I am increasingly having to present to our board and it’s not always the best experience. Do you have any advice on how best to approach a company board that is not technical at all?

Leadership

My board experience has primarily been with board members that are not technical. The approach I take is to "translate" technical bits into business impact information. It seems many non-technical board members care most about how to improve the business, not what is driving the improvement.

As an example, if I am requesting approval for a workload migration to public cloud (AWS/Azure) I keep all the technicalities out of the presentation and focus on business impact. Ie. Increases in revenue opportunity, cost savings, safety/security, positive impact to existing and future clients, and positive impact to internal departments such as Sales, and Finance.

I always include a business level discussion about compliance, risk management, and security as this seems to be top of mind.

In summary, skip all the technical details, translate into business benefits. After all, if there were not any business benefits, should you be doing it?

This takes a significant amount of thought and planning and if done, you as an IT leader will reap the benefits of a better board relationship, more "approvals" to proceed with projects, and the opportunity to grow your professional skills. It does work!

Best!

Brian Hiatt

18 comments

#leadership,#organizational structure https://www.pulse.qa

Pulse User

My board experience has primarily been with board members that are not technical. The approach I take is to "translate" technical bits into business impact information. It seems many non-technical board members care most about how to improve the business, not what is driving the improvement.

As an example, if I am requesting approval for a workload migration to public cloud (AWS/Azure) I keep all the technicalities out of the presentation and focus on business impact. Ie. Increases in revenue opportunity, cost savings, safety/security, positive impact to existing and future clients, and positive impact to internal departments such as Sales, and Finance.

I always include a business level discussion about compliance, risk management, and security as this seems to be top of mind.

In summary, skip all the technical details, translate into business benefits. After all, if there were not any business benefits, should you be doing it?

This takes a significant amount of thought and planning and if done, you as an IT leader will reap the benefits of a better board relationship, more "approvals" to proceed with projects, and the opportunity to grow your professional skills. It does work!

Best!

Brian Hiatt

Pulse User

The approach you've taken makes sense. I have found you only bring up technical aspects along with risk management items in an Audit committee session if asked, otherwise it has to be short and precise and focused on business benefit.

Pulse User

I read a recommended book a long time ago called the Pyramid Principle. Not only did it help me remove the technology speak it focus quickly on the outcomes working backwards through the details only if required.

Good luck

Pulse User

I am CTO & co-founder of Bookingjini, rest of my co-founders are from sales background, so my approaches is same as @Brian Hiatt. I always try to convince them through the revenue & business benefits. So you should try this approach to get approval.

Pulse User

First and foremost, the board is responsible for driving shareholder value. Consequently, the intricacies and complexity of technology, in most cases, eludes them. For the most part they are users of packaged technology (i.e. email, on-line banking, smart phone apps, etc). Consequently, I try to relate complex technology to their everyday experiences. For example, I was attempting to describe a synchronous architecture to a asynchronous architecture. The example I used was an orchestra. Listening to a synchronous orchestra was like listening to each instrument play their part one at a time; one finishes the next begins until the piece is played. An asynchronous orchestra is like listening to all the instruments at the same time; the instruments are blended together until the piece is done; which is alot faster and less boring. The board instantly understood the complexity of what we were doing and why were doing it. The same applies to information security. Boards are keenly interested in following security because of the reputational harm it can have to a company when "bad stuff" happens. When talking about how data is protected,I talked about concentric circles of technology that detect or stop intrusions from occurring. At the center I always put the company's logo. The point that I drive home is one of defense in depth. So the long and short of it is that you have to know your audience and explain technology to them in a way that they use technology in their everyday life.

Pulse User

When I present technical aspects to our board I always do it within the context of our Goals and the Metrics we're using to reach those goals. Any product feature I talk about within this context is described from the user-experience perspective and I talk about it as an "experiment" that we building to attempt to drive the metric in the right direction toward the goal.

I will only discuss architecture, technology choices, etc only when asked by a board member.

