Acquisitions and mergers are a fact of life for anyone in the technology world, let alone the business world in general. They are the result of companies trying to find the best way to join forces to get more customers and build better products and services. While there is always a corporate cover story to mergers, the secret of what makes a good acquisition is really what happens after all of the press releases have gone and the media attention fades. This is the Post-Merger Integration phase, or PMI, where the hard work of colliding cultures and values need to be sorted out. Having been on both sides of this equation for about a dozen such transactions, I’ve seen times that things work, and times that they don’t. This is an often challenging time for every group, including product development teams that need to find their collective way forward and define how they want to work together. To make this successful, there are several key ingredients that need to come into play. I’ll share my experience on what makes integrations work and what can create obstacles.
When you’re finished changing, you’re finished - Benjamin Franklin
First, everyone involved must fully accept that change is not only acceptable but required. For any organization to move forward, things must change continuously. What worked yesterday won’t necessary solve tomorrow’s challenge. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” So given that things will change, we each have an individual choice, embrace it or reject it. Personally, I know that I feel a reluctance to change, especially when it puts me outside my comfort zone. I have learned to recognize that instinct, and when I feel it, I embrace it and use it as an indicator that I need to make sure the change is in the best interest of the organization. This of course means that not all change is good, and we should use our instincts and intuition to discern the impact of change on the organization to refine and direct it, but not to block it.
Plan to fail fast
One of the ways that we can mitigate the resistance to change is that as an organization we embrace the concept of making smart decisions quickly and if you fail, fail fast. No one wants to fail, but fear of failure will be the biggest obstacle to change. The concept of failing fast is that when we make a change, or a decision, lean into it quickly making the best decision with the information available. This isn’t a license to make a reckless decision (i.e. let’s try this experiment on the production database), but a license to make a decision quickly and not be afraid to fail. If it fails, you’ve learned something and you take a new direction based on what you learned. What’s important is to make sure that the decisions are not decisions that can impact the viability of the business and that you can identify a way to quickly discern success or failure.
Communicate by asking questions?
Second, we need to over communicate decisions and plans by asking lots of questions. There are two methods of communications push and pull. Push is the sending out of information, and pull is asking lots of questions. During PMI, both are critically important and everyone has a shared responsibility here. Often times, in the lack of specific direction, uncertainty will cause individuals to step into an issue without all of the available information. You’re probably asking yourself…”Isn’t this talking about doing the opposite of failing fast? If I wait to gather all of the information how can I make quick decision?” Not at all. What I am suggesting is that you should ask sufficient questions of the relevant parties as part of the communication process to make sure you understand and they understand what you are thinking. Questions, no matter how seemingly trivial, are a necessary part of communication because we all have all of our past background and baggage that frames our view of the world. Asking questions, clarifies issues and allows you to understand others perspective. A good integration involves everyone asking lots of questions. One final note on questions, after a couple of back and forth discussions in email, IM or ticket comments, you should pick up your feet or the phone and talk directly to the person. Email and IM are good for some things, but to get a real understanding involves person to person discussion.
Always assume the best of intent from others.
Third, always believe that everyone is operating for the best intention of the company, and where you disagree know that it’s because you have a different view of what is best for the company. I can count on one hand the number of times that I actually have discovered that people were deliberately not doing what was best for the company. It does happen, but the vast majority of the time it does not. When you disagree, seek to understand by listening to really understand why they hold a particular view or what background they bring to the table that impacts their mindset. This ties in tightly to the second issue above, by over communicating and asking lots of questions you can also share your background and experiences.
As companies integrate, the most important aspect of that integration is not the new products they bring to market, but the new culture and environment that are created. Everyone needs to work effectively to get things done, but more importantly everyone needs to work collaboratively to build a new team, a changed team, a better team. By accepting change, over-communicating, and always assuming the best from your teammates, you can help drive a new organization that will be more than the sum of its parts, an organization that we will all be proud to engage in. Trying to live by example, in writing this blog post, I was using a new tool that our teammates from the recent ThreatSim application put together. I asked a few people about the topic, and asked Laura Whalin lots of questions about how to write it, and how to get the pull request in place. When she asked for volunteers, I quickly applied and was a bit suprirsed that I was the first. My immediate assumption was that she thought it would be best if I started off the combined blog post. I didn’t for a minute believe that she was trying to make me appear foolish (I am quite capalble of doing that all on my own). I am so thankful for her leadership on this. Frankly, I would be much more comfortable talking in front of a room full of people then committing my thoughts to digital ink. So here I am out of my comfort zone, pushing information, asking questions, and hoping that you’ll think about about the team you want to help me create! I am looking forward to this journey.