Your Product Portfolio Is Overwhelming the Team (and Customers) — What Do You Do?
July 16, 2018

Your Product Portfolio Is Overwhelming the Team (and Customers) — What Do You Do?

by Brian de Haaff

When are more choices a bad thing? Some might say “never.” I strongly disagree. The variations of your offerings should not be like flavors of ice cream. Building out more and more products might seem like a sure way to drive more sales, for enterprise companies in particular. But vast portfolios with a complex and even redundant mix of offerings come with risks.

One thing is certain — too many products makes your job as a product manager much more difficult.

Maybe your company made one acquisition after another, resulting in several offerings that have similar functionality and the same target customers. Or maybe your organization defines a “product” as not what is delivered to customers, but as the myriad of ways it can be customized.

Managing this level of detail and marketing all of the variations to customers can overwhelm even the most productive of teams. Even worse, this can be compounded by a lack of corporate vision and understanding of the customer.

To succeed, a company must operate with two truths. It must know which customers it can serve exceptionally well. It also must know those it cannot serve, avoiding the temptation to be all things to all customers. Still, many companies fall into the “all the things” trap. Not only is this wasted effort — it is also the recipe for a bloated portfolio and overwhelmed teams.

Too many talented product managers are busy trying to deliver an exceptional customer experience. But instead, you are managing a massive portfolio that serves no one well.

I know it may feel hopeless some days. After all, you are just one person among a large product team — within an even larger group of people responsible for marketing, selling, and supporting the products. But one disciplined and tough-minded product manager has surprising power. You can help shape how the entire company thinks about what it delivers and how it goes to market.

You are ready for this herculean task — otherwise, you would not be reading this. You know how to determine which products your company should invest in and which ones it should divert resources from. Yes, this simplified and rational portfolio will make your job as a product manager easier. But even better — it will help your company focus on best serving its core customers.

Here are six ways to rationalize your product portfolio:

Analyze success
What does success look like? And which products are actually delivering? Internal issues can make it tough to get rid of products that are not contributing to the corporate goals and strategy. Get cross-functional agreement on which metrics you should use to analyze the success of each product. Real numbers are needed to deliver real value.

Create personas
Do you really know your customer? Interview your customers to find out what they want and what they need. Gather research on what they like, dislike, and why. Then use those insights to craft realistic customer personas. This exercise will help you understand whether you are truly serving your customers. Then, you can make decisions about where to invest and where to scale back.

See the market
Are you a leader or a laggard? Are you reacting to or driving change? You need to be able to predict what will happen in the markets you serve — not using guesswork but by closely examining historical data, competitors’ moves and strategies, new technology, and emerging trends.

Assess strengths
What are you doing well right now? In even the most competitive markets, there are places where your company thrives. But where is your team at its best? You need to have clarity around what the team is capable of delivering and where there are skill gaps. Capture those strengths so that you can build on where you already perform well.

Roadmap the future
What is the plan? You need clarity and direction for the entire organization — help the team visualize the plan for what should be built across the portfolio and how it connects to the company’s overarching direction. Every company needs a true strategic roadmap that connects work to strategy.

Model outcomes
What value do you think you will create by focusing on a few core areas? Which customers will be best served? Is the modeled outcome worth the planned effort? If you want more informed choices for your portfolio mix, you need to be prepared to forecast and present results to executive teams. Hold yourself and the product team accountable to what you committed to.

When it comes to ice cream, 31 flavor options are better than one.

But when it comes to product portfolios, more and more and more is not better because it is impossible to do everything well — better is better.

Once you have done the research and the analysis, built the roadmap, and modeled the outcomes, you will be able to affect real change. And finally stop wasting your time with orange creamsicle, rum raisin, and butter pecan.

How do you deal with a complex product portfolio?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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