How to Bring M&A into the 21st Century with Agile

Marsha Lewis
3 min readMar 26, 2020


Mergers & acquisitions (M&A) is one of the most complex undertakings an organization can ever make. No other field of activity in the corporate world comes close in terms of money spent, the amount of business change and the impact it has on people’s lives.

Over the last two decades, there have been over a million deals. M&A continues to remain strong with $3–4 Trillion changing business hands every year.

M&A is big. M&A is important. M&A provides the means by which organizations grow and prosper.

Yet, it is a well-known fact that half of all M&A deals fail to meet their intended goals. Would you risk your life savings on a coin toss? Of course, you wouldn’t! Getting M&A right is something CEO’s and their boards desperately seek. One thing for sure: M&A defines executive careers and legacies, for better or for worse.

A major problem is that M&A is very traditional in its approach. This may not have mattered much in the past where business models rarely changed. But these days M&A is very much about business model change. Whether it’s about new technologies, channels to market or capabilities, the purpose of M&A today is very different from the past.

Since the purpose of M&A has changed, the process of M&A must change too.

Today’s M&A is often ambiguous in scope, uncertain in direction, and perennially open to discovery. Moreover, transaction deadlines are ever-present and just cannot move. M&A is unarguably an agile exercise.

The benefits of Agile are irrefutable. While originally a product development concept, it was the software industry that saw the true power behind Agile. It grabbed the ‘ball’ (so to speak) and ran with it. Today scrum sessions (from the game of Rugby) have become almost ubiquitous in software projects around the world.

In the corporate world, away from tech teams, Agile is becoming more and more popular as a way of working. It’s changing office culture by smashing down organizational silos and archaic work practices.

The key, of course, about Agile is to do with mindset. This needs to be understood if agile practices and processes are to successfully follow. Let’s see what an Agile M&A mindset looks like compared to its more traditional alternative.

As shown in the above table, the Agile mindset represents a particular set of attitudes that support an agile working environment. These include a more collaborative working environment with a strong focus on early and continuous delivery of value. The willingness to adapt and readiness to commit — virtually every day, are core to what it means to be Agile.

Finally, having the right people and leadership behaviors in high-performing teams is what makes Agile a true force to be reckoned with.


For those who’ve previously worked in the M&A pressure cooker environment will readily see just how well the Agile approach can be applied. Many of the large serial acquirers like Atlassian, Cisco and Google — to name a few, have set the example by embracing Agile thinking and ways of working in their M&A process. It’s now up to other M&A acquirers to do likewise.

Originally published at