Chuck the Checklist? Check!

Being a lifelong Forgetful Guy, I have constructed little organizational systems to protect myself from myself.  One of those systems is checklists.  So I believe in them.  To a point.

When doing acquisitions, checklists are absolutely critical because there is so much information from so many different dimensions to manage.  So we have due diligence checklists (legal and financial, about which there are 487 things to say … another time) and integration process (strategic) checklists.

All successful acquirers build a “book” of know-how, constructed in part from lessons learned on previous deals.  Out of that process comes a thorough integration checklist, cataloging hundreds, sometimes thousands of items requiring attention.

In that setting – amidst thousands of boxes to check – how is it possible to keep your eye on the ball (by which I mean the larger strategic intent of the deal)?  Focused on rows and rows of line items, how can you possibly perceive “trajectory creep” or the surprise rocketing in from some unseen nebula somewhere?

The danger of checklists – and the more “thorough” they are the greater the danger – is that they become substitutes for thinking.

As an integration leader, I insist that my teams pause occasionally to chuck their check lists.  In those pauses I ask them questions designed to pull them from their pages to the big picture:

  • What are we missing here?  What are we not thinking of?
  • What could be different here from any of the other integrations we’ve done in the past?
  • How would or could we respond if [fill in all kinds of blanks here]?
  • What isn’t working so well?
  • What expected problem has not materialized (yet)?

and probably the most important of all:

  • Why did we do this deal in the first place and what else should we be doing or thinking about to make sure we accomplish that end?

Every now and again, chuck the checklist and think for yourself.

Check.

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