Engineering Management at the Board Level

I’m the board chair for the Live Music Project. It’s a fantastic organization doing excellent work to serve the classical music community. We help people find just the right concert for them, and build meaningful connections between organizations and audience members. Seriously. They send each other love notes because of us.

This year we went non-profit, and we’re bringing our technical experience to the traditional non-profit structures. There are a lot of different pieces to that, but I want to focus on one right now: engineering management at the board level.

We exist on a website, and the key services we provide are mediated by technology. Traditional thinking about board governance for non-profits says that you should have your board lawyer, your board finance person, a deep bench of sector-relevant experience, and some deep pockets. But as more and more non-profits start to do their work through websites and technology, and as more and more of us build that technology internally instead of buying commercial tools off the shelf, how will that work be governed?

I’m an expert at bridging the management gap at foundations and non-profits between technical staff and their executive leadership. Often that gap manifests as slow progress or a lack of vision. This is totally understandable, and comes from the history of technical work in the field. It used to be just ‘fixing the email,’ or troubleshooting commercial tools. Now it’s building the web application that’s key to the mission. The job has changed, and the management structures need to change, too. That work is a key part of my consulting practice.

The Live Music Project doesn’t have the problems of an older organization, and does have the technical experience of a silicon valley start-up. So we’re doing something pretty excellent. One of our board members, Sheila Oh, figured out she could take on engineering management at the board level. She’s providing expert level governance for a key part of our work, which is what a board is supposed to do. But how many non-profits do you know with effective technical governance on their boards?

The Live Music Project is innovative in a lot of ways, and this is one of my favorites. I’m very, very excited about this, and I think it can be a model for a lot of other organizations.

P.s. It’s December and I’m the board chair, so guess what’s coming next: give the LMP some money.

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