Equal Experts was engaged by Mergermarket – a specialist in corporate news and financial analysis – shortly after it was bought by private equity firm BC Partners.
BC Partners understood the broader opportunity offered by Mergermarket; there was big potential to further expand its portfolio of products, whether organically or by acquisition. They also understood that an important enabler for increasing the company’s value was to improve Mergermarket’s technology and product development capability. Its internal development team had been working on a new tech platform for some time, but a successful outcome for the initiative looked less than certain; morale was at a low.
Mergermarket appointed a new CTO who was instrumental in engaging us to keep Mergermarket moving forward in advance of his joining the company. Equal Experts was seen as a transformation and delivery partner, who could help harness the full potential of BC Partners’ acquisition.
How we helped
We started as we always do – by learning as much as we could about the current situation. Deep understanding of Mergermarket’s business objectives was crucial to everything that would follow. Healthy, productive relationships with the full range of stakeholders were just as important.
We found that Mergermarket’s technology team was busy, but not in a way that would produce effective results. A lack of effective processes and communication between the technology team and the wider business resulted in stakeholders within the business asking for everything they could possibly think of as a deliverable, without providing any sense of prioritisation or business value. In return, the technology team would attempt to update a service or build a product without really questioning whether it was the right solution.
This led to the team taking on very large, opaquely defined projects from the wider business that were ultimately at high risk of delay or outright failure, and led to a breakdown of trust from the business.
We realised we needed to restore the team’s ability to deliver working software, and in doing so, trust with the business would be regained.
Our transformation approach
To address the operational obstacles hindering progress, we brought in a small team (including an interim CTO) to take the lead on technology transformation, and identify the necessary organisational changes for Mergermarket’s product development team. We also needed to help Mergermarket adopt and embrace the agile processes that would enable it to deliver the changes.
The cross-functional Equal Experts team comprised QA, Devops, UX, Business Analysts, and a pair of both frontend and backend developers, though we never worked as a separate unit. It was crucial that MM’s own team was involved throughout, and we worked directly alongside them to change the processes that had prevented delivery from taking place. In short, our role was not to come in and lead, insensitively – it was to help drive change from within the organisation.
In theory, Mergermarket was already working with agile – but it wasn’t yet familiar, and it was an outdated, process-heavy approach. A key part of our involvement was in actually demonstrating our modern agile approaches – and helping the wider team adopt them.
We started by creating smaller teams, each responsible for smaller pieces of work. By creating more focussed, meaningful tasks, we soon began to deliver more – and importantly, the Mergermarket team could easily see the benefits of this approach.
Modern agile techniques were introduced across the board, with our experienced practitioners demonstrating the approach on a daily basis. We ran story mapping workshops that helped the teams better identify and assess upcoming work, and we rigorously interrogated the business objectives of each project. This was combined with a strong emphasis on the user, at all points.
Our changes soon bore fruit – working together using the practices we introduced, we delivered a new instant reporting feature within just five months of EE working with Mergermarket.
When Mergermarket’s new CTO joined the company to take charge of technology transformation (and hire a leadership team to replace the interim roles provided by EE), he came to an organisation ready, willing and able to closely join its product development and corporate strategy together.
Showing the possibilities, inspiring confidence
Another technique we used to inspire the existing Mergermarket team and build morale and confidence was to run an Innovation Week.
We broke the technology teams down into smaller groups, who picked small features they wanted to work on for the week. Using a ‘hackathon’ approach, we also asked people from the wider business to act as product owners for these small features.
Innovation Week had two positive effects. Firstly, it encouraged the wider business and technology team to start talking to each other more, and as each learned about the challenges faced by the other, we found ourselves breaking down the silos that had built up over time. Secondly, we created real value. Some of the work that came out of the week ended up making it into real products – reassuring the business about the capability and talent already within its team.
A lasting impact
By helping to drive and participate in these positive changes – with our own experienced practitioners demonstrating how our stripped-back agile approach can create value more quickly – Equal Experts was successful in helping Mergermarket transition to a more productive way of working.
“In an engagement that has worked as a partnership from the start, Equal Expert consultants provided the skills and experience needed at each step of our technology transformation. We are now at the point where the Mergermarket Group product development team are continuously delivering new products, features and services that are used every day by our subscribers, and drive our business forward.” – Ross Heritage, CTO, Mergermarket Group
Over the course of our engagement, and using the momentum created by these steps described above, our proposals saw the implementation of more effective software development at Mergermarket. In time, we reduced our involvement, as the permanent team took our approaches and ran with them. Mergermarket’s talent was already in place – by showing it the way forward from a technological impasse, Equal Experts helped it flourish.