Connect the dots across your agency with product portfolio management

Planning a roadmap for a single product is pretty straightforward. There’s one strategy – a common vision, a set of goals, and key results. There’s often one product leader who works closely with their engineering and UX counterparts to ensure everything is tracked and issues are resolved as they appear. It works because the teams are smaller and in close communication.

But what happens when you need to track larger initiatives that span multiple products and teams in a large organization? It becomes much more difficult, and you have to address various issues, including how to:

  • Identify all work needed to achieve that larger initiative
  • Track dependencies to ensure successful completion
  • Update the leadership team on product status and risks to be resolved
  • Increase organizational transparency

This is where product portfolio management becomes so important – it enables you to take a holistic 50,000-foot view across all products in your organization’s portfolio. And with this approach, you can better organize and optimize work across those products to successfully achieve the strategy set for the entire portfolio.

A need for coordination

To illustrate the challenges that organizations can face without product portfolio management, let’s talk through a hypothetical example.

In 2020, COVID-19 hit and a large healthcare organization had to pivot their existing strategy to address the pandemic. One of their priorities was to continue healthcare appointments in a safe way. To do this, they needed more healthcare providers to provide remote video appointments. At the same time, there was an effort underway to end the pandemic by vaccinating a majority of the population.

To brainstorm how they could support these efforts, the healthcare organization formed a tiger team. But the organization’s platform product was so big that the tiger team was unaware of what other teams were doing. For example, they didn’t realize that another team within the platform was already using video calling internally, which meant two different teams were working on the same thing and could’ve combined efforts. Also, the tiger team hadn’t considered the entire user journey surrounding the remote video call – from how the user scheduled the appointment to how they were billed for the service.

Meanwhile, another product team, the scheduler, had created their own roadmap of product initiatives, independent of what other teams were working on.

Product Q3 Q4
Scheduler COVID: Send reminders with video conferencing information
COVID: Coordinate manufacturer of vaccine, site, and vaccination appointments

Some conversations about dependencies across product teams occurred as issues arose, but there was no central place or person coordinating everything across the portfolio. Each product team was focused only on what they were doing.

And when it came time to provide status updates to leadership, product teams produced reports that didn’t include the other teams’ work. As a result, the information was fragmented, and the leadership team was forced to create a high-level story for themselves.

Having no portfolio management strategy can create multiple problems for organizations with large initiatives spanning product teams, including:

  • No transparency or shared strategy across product teams
  • No clear direction or key results for the entire portfolio
  • Decreased efficiency and ability to track dependencies across product teams
  • Difficulty identifying duplicate efforts of work and commonalities as product teams work in silos
  • No clear executive summaries that show overall status
  • Difficulty in rolling up status updates so that risks can be raised and addressed effectively

Developing a cohesive plan

Product portfolio management can help connect these dots and align all work with the overall strategy. To demonstrate this, let’s take the same scenario above and consider what would’ve happened if it had been planned from a portfolio perspective.

During the initial brainstorming session, the tiger team would focus on goals and key results for the entire portfolio so that all product teams have a clear sense of direction and understand their “why.” Each product team would then define their own initiatives and align them with the portfolio initiatives.

Porfolio goal Portfolio key results Portfolio initiatives
A safe and pandemic-free world More than 80% of population vaccinated Implement digital vaccination records
More than 50% of health appointments available online Support telehealth appointments

Below, you’ll notice that the scheduler product team has the same two initiatives that they had in their individual product roadmap above. However, this time you can see how they align with the other products to achieve the higher-level portfolio initiatives.

For example, there are three products that help complete the “Support telehealth appointments” portfolio initiative. The Platform and Scheduler products each have an initiative that they expect to complete in Q3, then the Billing product will complete their corresponding task in Q4. This portfolio roadmap view is the cohesive plan.

Portfolio initiatives Product Q3 Q4
Support telehealth appointments Platform Support video calls
Scheduler Send reminders with video conferencing information
Billing Update billing system with new telehealth billing codes
Implement digital vaccination records Platform Create universal standard to track COVID vaccinations
Scheduler Send reminders with video conferencing information
Mobile app Display digital vaccine card for validation

Once product initiatives are defined, the product teams can begin working toward their initiatives by breaking each down into epics and features. Doing this creates a shared understanding of team goals and helps move those goals forward.

While the leadership team wants a monthly progress update, they don’t need all the lower-level details. They want to maintain the same rolled-up view of the product initiatives and how those align with the larger portfolio initiatives. However, they do need to easily identify progress, risks, and next steps. What works for them is the view you see here:

Product Product initiative Status Risks Mitigations
Support telehealth appointments
Platform Support video calls Blocked Testing uncovered need for security patch from vendor Vendor patch expected by end of month
Scheduler Send reminders with video conferencing information On track
Billing Update billing system with new telehealth billing codes Not started
Support digital vaccination records
Platform Create universal standard to track COVID vaccinations Completed
Scheduler Coordinate manufacturer of vaccine, site, and vaccination appointments Some progress Waiting on full list of vaccine sites Meetings with large pharmacy retailers over the next couple of months to finalize
Mobile app Display digital vaccine card for validation Not started Awaiting government regulatory guidance Guidance expected by end of month

Using product portfolio management for successful outcomes

Planning and tracking a product portfolio can be summarized in three steps:

  1. Define a portfolio strategy that includes higher-level goals, key results, and initiatives across products.
  2. Align the portfolio strategy to the product team initiatives to create a portfolio roadmap.
  3. Develop regular status reporting in a simple format so the leadership team can see risks, mitigations, dependencies, and decide appropriate next steps.

The advantages of taking a product portfolio management approach are abundant. It gives organizations a much clearer summary of portfolio-wide initiatives and can help track status and progress to successful completion. Having that shared understanding of how all the work spanning multiple products can achieve the larger strategy also improves organizational transparency. This leads to better coordination, more team efficiency, and a reduction in duplicated work. And ultimately, it delivers better outcomes for the customers.