You have to envy architects and engineers.
If there is a professional community who has it pretty easy to show their achievements, it is 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?
Some Product Management heroes have left a bigger print on the world than many who deal with the built environment. These digital architects have to reflect their achievements through product management portfolios.
Below, we will share with you five excellent approaches to produce 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 portfolio. Outside the financial world, a portfolio is a visual and textual representation of a person’s work in a particular area. What is it good for?
Think of advertising creatives, for instance. Already in the middle of the previous century, they were making materials for all sort 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. Thus, the translation of their work into a coherent document for others to understand is not straightforward.
Before jumping into the dynamics directly related to Product Management, it is useful to remember some general principles about portfolios:
- 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 all portfolios across 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 product.
Product Management Portfolio 101
What is the point?
This is the first thing you have to ponder when embarking on building your portfolio. It is a task that will take some time and could distract you from other productive initiatives. There are a few reasons that justify creating a Product Management portfolio.
It makes sense, obviously, when you are looking for a job. It is very possible that the hiring company might even ask you for a portfolio. In the context of a job search, it could save you time to get a portfolio ready. Since it is a reflective experience, it can prepare you for interviews and other challenges that require you sharing your achievements.
Another instance where a portfolio is useful is when you are aiming to increase your public profile. 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.
Again, as with some hiring processes, it is possible that conference organizers and public institutions (such as universities) will request that you provide some sort of summary of your life’s work.
After you establish your goals, you need to know how to reach them. This really depends on your ability and experiences. It is very common to display your portfolio via a website. There are now companies which specialize in these services. But you can think beyond that.
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 is better to provide the key numbers and achievements that show the best of your performance.
Once you know why and how you are preparing a portfolio, you need to understand what you are aiming to communicate. Here is where we offer five examples based on the key messages that you want to transmit with your portfolio [click on the images to check them out].
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 have not 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.
OK, you might not , but what are your favorite products? It might be useful to add some flourishes to your profile by providing an idea of your 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 PMing 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 are 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 are 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, writings. 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, thus, 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 have offered you some examples and criteria when developing a product portfolio. However, the rest is up to you. More than applications, a portfolio offers the opportunity of being particularly creative. 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.
Experiment, like any good PM would do!