Product Leaders make their living by knowing their target customers, understanding their needs and finding opportunities to deliver products to exceed their expectations. For Product Leaders at VC-backed companies, they need to use the same skills to manage and meet the needs of their Board of Directors. Yet, sometimes they fall short when presenting to their Boards.
Product Leaders have a challenging task to meet the expectations of their Board of Directors for several reasons:
- Timing of the Product Section: The typical software company Board agenda has product/technology at the end of the meeting. By the time the Product leader presents, the board may have limited attention span. The last position in any meeting has to be ‘that’ good to keep them engaged.
- Board Member Experience: Board members are invested in the success business. They always want to provide guidance and help. Yet, they are more likely to have finance, sales or marketing experience than leading product or technology. Know your board and help them understand in their terms, not yours. Don’t leave your board wondering the ‘so what’ of your material and asking them for any feedback or advice they might have.
- Emerging Product Metrics: Key performance indicators for product are not as widely understood. Product KPIs are also dependent on the type and stage of product in the market. Meanwhile, finance, marketing and sales metrics are more established. Pattern recognition in these functional areas is likely to stronger for Board members. This means that for your Board member, it’s likely that every Product section they see looks completely different from the last version they saw. Your job is to tie every metric to the metrics that they know and care about: revenue and cost.
Our goal is to help Product Leaders succeed despite these challenges. We looked at a variety of Board decks prepared by product and technology leaders across the Insight Venture Partners portfolio. We discovered 5 mistakes that can become Wow moments when you next present to your Board.
- Synchronized Strategy
- Focus on Financial Impact
- Pictures > Words
- Roadmap Creates Strategic and Financial Value
- Tech Questions to Tackle
1. Synchronized Strategy:
The mistake: The Board sees a disjointed strategy within functional updates. Even though the CEO sets the clear initiatives for the company and leaders, each leader presents a different story. The root cause of potential misalignment is due to the leaders desire to operate in functional silos. They prepare their sections of the deck independently for short-term efficiency.
The fix: The CEO and functional leaders must reinforce the company’s strategic initiatives throughout their slides and talking points. Let's say the CEO’s top 3 strategic priorities are Protect the Base, Grow via International Expansion, and Improve Margin. The deck and discussion should repeat those 3 key messages. Product Leaders need to align and reflect these key priorities in the Product strategy. As a leader, you can help support the success of the CEO and leadership team by reviewing the deck, strategy and expected results to confirm alignment in functional tactics. Flush out and correct misalignment before it becomes obvious to your Board of Directors.
2. Focus on Financial Impact:
The mistake: The Product part of the Board deck will fail to engage a Board of Directors when the product strategy and success metrics don't tie to financial outcomes for the company. Sometimes the Product leader assumes that the financials are sufficiently covered in by the CEO, VP of Sales or VP of Finance.
The fix : Strong product leaders clearly understand the potential financial impact of their strategy. Two financial impact metrics that the Product leader is uniquely positioned to speak to which are of keen interest to their Board are COGS and LTV by Segment. Product leaders who may have used short-term solutions to get a new product up and running leveraging engineering teams to launch new customers can reduce costs by moving to more configurable systems handled by lower-cost support teams, which frees up engineering for innovation. Lifetime Value likely differs by user segment. Product leaders who tie their roadmap strategy to increasing retention and creating upsell opportunities increase LTV and can estimate the impact to the company’s financial forecast.
3. Pictures > Words:
The mistake: Product leaders sometimes forget that their Board of Directors is reviewing, preparing for and participating in multiple meetings across their portfolio. They use lazy headlines without a clear, compelling “so what, who cares?” takeaway followed by an overwhelming text-heavy slide.
The fix: Consider the amount of information your Board is synthesizing across many companies, leadership functions, strategies and markets. Adhere to the wise idiom “A pictures is worth 1000 words” and help your audience process critical information quickly. A few tips:
- Use graphs to show trend of results vs goals
- Color-code strategic themes reflected throughout the deck and within the product roadmap and investment allocation.
- Break your slides into quadrants with meaningful sub-headlines to provide supporting detail.
4. Roadmap Creates Strategic and Financial Value:
The mistake: Most Product Roadmaps address the “What” and “When” of planned product investments. Yet, the most effective Product Leaders ensure their Roadmaps answer the two questions top of mind for the Board of Directors:
- “Why” are we making this investment?
- “How much” will it cost/deliver in strategic or financial value?
The fix: One of the best ways to layer this into your roadmap is to ditch the Gantt chart. Instead, replace it with a roadmap that leverages 3-dimensional views to illustrate the What (name of investment), the Why (color-coded to strategic initiatives) and How Much (size of investment/expected return in size of bubble).
5. Tech Questions to Tackle:
The mistake: Technology leaders focus on technical issues without linkage to business objectives and financial outcomes. They miss the opportunity to share relevant information that would be compelling to the Board.
The fix: Two tech-related questions are on the mind of your Board. The Tech leader is best positioned to answer and to raise relevance in the strategic discussions:
- How are you investing the technology resources?
- What are the risks or vulnerabilities that would impact the company's ability to achieve its strategic objectives?
The resource allocation will be answered from a few dimensions including Innovation vs Maintenance, Quality and Security. The risks and vulnerabilities may reveal recent or expected changes in velocity, headcount or skills required to deliver against initiatives. Anticipate these questions from your Board and share your risk mitigation plan.
Product leaders succeed by understanding their audience, their needs and pain points. They deliver experiences that exceed their expectations. Why should a Board of Directors meeting be different? Learn from these mistakes to engage your Board. Prove that you are the master of your product, customers, market and the opportunity in front of your Board.
Download the Template
For examples and additional tips to help you WOW your next Board meeting.