Learn how to maintain a quality backlog to enable team-wide collaboration on the highest priority tasks.
During execution, team leads will collaborate to reassess priorities based on overall progress and newly discovered work items.
Managing the incredibly complex system of emerging responsibilities while making sure all team members are focused on the highest priority tasks as deal goals fluctuate, is one of the greatest daily challenges M&A practitioners face.
Concentrating important collaborative efforts on constantly changing priorities is luckily an undertaking well addressed by Agile through a backlog technique.
Maintenance of a quality backlog is critical to team-wide collaboration. The prioritized backlog is all about how the team approaches the work itself, whereas plays like the kickoff meeting and the daily standup primarily serve to create and maintain the team dynamic fundamental to the Agile Process Model.
The prioritized backlog emerged from the “Kanban” board, which itself originated from a Japanese manufacturing process.
Dictionary: Kanban. Toyota developed Kanban — meaning “signpost” in Japanese — to address workflow issues. In Kanban, a project team places a whiteboard in a highly visible area where team members congregate. The whiteboard is then divided into four areas: a “backlog” or “to do” area, a “priority” or “next up” area, an “in progress” area, and a “completed” area.
A process to be completed is broken up into many smaller items or subprocesses. These subprocesses are written out on slips of paper and placed in the “to do” area of the board. The team then works collaboratively to move cards forward through the subsequent areas of the board.
The Kanban board gives members an intuitive visual indicator of the current state of the project, and helps to identify which areas need attention. Here’s an example - for instance, each team begins the integration project with a detailed list of required tasks and deliverables.
For the IMO, its 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 its own priority backlog.
The integration charter is already a well-defined document by day one. However, no charter can ever fully anticipate the complexities and nuances of integration from the start. 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 stand-up meeting. In such instances, the team should schedule a reprioritization backlog meeting to determine how to keep the project in scope, on budget, and on time.
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 stand-up, and special issues addressed by holding a reprioritization meeting.
Integration team, workstream leads/project managers, key stakeholders
Moderate to Difficult
project management platform
This is an ingoing play.
Synchronized backlog maintenance presents a significant organizational challenge. Selecting a strong project management platform is key in meeting this challenge.
The integration team at Atlassian approaches it like the tech innovators they are: with a powerful collaborative project management software called JIRA.
Using the project management platform, begin to map out high level tasks of the 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 consists 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.
With the help of communication tools, track workstreams’ progress and manage dependencies.
Christina Amiry, Head of M&A Strategic Operations at Atlassian offers the following practical application for this step:
“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.”
Either on a weekly or biweekly basis, representatives from each workstream should meet.
More specifically, the purpose of this meeting is to review requests and unplanned work introduced to the initiative. The level of complexity, effort, and uncertainty for each request is discussed in detail.
A priority level is assigned for each new request; if the request is urgent, current work in progress may be deprioritized to allow team members to dedicate time to the new urgent request.
Additionally, these meetings are an opportunity to maintain/achieve a cross-functional, project-wide workflow. If one team works more quickly than anticipated and reaches a dependent task ahead of schedule, 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.
Any changes made to the backlog or task list from the Step 4 meeting must be quickly and clearly communicated to the workstreams.