Earlier this Fall in a piece in Forbes magazine, Rusty Wile, CEO of Merrill Corporation, spoke to the fact that advancements in technology were
“rewriting the M&A playbook –again.”
We have seen over the last decade how technology has disrupted how information is stored and shared during the various stages of the M&A lifecycle.
Some of these disruptions have also led to improved and new ideas surrounding workflows.
Now, however, with the digitalization of M&A playbooks, thanks in part to artificial intelligence, practitioners will move beyond using technology like VDRs and BPM to a living document that captures true knowledge.
Ultimately, this shift from a static playbook to a live M&A playbook eliminates tasks for busy, often overworked, high-level executives and managers.
It allows for less experienced employees and AI to take on more tasks, thus boosting productivity and saving time.
Additionally, live playbooks help teams avoid blindly following instructions and facilitate adapting to surprises that may occur during the process.
Furthermore, a playbook can help establish clear roles and tasks for team members and stakeholders.
Having a checklist on hand allows practitioners to be prepared when new opportunities suddenly arise.
Why You Need Live M&A Playbooks
While playbooks have value, they are not a panacea for common M&A woes, including shifting from unwieldy Excel spreadsheets to project management tools.
Moving from a traditional static playbook to a live boasts many advantages.
We already know practitioners tend to place too much emphasis on following static playbooks, which leads to mistakes, redundant work, and tunnel vision that results in losing sight of the intricacies of the current deal.
Live playbooks help eliminate many of these costly blunders. They also:
- Take in more information faster, distribute information faster. Much like the improved transparency and communication of a VDR, a live playbook allows for information to be organized and distributed with ease and efficiency. Additionally, they contain useful tools and templates that generate consistency in documentation, collection of data, and communication, thus allowing for a clear and consistent distribution of information.
- Allow the information to be pre-read before meetings. With the above in mind, team members and stakeholders are constantly kept up to date, increasing meeting productivity. Now meetings are not spent reviewing information, but rather prioritizing, problem-solving, and hearing from workstreams.
- May trigger a change in goals based on new information. Live M&A playbooks create a more Agile workflow, which allows teams to pivot and shift throughout the M&A process. Since no two deals are exactly the same, the playbook should be malleable to the intricacies of the current deal. The information gathered during diligence can often shift the overall objective of a deal and a live playbook allows practitioners to do just that.
- Realign teams around new goals quickly. Just as a live M&A playbook is easily adjusted as new information is gathered and objectives are updated, it is also incredibly helpful in quickly realigning teams around new goals. Specifically, a live playbook can be fairly effortlessly updated, and as mentioned previously, new information can be distributed quickly.
- Provide an iterative plan pre- and post-close. Live M&A playbooks create a culture of reflection pre and post-deal, as well as remind practitioners it is good to pull best practices from former deals and apply them to new deals. In addition, live playbooks reinforce that business plans should be malleable based on the particular characteristics and circumstances of the current deal.
How to Create Your Own M&A Playbooks
1. Define your methodology and tools:
Clearly examine your workflow and style. This will help set the tone for your M&A playbook. We recommend following an Agile-inspired methodology. As you examine how your teams will work and communicate, take into account the tools they will use.
For instance, are there checklists used for diligence that can be used as foundations for diligence in other deals?
Maybe there are surveys related to change management that are used during integration that belong in the toolkit as well. Additionally, what forms of technology does your group rely on – a VDR or a VDR plus project management platform?
2. Identify key team members:
Knowing which team members, stakeholders, and employees need to be involved during each part of the M&A lifecycle will allow you to stay organized. Additionally, it can help practitioners avoid communication gaps. While this list may change slightly based on the deal, it is a sound place to begin.
3. Complete retrospectives on past deals:
A retrospective or “lessons learned” analysis of past deals should include feedback from all leadership teams as well as from a wide variety of employees on both sides of the deal.
This information should be collected, analyzed, organized, and applied to the foundation of the M&A playbook so that it can be utilized when new deals begin.
4. Consult expert practitioners:
Connecting with and learning from expert practitioners is one of the best ways to generate a playbook.
Look for practitioners that have been in the industry long enough to have experienced a wide variety of deals.
5. Continue to refine your playbooks – keep them alive!
As you gather data and best practices, remember your playbook is just a guideline.
Additionally, continue to add new information to there as the industry is dynamic (just look at the influence of technology in the industry over the last decade).
Reviewing and evaluating if your M&A playbook is appropriate based on your company’s goals, deals, and the current market is not only smart, but also essential.
Utilize M&A Integration & Due Diligence Playbooks
There are M&A integration and due diligence playbooks resources available online.
For example, DealRoom has an entire library dedicated to M&A checklists and each one was made by experienced M&A professionals.
A live M&A playbook does not set out to answer every question that will arise during the deal. It does, however, provide proven guidelines for the various stages of the M&A lifecycle: from beginning diligence to planning for integration, to day 1.
The notion of a “living” playbook promotes and generates real-time collaboration, alignment among teams and workstreams, and increased efficiency.
Quite simply, live guidelines are a smarter way of working in today’s M&A climate.
Practitioners may be tempted to simply purchase or create a “generic” playbook and apply it to each and every deal, but this approach is fraught with problems, including generating redundant work, loss of synergies, and overworked executives.
Consequently, live guidelines are not an M&A “trend,” but rather they are a valuable and practical solution.