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December 25, 2023

Value creation in any acquisition relies heavily on how well the integration goes. By focusing on integration, buyers can increase their chances of success in obtaining and realizing their intended synergies. But how well can it go if the company’s integration lead is a first-timer? Learn the basics of M&A integration execution, as Aaron Whiting, Chief of Staff at Crownpeak, explains how to train a first-time M&A integration lead.

“The integration must be scheduled down to the minute, because the people who are involved, whether it’s employees or customers, deserve down-to-the-minute planning. Without it, day one can be a disaster, and one way or another, you're affecting people's lives.” – Aaron Whiting

Getting Involved in the Deal

Integration leads must be involved before signing an LOI. It is crucial for integration leads to map out their requirements as early as possible and have input in the letter of intent. To do this, they must clearly understand the deal thesis and the rationale behind the acquisition. This is also the phase where they can get to know the company better.

Assemble the M&A Integration Team  

The integration lead must start the integration planning during due diligence. For smaller companies without a dedicated integration team, the integration lead must pull people from functional roles to participate in the integration execution. 

When choosing the right people, Aaron suggests getting recommendations from the executive team. Team members must be experts in their current field, whether they have experience in integration or not. 

Ideally, the integration lead must gather all team members and perform a kickoff meeting to ensure that everyone understands the deal rationale, and sign an NDA. 

The Role of an Integration Lead

The primary role of an integration lead during M&A integration is to manage the entire team and make sure everything is moving as scheduled, without doing any functional work. Aaron sees the integration lead as an air traffic control, helping the pilot to land the plane. The worst thing an integration leader can do is to stifle the functional experts and make it harder for them to work. Try to make things as simple as possible for everyone. 

However, he also acknowledges that integration leads must sometimes act as co-pilot when the functional member is a first-timer. 

Use Scrum Teams

For a more agile and effective approach, Aaron suggests building scrum teams around objectives and crucial decisions. Do not think in terms of functions, but more on results and deliverables. This technique allows a more cross-functional approach that speeds up the integration planning

Cadence of Meetings

Set meetings together with the teams weekly. Those meetings are typically 30 minutes long and are geared towards transparency and communication. The goal is for everyone involved in the M&A integration to understand what each team did last week. What they are going to do next. Where they are stuck.

Aside from these 30min meetings, Aaron also likes to pull all the scrum teams together, once a week, to ask the same thing for transparency and ensure everyone is moving forward. 

Track the Integration Progress

If done right, integration leads don’t have to track the integration’s progress step by step. The key is to track using key milestones and objectives that could possibly bottleneck the entire project. Tracking thousands of things all at once is not an effective way to manage the project, and will delay the integration.

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