“Most organizations have too many top priorities to achieve the level of focus they need to succeed.”
– Patrick M Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
The Chief Product Officer of a large firm in Minneapolis complained to me that their Product Managers couldn’t see—or didn’t share—the larger picture.
He reported that his firm’s product teams had worked independently to deliver functionality for two separate products — and ended up delivering the same end result for both products. “We have too many priorities to waste our efforts building the same thing twice,” he complained. “There has to be a better way.”
“I agree,” I replied. “These Product Managers dropped the ball.”
It is not enough in today’s environment to look up at the company strategy and down to the tactical details. Today’s Product Manager must also look sideways in a company with a multitude of offerings at the other products as well. This ability separates great product leaders from simply good ones.
Luckily, there is a secret weapon that can help you do this: a portfolio roadmap.
We often get so caught up with specific product details — like daily standups and sprint backlogs — that we don’t think enough about the overall portfolio. But experience has taught me that this is a big mistake. Reviewing all major capabilities across all products helps teams identify overlapping ideas. This cuts down on duplication and empowers product teams to think more creatively.
The best part? Using a portfolio roadmap view does not have to be painful. Here are four hacks you can try to get started today:
Integrate your themes
Themes are key words or phrases that group similar ideas together. They can be written in the language of your customers, like “improved workflow.” They can also be written in the language of your technology, such as “connected tablets.” If your themes are driven by customer or company goals, then it is likely that your products share similar themes already.
So, review the roadmaps for all products in your suite and try to standardize the major themes. When you standardize themes in your individual roadmaps, you make it much easier to replicate this across the whole product portfolio.
Leverage your personas
One thematic element you already have in place is your target personas. After all, most products in a typical portfolio target the same set of buyers and users—that is, the same personas.
So, indicate all the major capabilities by persona. You are likely to realize that many of the themes you’ve already found also align with your personas.
Embrace your colors
In any document, from a roadmap to a PowerPoint slide, colors should be meaningful — not just decorations. As silly as it may sound, assign colors to your products and themes, provide a legend, and use those colors consistently.
So, if you have a roadmap of rows for each theme, colors can indicate the products delivering specific functionalities. Or, if you have rows showing products instead, the colors will show the associated themes for each functionality. Your designer can help make your roadmap “pop” — but only you can deliver the relevant information.
Validate your roadmap
I once hosted an offsite with my product management team and asked each Product Manager to share his or her product roadmap. I was pleased by the number of times one Product Manager suggest to another, “I have some experience that I can share with you offline.” And I was surprised by the number of times someone said, “Hey, I need that in my product, too.”
My key takeaway? Don’t wait for an offsite to share each Product Manager’s roadmap. Instead, schedule a regular, cross-product roadmap review. Bring all your product managers and other relevant team members together and take a holistic look at opportunities. This meeting is also a great chance to watch for duplication of capabilities.
One tip before you walk into this roadmap review: schedule a session to review your roadmap with your own product management team and key developers first. Validate the information with a small group before you share it with everyone. You will likely gain insights that you’ll want to incorporate before sharing with a wider group.
The portfolio roadmap is the document most often requested by senior leadership, sales people, and customers. As with product roadmaps, these groups are often looking for that “special feature” and get dismayed if they don’t see it.
This can seem daunting even for experienced Product Managers. But there’s a reason why the portfolio roadmap is so important.
Mature colleagues — and your most valuable customers — really want to see the big picture of where all the products in your portfolio are going. And they also hope to see alignment with where your company is going. If you keep their mindset in mind while focusing on the hacks above, you will find yourself miles ahead of most Product Managers.
When in doubt, remember to align around themes and integrate the products that use similar themes. The rest will fall into place — and you will find that portfolio roadmapping doesn’t have to be that hard.
This is a guest post by Steve Johnson. If you are looking to be a great product manager or owner, create brilliant strategy, and build visual product roadmaps — start a free trial of Aha!
About the author
Steve Johnson is a recognized thought leader and storyteller within the technology product community. At Under10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement the latest methods for today’s business environments.