Good Portfolio Management Includes Front-end Work

by Paul O’Connor

If you’re interested in NPD and R&D portfolio management, here is an important insight: Most Portfolio Management presentations discuss only development projects. They do not show, analyze, or rationalize front-end work.

Anyone new to product development might assume Portfolio Management should only be about products under development. But if that’s all, then portfolio management misses its greatest opportunity for improvement.

The utmost influence on a portfolio’s value is the output from Front-end work. Doing the right development work is important, but the quality of output from the front-end is more important. If your organization wants to increase NPD and R&D productivity, you must improve front-end projects.

Bigger, Better Bubbles

A simple product development principle highlights the issue. The same ten people developing a product forecast to bring in $10 million a year could as easily work on one that brings in $100 million. The difference is not work efficiency or portfolio management brilliance. The difference is the project.

The issue is building skills to find the $100 million project. For those who look at portfolio management bubble charts, I call this finding “bigger, better bubbles.” Finding bigger, better bubbles differs from shifting people from one bubble to another.

The key to finding great projects is not a magical creative force. It’s not a proprietary method or a secret sauce. The key is the quality of input to the front end. Like feeding the development portfolio, so too does the input to the front end impact its value.

To many managers, front end input is a foreign idea. And many think front end input quality should not be within a portfolio manager’s job. Yet front-end input quality needs the same management as project risk and resource bottlenecks.

Robust Front-end

So what is front end input? It’s insights shaped by strategy and strategy shaped by insights. I know this sounds like a business school buzz-phrase. But the strategy-insight link is important. For lack of strategy and insights, good projects and impactful portfolios are more chance than certainty. Without strategy and insights, you’re betting on luck.

It’s important to recognize, though, the insights and strategy must focus on a product line, not on a single product. Understanding what makes powerful product line strategies is crucial to forming great insights. And good product line strategies trounce single product approaches.

In real world practices, portfolio management isn’t the ombudsman to each product line strategy. Instead, portfolio management must oversee strategy roadmaps. These are roadmaps to carry out the strategy. And these roadmaps should spell out both front end work and development projects.

The good news is that you and your organization can learn product line strategy. And you can also learn good roadmap management practices.

It’s time to move beyond development-project-only portfolio management. It’s time to pull in front-end projects. Portfolio management must tie to product line roadmaps. This is a big change. But it’s necessary to improve innovation and product management productivity.

The next time you go to a portfolio review meeting remember the message. If you don’t see front-end projects or a product line roadmap, your missing the most important contributors to the portfolio value. And if you don’t speak up, you’re not helping your company or your shareholders.

Important Help

If you wish to learn more about product lines and good strategies, you can take advantage of The Adept Group’s offerings. Consider getting my book The Profound Impact of Product Line Strategies. Or for team learning, consider attending my two-day interactive workshop.

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Book Product Line Strategy

Book The Profound Impact of Product Line Strategy
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Workshop Creating Powerful Product Line Strategy

Workshop – Creating Powerful Product Line Strategies and Roadmaps

Whitepaper - Click to Download

Whitepaper – Good Product Line Strategy Matters. Here’s How to Create One.

As always, please feel free to contact me directly to discuss any and all aspects of improving innovation and product management productivity.

Contact me at:     paul.oconnor    at   adept-plm.com
+01-904-373-5428

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