Chapter 4: The Agile M&A Process Model

Play #8 - Multi-team Backlog Prioritization

Backlog Prioritization for Integration

Each team begins the integration project with a detailed list of required tasks and deliverables. For the IMO, their task is to be responsible for the integration charter; for the different functional teams, their responsibility is to execute tasks as outlined in the step-by-step checklists. Each team employs these documents to develop their own priority backlog.

The integration charter is already a well-defined document by day one. No charter can ever fully anticipate the complexities and nuances of integration from the start, however. As the integration progresses, the charter is continuously refined as necessary to accommodate emerging conditions on the ground level, and to prevent scope creep. Contingent on the severity of issues discovered, the team may need to adjust the backlog and even recalibrate project timelines. Recalibration of key elements of the project can have serious consequences, and addressing this issue is beyond the scope of a standup meeting. In such instances, the team should schedule a reprioritization meeting to determine how to keep the project in scope, on budget, and on time.

Expert Opinions:
“When we close a deal, we set key goals or objectives and then hold 30 day, 60 day, and 90 day check-ins. The intent is to tune those goals. If we are resetting them, then there is a big question regarding why. There may be good reasons, but [altering goals] is always risky, because it means we missed something. To me, that is a big learning opportunity for us to step back and say ‘okay, what did we miss? How did we not understand that this was going to take nine months when we thought it was going to take four weeks?’ It is [a way to approach] getting better at diligence and integration planning.”
James Harris, Principle of Corporate Development Integration at Google

At the tactical level, the kickoff meeting is the first time most personnel see the functional checklist covering their workstream. A large portion of the kickoff should be devoted to brainstorming alterations, improvements, and potential problems. In all other respects, the backlog can be handled by the functional team in the same manner as it is handled by the IMO: with routine maintenance and updates conducted during the daily standup, and special issues addressed by holding a reprioritization meeting.

Tips and Strategies:
Most tasks in the IMO’s priority backlog will include components from various workstreams. In order to achieve an ideal workflow project-wide, each component of a cross-functional task must be completed at precisely the right moment. If one team works more quickly than anticipated and reaches a dependent task ahead of schedule, either they must wait for the other teams to catch up, or the other teams must jump ahead in their own backlogs. Conversely, if a team falls behind and fails to complete their task on time, they may hinder many teams at once and jeopardize the project timeline as a whole. To prevent problems like these, the IMO must work tirelessly to keep the backlogs of their functional teams in sync.

Synchronized backlog maintenance presents a significant organizational challenge. The integration team at Atlassian approaches it like the tech innovators that they are: with a powerful collaborative project management software called JIRA. First, they organize the high-level tasks of an integration into a “centralized program backlog.” This forms the vertical axis of the project, defining the steps the project will move through over its lifespan. The horizontal axis is comprised of the different workstreams involved. The cross-functional team leading integration maps out the work items required to complete each task on the centralized program backlog across their constituent workstreams. This allows the team to determine the best work order for each functional team from a cross-functional strategic perspective. It also creates a rich, living matrix of information. As functional teams proceed through their backlogs, the IMO can visually track the real-time progress of each workstream.

“We use our own systems and tools [Confluence and Jira] to manage dependencies, define work, and track its progress. Then, on a daily basis, we use communication tools like Slack to do the back and forth design of dependencies and negotiate when things are going to happen so that our timelines line up [and we conduct efficient] resource planning.”
Christina Amiry, Head of M&A Strategic Operations at Atlassian

See Plays —> Program Dashboard

A printable summary of Agile M&A plays is available at