Product Portfolio Management – Picking Flowers in the Dark

by Paul O’Connor

Project prioritization is difficult. As a result, senior managers who govern portfolios often make things up as they go. Why not? Somebody must figure what’s more important and what’s not. It might as well be whoever is looking at the bubble charts.

There are two big challenges with figuring out project prioritization.

First, product lines teams don’t share their strategies well. Plus, these same product lines tend not to have detailed roadmaps to carry out their strategies. This makes it difficult for decision-makers to translate strategies into priorities. Figuring out priorities becomes an adventure like picking flowers in the dark

Second, most portfolios are only a collection of projects within a development process, like stage gate projects or agile development projects. This means that front-end work, technology scouting, lean startups, and intrapreneurial projects aren’t in the portfolio. Yet significant growth can come from these projects. Projects within a portfolio tend to be defensive. Or, they’re intended to catch-up to competition. These projects don’t aim for growth. This is a problem.

These big challenges relegate portfolio management to a short-term, project management orientation. And traditional portfolio management only worsens contributions to overall business strategy. Why? Because traditional approaches force portfolio toward near-term investments. No wonder growth opportunities fight to stay outside standard portfolio management practices.

Traditional portfolio management does not show work outside normal project and process management. This happens even if the work offers greater opportunity. Over time, short-term decisions squeeze out long term growth projects. This may be OK if you’re planning on retiring soon. But if you have the responsibility to create a prosperous future, it’s not OK.

Here are recommendations for advancing your organization’s Product Development Portfolio Management talents and results.

  1. Toss portfolio balance. It’s meaningless. Instead, ask whether the projects are on a product line roadmap, and critical to a product line’s success? Portfolio management shouldn’t try to form a strategy. It should help the success of already formed product line strategies.
  2. Make sure each product line has both a well-vetted strategy and clear roadmap to carry out the strategy. Plus, use a common structure for all strategies and roadmaps. This helps to roll them up into a full business view.
  3. Shift focus to product line strategies and roadmaps that includes front-end projects. Stress trade-offs between product lines across all projects, not just projects already in development. Reviews should include front-end projects, plus scouting and investigative initiatives for each product line. Portfolio oversight must have a fuller and a longer perspective than just what is in development.
  4. Create a business growth portfolio that shows each products line. Show near-term growth or decline of each product line versus the product line’s longer-term growth prospects. Growth portfolio reviews should include work and investments to create or build new product lines. This includes approaches like lean startups and intrapreneurial work.

The recommendations center on one key point.

Create good product line strategies and roadmaps coupled with sharp business growth portfolios. This enables smarter priorities.
Product Development Portfolio Management falls short without smart prioritization. Organizations must take a bigger view, inclusive of product line strategies and all other growth prospects. If you want greater gains, you must move beyond traditional approaches. If not, it’ll be like picking flowers in the dark.

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To find out more, please consider reading my book, THE PROFOUND IMPACT OF PRODUCT LINE STRATEGY. You can find it at Amazon ( https://amzn.to/2QXF5NZ ). The Adept Group website (www.adept-plm.com) is another useful resource. You’ll see several white papers, articles, and blogs on product line strategy. I am sure you’ll find them useful.

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