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Applying Agile to Corporate Boards

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Mark Suster, former Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist, received a question from a CEO of a startup that wasn’t getting the value he expected from his board. Based on his experiences with Agile development at his companies Mark made some recommendations.

The original post focused on communications:

  • Hold board meetings every 6-8 weeks.
  • Ask your VC’s to introduce you to other people (startups CEOs, larger industry players, journalists, …). Be specific telling them who you want to meet.
  • Help your investors understand how to explain your successes and failures to others
  • Give your board members information at least 3 days ahead so they have time to prepare for your board meetings.
  • Communicate with your board members between meetings, both regular update emails and quick phone calls asking for advice.

In replying to Mark, Babak Nivi noted that:

Information is part of the feedback loop. What's missing is changing the board-level plan based on the new info that board members are getting more quickly. An agile board would change it board-level plan more quickly than a board that only adjusts the plan at regular board meetings.

Brad Feld suggests that you break the cycle of VCs who don’t add much value by asking for their help:

At the end of the first board meeting, spend some time talking about your expectations for your board members (including your VCs), ask if they are reasonable, and then go around the table and ask each board member what they’d like to specifically help with between now and the next board meeting.  Explain that you want to develop a cycle of accountability for each board member to the company and use this to (a) develop deep engagement from each board member between meetings, (b) benefit from the experience and wisdom of each board member on a continual basis, and (c) set a strong tone for the leadership team (and the company) that everyone has functional responsibilities that they are held accountable to.

Fred Wilson prefers Agile boards, noting: “Some boards I am on only meet six times a year and there is very little involvement between meetings. Those companies might as well not have boards.”

Mark wrote a followup post that included a description of board. In this case the CEO, Sean Rad, calls Mark all the time providing quick updates or asking for advice. He notes:

I always feel in sync with Sean.  At any time I feel like I know what the team’s issues are, what’s going on with biz dev, product and customers.  And Brian Norgard (a fellow board member) calls me often, too.  And then we both call Evan Rifkin, who has already heard from Sean and is in the loop.  Board meetings feel like an extension of our ongoing discussions.  It’s a chance to formally present the plans and to get us all in the same room.  But decisions are mostly incremental.

The only thing that surprised me as I researched this item is that this isn’t the normal way boards work.

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