They say product managers lead roadmaps and product executives lead portfolios.
If you have to juggle competing goals, align multiple stakeholders, manage dependencies, and/or adjust product roadmaps from time to time, you are managing a portfolio.
Learning and practicing the product portfolio management skill will not only help you excel at your current role, it will also prepare you for the next level.
Every product manager leads a portfolio
Regardless of whether you are a PM with one product or a CPO with a team of product managers, when the world switched to digital, every product became a portfolio.
The definition of product portfolio has been revamped in recent years to reflect the world we are in. A digital product often appears as a single product from the customer’s perspective, e.g. Google Search. But the product organization for Google Search has many product teams with their own underlying product areas. It is a one-product portfolio.
How do you define the categories for product investments when there are no easily separable product lines? How do you evaluate and decide which part(s) of Google Search to focus or reduce investment?
Managing portfolio means product managers need to frequently make decisions on allocating limited resources to maximize the desired outcomes. Similar to how you think of a personal investment portfolio, but with company resources as the “investment” and product result as the “return”.
Product portfolios are multi-dimensional
The concept of portfolio is further expanded to be multi-dimensional, as product organizations are evaluated by multiple types of outcomes such as customer needs and business goals.
The customer dimension
A product, especially a software product may target various use cases, personas or market segments. For example, a B2B product could be considered as a portfolio consisting of a product for SMB and a product for enterprise. A marketplace business could consist of consumer and merchant product lines. Even a small social game app could be a portfolio of products for free users, paid users, and advertisers. A product leader must understand the needs of each of these customer dimensions at any given time, decide on the desired outcomes, build strategies to achieve them, and allocate resources.
The goal dimension
Every product team has multiple goals at the same time, such as new account growth, customer retention, and operational efficiency. The best practice is to make “top down product decisions” – evaluating and connecting initiatives and features to these goals. But how do you evaluate features across two or more goals? Normally, you don’t need to prioritize across teams/ goals, unless you run into resource sharing/ contention challenges.
In the Responsive Portfolio framework, you may consider various goals as investable options within a portfolio of goals. A product leader must decide, based on the state of current business, market, and product, where to focus and where to allocate. With a clear definition of goals and related allocation, product teams proceed with how to prioritize the most impactful initiatives or features to achieve each goal, likely using a “Rock, Pebble, Sand approach”.
The theme dimension
But just looking at business and customer dimensions may inadvertently overlook other areas a product leader must balance. One key perspective is product themes or horizons. In this dimension, you may have core product iterations, such as “new product innovation” or “launch in a new market”. Overlooking the product theme dimension may cause “optimization overrun” and ultimately lose your competitive edge.
How do you apply the knowledge of portfolio dimensions to product management? Use it to create the strategic framework for your product that informs prioritization and trade off decisions.
A strategic framework should be your guidepost
While most companies have similar goals, e.g. grow new users and retain existing customers, how they achieve these goals varies from company to company, and from time to time within the same company. To enable effective product decisions across teams and levels, a strategic framework must be applied first.
With a tool like Dragonboat, you can easily provide a strategic framework to create and iterate a consistent product management practice with automated workflows. It gives organizations a single source of truth for strategy and execution, allowing leaders to align people and ideas to goals, plan and adjust roadmaps, automatically track and predict progress, and enable clarity and visibility across levels.
With Dragonboat, everyone, from functional leaders, to executives, teams, and their colleagues can have easy access to strategic context and progress visibility any time they want, from anywhere they are. So they can make better decisions faster.
Good people + good tool = great outcomes
An exceptional product leader is best at creating and delivering value both to customers and to the business. To do this, connecting goals, customers and engineering resources during product planning is critical.
When product management was a “side job” in an R&D organization, this was done by a suite of spreadsheets and pivot tables with slide decks as outputs. But working the old ways in a new time puts these product managers in a disadvantage.
“Living in excel doesn’t work anymore because the one-directional playbook is over. Product needs to collaborate with marketing, engineering, sales, execs. At all times. In real-time.”VP of Product, OMG Network
A product portfolio tool like dragonboat.io helps you set clear strategic context with your leadership, your stakeholders, and your teams.
Meet the Author
Becky Flint is the founder and CEO of Dragonboat, the fastest growing product management platform to strategize, prioritize, deliver and improve industry leading products. With Dragonboat, product teams can connect goals with initiatives, build data-driven roadmaps, integrate with engineering tools for execution and inform future iterations with past results all in one place.
Prior to Dragonboat, Becky built product portfolio management functions at PayPal, Shutterfly, BigCommerce and a number of other leading tech companies. Becky is a mentor and thought leader in Responsive PPM and has developed a number of training courses and resources for product leaders to use a responsive product portfolio approach to build outcome-driven product organizations.