Updated: November 27, 2023 - 8 min read
If there's a professional community who has it pretty easy to show their achievements, it's those who build our cities and infrastructures. Headquarters, apartment buildings, or bridges are a physical portfolio for these professionals. But what about the builders of the digital world, such as product managers? These digital architects have to reflect their achievements through product management portfolios.
Below, we'll share five excellent approaches to producing a successful portfolio. Before that, though, it’s time to review what a portfolio is and what it aims to do.
What You Need to Know About Portfolios
Even before the advent of computers, many professionals faced difficulties with sharing their portfolios. Outside the financial world, a portfolio is a visual and textual representation of a person’s work in a particular area. But what is its purpose?
Think of advertising creatives, for instance. Already in the mid-twentieth century, they were making materials for all sorts of media. From billboards, to magazines and even radio shows; their work was all over the place. As you can see, portfolios are particularly useful for work functions that are either carried out freelance or involve a high degree of “personal touch”. Filmmakers, fashion designers, artists, copywriters… They tend to have high mobility between firms and, as a result, they need some sort of journal they can easily carry with them.
Once the digital revolution kicked in, more and more positions started sharing the same traits. From software engineers to user experience experts; most of the tasks undertaken in a modern office lack physicality. They all take place in the virtual sphere, meaning it's not as straightforward to translate their work into a coherent document for others to understand.
Before jumping into how to create a Product Management portfolio, here are some general principles:
Portfolios are not CVs: the important elements are the “products”; not the person who built them.
A Portfolio is also not meant to be an exhaustive list: rather, it aims to show the “greatest hits” of a creative career.
Portfolios can take multiple forms, dependent on the creativity of their builder.
Portfolios can be generic or targeted to particular opportunities.
Portfolios must be coherent: their materials have to belong to a similar category and make sense as a whole.
Portfolios build a narrative. The choice of products to be displayed must reflect some sort of “overall story”. This can be expert knowledge on a single topic, or a very special life trajectory.
These principles apply to portfolios across all disciplines. One aspect that we have not commented on is the actual shape that these portfolios take. Indeed, the form you present your work biography can be very diverse.
Let’s take a look at how it’s done in the world of product management.
Product Management Portfolio 101
Why make a product management portfolio?
Creating your own product management portfolio takes time and can distract you from other productive initiatives. Is it really worth the effort you ask? The short answer is yes, for the following reasons:
Creating a portfolio can help you when searching for a product management job, as it's very likely that a hiring company will ask to see it. If you already have a portfolio prepared, you can get back to that company in a short amount of time. What's more, since it's a reflective experience, it can prepare you for interviews and other challenges that require you sharing your achievements.
Aside from potential employers, it's also possible that conference organizers and public institutions (such as universities) will request that you provide some sort of summary of your life’s work – another reason product management portfolios are so important.
Another instance where a portfolio is useful is when you're aiming to elevate your public profile. After all, developing a personal brand is crucial for Product Managers. Remember, in this position, you are constantly trying to align both internal and external stakeholders around your product vision. If you are able to encapsulate your product perspectives in a single document, you can increase your ability to persuade others.
What format should you choose for your Product Management portfolio?
This really depends on your ability and experiences. It is very common to display your portfolio via a website. But there are many other formats to consider.
For instance, imagine that you worked in a YouTube-oriented PR company and have video editing skills. You could build your portfolio via a creative video, something dynamic that helps you reach even more people. This particularly helps Product Managers working at the intersection of physical and digital products. They can show, visually, how their leadership has improved operations across their positions.
“Form follows function”. That is, however you do yours, make sure that it makes sense. It would be very difficult to make a video or a highly-graphical portfolio about fintech experiences. Pictures of spreadsheets and team meetings cannot tell very much about your skills. In that case, it's better to provide the key numbers and achievements that show the best of your performance.
Once you know the why and how of your portfolio, you need to understand what you are aiming to communicate. Here are five examples based on the key messages that you want to transmit with your portfolio.
The Transition-Oriented Product Management Portfolio
This portfolio suits professionals who want to break into Product. In contrast to other experienced PMs, your lack of direct PM experience must be compensated with other attributes.
The key story that you are telling is: “Even though I haven't had my first product experience yet, all of these experiences and products I have worked with have prepared me for it”. In other words, you have to select those features of your personal history that scream user knowledge, business acumen and technical leadership abilities.
And what about highlighting some of your favorite products and sources of inspiration? This will help potential recruiters and others to understand where you are coming from and (crucially) where you want to go.
The Sector-Based Product Management Portfolio
What if you are really an expert within a particular sphere?
Product Management jobs often come about through horizontal moves. You started working at something else, and then you got the opportunity of transferring your skills to product management within the same company. Over the years, you start accumulating knowledge, abilities and business contacts. And the rest is history: you become attached to an industry, whether this is health, dating apps or education.
This is a great opportunity to “brand” your portfolio. By tying yourself to a particular sector, you can target the community. You know the jargon, you are aware of the communities’ trends… It can be very powerful to show that you're riding the wave in terms of what is going on in the sector. That is, linking your career history to the latest transformations in the industry.
The Skill-Centered Product Management Portfolio
Then again, you could be a full-spectrum PM. This means that you have enacted change across functions and industries. You cannot really point to a certain area of the economy where you're settled. Rather, you seem to have a lot of diverse connections to different aspects of Product Management.
It can be hard to send an overarching message when your own career is not coherent like that. But think again. That is exactly your overarching message: you are fully capable of change.
Thus, emphasize the “full package”. Not just the products that you helped create but the skills that made then possible and evolved with each opportunity.
The Entrepreneur Product Management Portfolio
What if the most important thing you want to communicate is yourself? Aspiring Product Management entrepreneurs have founded companies and launched products. In their case, even if these projects failed, what matters is what they personally added to the processes.
This type of portfolio seeks to emphasize the trajectory of the individual. Here, everything matters… Education, volunteering, writing. It acts more like an expanded CV where, in brief, you are the product. It works really well for CEOs and founders, because they often juggle several projects at the same time. This allows them to show their proficiency across products and through the years.
The Experienced Product Management Portfolio
After years and decades in product, it is very possible that your roles have changed slightly. Most likely, you are no longer so involved with the day-to-day of Product Management. If you are a Founder, you have delegated your functions to the most trusted members of your team. If you are an experienced Senior PM, you have probably moved onto Executive positions or transitioned towards investor roles.
The reason why you hold a portfolio will have more to do with being picked for conferences and other outreach events as a participant. For instance, an educational institution might want to hire you as a guest instructor. At this point of your career, you have plenty of experiences and numbers to pick from. Simply state the most impressive so prospective partners can see at a glance the value of adding an experienced PM to their roster.
Be Creative With Your Product Management Portfolio
We've offered you some examples and criteria when developing a product portfolio, but the rest is up to you. Remember, your product portfolio gives you the chance to let your creativity shine! Some portfolios evolved from curated blogs. Others can take the form of an Instagram profile. The bravest PMs out there can even make a splash with some sort of physical proof of their work. So don't forget to experiment and have fun with it!
Updated: November 27, 2023