of any Agile method, otherwise it will simply not work.

Three critical success factors in M&A: Leadership, people and process.

As the three critical factors above suggest, the success of any acquisition always begins and ends with leadership. It should be noted that leadership isn’t just to do with what happens at the top; it’s the way people up and down the organisation look out for and influence each other that really counts. Leaders are also great followers.

M&A success begins and ends with leadership

Recognising that Agile in the context of transformational M&A is very much a leadership thing, let’s see how it plays out in terms of mindset, values and behaviours in the following table:

To drive transformation through M&A organisations need to learn from the software development industry and similarly adopt changes to their leadership and people behaviours as well as methods, tools and templates.

Leadership and People Behaviours

As shown in the above table, the Agile mindset represents a particular set of attitudes that support an agile working environment. These include a more collaborative working environment with a strong focus on early and continuous delivery of value. The willingness to adapt and readiness to commit – virtually every day, are core to what it means to be Agile. Finally, it’s having the right people and leadership behaviours in high-performing teams is what makes Agile a force to be reckoned with.

Methods, Tools and Techniques

Adopting the Agile process to deal management and integration requires a playbook approach with the required methods, tools and template so people can perform at their best. Thanks to the efforts of many software professionals and organisations well-versed in Agile, there is a good deal of available information, making it possible for a generic Agile playbook to be tailored specifically to meet the needs of M&A.


Those who’ve previously worked in the M&A pressure cooker environment will readily see just how well the Agile approach can be applied. So where there’s opportunity then go ahead and use the various methods – product backlogs, burndowns, sprints, scrums and so on. However, adopting Agile ways of working is more to do with leadership, mindset and behaviours than it is with process.

Many of the large serial acquirers like Atlassian, Cisco and Google – to name a few, have set the example by embracing Agile thinking and ways of working in their M&A process. It’s now up to other M&A acquirers to do likewise.

For M&A to be successful it must always be agile.

This is the Tip 6 of 10 in a series of a posts all about driving transformation through Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A). For some context here’s my first post.

References. Apart from the Agile Manifesto, the inspiration for this post have come through discussions with Kison Patel the CEO and Founder of DealRoom. He’s a strong advocate of the use of Agile in the M&A process. Here’s an article where he explains how Agile can be applied to deal management. Also, Carlos Keener, the founding partner at BTD Consulting. He wrote a cogent piece on the importance of leadership in M&A and the “Three Key Factors for M&A Success” used in this post. Finally, Nitin Kumar who is a global thought leader on M&A and has written extensively on the need to take an expanded view on the M&A process.

With this, and other posts in the series, I’m chipping in with my own thoughts and experiences so that all of us professionally involved – CEOs, CFOs, Executives, Product Managers, Consultants and Advisors – get that little bit better next time around.