Stop Showing Product Screen Shots at Board Meetings

This week I went to a board meeting. It was one of the best board meetings I’ve been to in a while because it was organized, efficient, and it went fast – about 1.5 hours. We talked about the important high level strategic things we needed to talk about, set actions, scheduled our next board meeting and adjourned.
I thought back over the last year about the many other board meetings I’ve attended. I thought about why some of them took much longer than 1.5 hours and seemed to drag on and on. One thing I could think of that did stand out was the presentation of product screen shots and the subsequent discussion about the product.
Now I’m not against all discussion of products in the board meeting. You should present the product development pipeline over the next few months or quarters. You can give an overview of the important major products, features, and services you’ll be launching (or killing). You can talk about holes in your offering and what competitors are doing that you are not and to have board level approval of a given direction.
But almost always, what derails a board meeting for some lengthy period of time has been the presentation of a product, some deeper dive into features, and the dreaded product screen shots throughout.
When this happens, then the comments come out. And ideas. Lots of them. Innovative ones, some good, some terrible. Everyone wants to chime in and make the product better. They start commenting on the design – the colors, the interface, the copy – everything.
Why not? It’s up there on the wall projected for all to see.
Is this bad?
At a high level, no. We should have these discussions about the product. They should involve all the important people they should.
But I would argue that this should not happen at a board meeting.
Board meetings are time to touch on all the major strategic, high level initiatives of the company. It provides oversight and governance, and drives the strategic direction of the company. You get a lot of experienced people in the room who have run companies before and they tell you where you are doing well, where you are doing better, and where you are heading towards danger.
And you take care of board level business like approving acquisitions, key hires, option grants, etc.
I just don’t think a board meeting is where you’d want to also have a big product discussion.
Then everyone jumps into the fray, and these discussions go every which way. The discussion is good, but the clock is ticking. All the while I’m glancing at my watch wondering when we’re going to get back to the main agenda since we’re off on a tangent now and have no idea when we’re getting back on track.
Eventually we do, but now a 1.5 hour board meeting has turned into a 3 hour affair. I look back and always note that if we didn’t have that product deep dive and discussion, this meeting would have been less than 2 hours.
There is a time and place for product reviews and discussions. Let’s schedule a separate meeting to do a focused presentation on it. We can ask for specific feedback, ask people to try it out, present research and findings on why we’re doing things a certain way or not.
Board meetings just aren’t the time to do this. Every time, inevitably the board meeting drifts and valuable time is used up when it shouldn’t be. So please, let’s just let board meetings be board meetings, and if you want to have a great product review, let’s set up a separate meeting for that where we can be prepared and have a great focused discussion on it, and not waste valuble board meeting time with it.