Does the ideal M&A Playbook really exist?

This topic contains 5 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Tanaquil Chantrill 1 year, 6 months ago.

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    I’ve been involved with three mergers over the last two years for my company (two small <30 employees, one large 20,000 employees). During the large merger, there was a lot of discussion of the next one on the horizon and that we needed to develop an M&A playbook to have ready since the company we were in discussions with had done it successfully before, so we wanted to “show” that we knew what we were doing too. That merger fell through, but we know we still want to create a playbook for the next one – tools, templates, processes, etc. that you can take off the shelf and walk through. What does the ideal playbook look like? Is it a combination of all the different areas of the organization (ie. HR, IT, Finance) and they all use the same templates or does each department have their own? We started with HR Centralization, and now are moving into standardization (including due diligence 1 year post close…), but I can’t guarantee we will always integrate staff first, so how can you make it flexible enough for the unique items that come with the different M&A activity?

    Thoughts of what the “ideal playbook” could look like? What have you used in your organizations that’s been of benefit?


    Thant Coleman

    I feel your pain on this one!

    Having managed efforts covering a few hundred thousand hours of work (mergers and otherwise) and typically starting from scratch with not formal documentation or artifacts, I would say that true playbooks do exist but the definition of Playbook differs from organization to organization.

    Most recently an organization asked me to develop playbook that in my opinion was an instruction manual intended to be used by professionals in the field (about 5k resources). I personally would not have called this a “playbook”. I’ve also seen playbooks that were nothing more than a collection of templates which I would call a tool kit.

    The best I’ve seen are detailed and developed near the end or after large efforts. The playbook in these cases represents the ultimate lessons learned and more. In these instances, ideal playbooks included;
    • All artifacts and key documents.
    • Risks, Issues and mitigations
    • Decisions with context of what and why a decision needed to be made
    • Any considerations that were not undertaken (decisions as well)
    • Scope documents
    • Schedules and summaries of activities that were performed in each functional area.
    • Quality assurance approach, testing & validation strategies
    • Old benchmarks and new targeted metrics for functional areas
    • Plans to sustain the benefits achieved
    The thought is/was that documentation is needed in order to be able to look back on and know if we considered certain factors, why we made certain decisions, what exactly did we do, what were the concerns etc. Also, if this effort or one similar was undertaken in the future, this playbook would or could then be followed and dramatically increase the probability of success. I favor this approach.

    Creating a tool kit ahead of the effort is easy, however drafting an ideal playbook to the extent of my example above simply can be done ahead of an effort. In my opinion, it must already exist. While the best SMEs available may be on the team, they can’t predict the future and this in turn means there will be surprises along the way.

    All things considered, we must often take lemons and make lemonade. What I have done (when the info is available) is once a high level understanding of the work is understood, is to review the lessons learned repository and all PMO documentation for cases and projects that are similar to the new effort and have used that information to begin developing a playbook. This beats a blank … but it should still be updated at some point to create a document that would be much more valuable in the future.


    Lisa Fawns

    In my industry M&A is a daily activity, both small and large. The organization I am currently working for has likely done upwards of a hundred and does not have a play book but they are looking to create a center of excellence for these activities. I am a change management professional, so my focus is on people and I need to make sure the processes, data and systems are all aligned to enable people readiness. I will likely to align the change management portion of our play book with the PROSCI Change Management method and tools as much as I can for People Readiness and our organization’s 7 Leavers for Change:
    • Leadership Alignment
    • Stakeholder Engagement
    • Readiness & Sustainability
    • Learning & Capability Development
    • Communications
    • Change Network
    • Culture
    Even though we use these 7 leavers in all our change efforts how they are used is customized for each project, just like Thant stressed, these things are not one size fits all. I think structure and a good guiding document is really what will help my organization. Coupled with documenting Lessons Learned and using them at the kickoff for the next M&A project.


    I think no. There is a lot of differents M&A an each one is different but if we can have something, the course follows all the areas that you have to take account.


    Lina Lorenzo

    In our organization we developed a playbook as you described, which is composed of all the IMO governance documents needed to ensure a successful integration for our business. The foremost document we used was the framework, which contained information from every single functional area of our organization and the key tasks/documents/decisions needed to integrate each area. In addition to the framework we had our RAID log, scorecard and integration plan deck for communication with the business. It was a painstaking process, but having been through multiple mergers, no two are equal, and the templates were adjusted to accommodate each integration.

    Thus the answer to your question is a yes and a no. There is no true “perfect” playbook, you may have a starting point with some good bones in your documents, but you will need to be flexible and adjust for each deal separately.


    Tanaquil Chantrill

    Interesting question. When I moved into my firm’s M&A practice a year ago, before moving over I read our firm developed M&A Integration Playbook, all 300+ pages. To be honest, a lot of it didn’t sink in because I didn’t have the practical experience to relate to. However, a year in and I and many of my colleagues treat this playbook as our go-to reference for when we are planning out a M&A integration engagement to support our client. The playbook is general and agnostic of industry and size to be relevant to all types of integration yet comprehensive enough to ensure we are not missing any steps as we plan out the work. It is broken down into 12 steps, starting with defining the operating model and strategy all the way to transitioning to BAU. It provides key activities, summarizes the reference materials and tools and templates. It does still require some customization for the specific integration characteristics, but because we support all industries and deal sizes we have to keep it at the corporate level.

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