Pulse User

Most boards are non-technical but I’ve found they want to understand. Take a step back and, as you are planning your report out, keep the discussions high-level (but be ready to dive deep if asked questions) and tie the changes or direction in with business objectives. Also, detail ‘the why’ with each bullet-point. Example, moving email from on-prem to O365. It’s a move of efficiency, less to physically manage and replace in a lifecycle, freeing up people and fund resources moving forward, more manageable security, easier transitions in the future. At the end of each report, be sure to ask questions – does that makes sense? may I clarify the value? Each topic needs to be in layman’s terms with a direct connection to the business bottom-line. At the end of each presentation be sure to ask for feedback – either right then or provide a contact for future feedback – “It’s important to me that what I speak with you about holds value. If you have advice on how I might do this better, please don’t hesitate to let me know how I can deliver this in a more useful way.”

Pulse User

I need more info on what your board experience is like. Are you at liberty to share? If they are non technical then do you even need to present at the board meeting? Boards are supposed to advise , so how can they advise the CTO if they are not technical? I am happy to advise you with more detail of your experience. 

Pulse User

Provide explanations without any techie talk. Concentrate on what will happen as a consequence if you do not proceed as you are recommending. Explain external forces that require you to do whatever you are recommending. Provide stories that show how your project helps support the business. Provide metrics that show how you can provide a return on the investment you are asking for. Show how a known competitor either benefited or suffered by taking the same path. Remember they only care how your project benefits the company or the share price. Happy to discuss more details in person. 

Pulse User

A non-technical board understand things in this particular format:

What are you proposing? Does it reduce the overall cost? Does it improve the efficiency? Does it bring anything positive to the public face of the company? How much time required for full implementation of any solution/advice that you are giving?

If you know answers to all these questions then approach the board with proposals circling around these questions and keep the technicalities only to bare minimum, because somebody who hasn't gone through the technical language in his/her whole life, is not going to do so now either.

Pulse User

Will it reduce costs? How does it make us more competitive against the competition? Have a good business case write up prepared which covers the the financial aspects, risks, recommended approach, this will probably resonate better with business people who are not Technical.

Pulse User

It also pays to know who your Board or Council members are and what their hot buttons are. Crafting your message around how technology impacts those items can also help to ensure understanding.

Pulse User

Draw pictures that tell a story related to business impact of your roadmap or the point you are trying to get across or the project you are trying to get approved. Take a look at Dan Roam danroam dot com, he has built a simple and powerful approach to presenting anything in a simple, understandable way. This has helped me tremendously. The board at my last company really liked my presentations in this format.

Pulse User

This is an opportunity and requires a nuanced approach. While I agree on some points: lead with business value, explain the success measures and business improvement I disagree with dumbing down the tech. Boards need to be better educated and it is the job of the senior tech exec to explain the tech not hide it. Otherwise boards will underestimate the complexity and challenge of a significant transformation. They need enough context to understand the risks and what help may be needed to complete the initiative. If they only see an initiative proposal as an idea and an outcome, when the inevitable obstacles are encountered they will see a struggling IT guy, not a business leader who told them upfront what would be needed to pull off a major change.

Pulse User

You have to present in simple form non-technical.

Pulse User

To bridge the gap between Tech and Board/Execs I go with Report Cards.  I create a report card for the current environment, issue, etc.... I first quickly share the methodology for scoring.  Then whatever is an "A" or "B" is in good shape.  If anything scores "C" or less I then attached a solution grade which shows 3 different solutions that shows the "C" becoming a "B" with investment XYZ and an "A" with investment of 123.  I've had great success with Report Cards from getting millions of $$$ for infrastructure to additional resources to explore PCI solutions.  Everyone can relate and not everything needs to be an "A" solution, so sometimes a "C" works.    

Pulse User

Illustrations and analogies, such as using physical security analogies for cyber security.

Pulse User

Start with vision of where you think the company should go. Focus on business outcomes that your initiatives would drive towards, preferably some quantifiable numbers as much as possible. And then start explaining how these outcomes can be accomplished. Easier said than done, some of these are well prepared by consulting firms.