What is a product portfolio roadmap?

A product portfolio roadmap is used to set the the strategy and timeline for all product efforts across an entire group or a set of products in an organization. It makes it possible for a single roadmap to outline the plans across multiple products so that key stakeholders can understand the overall direction and strategy across the company, and how they are associated with one another.

The portfolio roadmap provides a visualization linking all the complex relationships that exist across the different products. This enables executives and product managers to ensure and understand how each product relates to the overall business strategy and key initiatives. By having clear visibility, it is possible to better understand decisions pursued across a broad suite of products and solutions.

Benefits of a portfolio roadmap

A key benefit to creating a portfolio roadmap is the ability to link strategy across products and up to the product line, division, and ultimately the company. This link between the goals and initiatives of product lines and products will ensure that the strategy set at the product-line level is consistent with strategy set for each product.

By leveraging a top-down approach, it is possible to make sure that the strategic initiatives for the product line will be achieved by the initiatives set for each product. By contrast, a bottoms-up approach that focuses on products in isolation often makes new product opportunities harder to identify. This is because each team is focused their own offering and incremental gains.

Ultimately, working through a portfolio roadmap process can offer organizations much-needed clarity and objectivity at the macro level. For example, an initiative at the product-line level may be international expansion. A focus area for one product in the product line might be to expand to Denmark. By syncing the strategy from the product to the product line, the Denmark expansion initiative can roll up to the product-line initiative of international expansion.

A portfolio roadmap can also make it easier for companies to spot new product opportunities. During portfolio planning is often a time when the idea for an entirely new product or acquisition is born. Companies working with portfolio-level strategic goals can review their current portfolio and objectively notice where there is not yet a market product that works toward a specific goal.

Example of a portfolio roadmap

Below is a sample product portfolio roadmap for a product line called Fredwin Software. Within the product line, there are multiple products, and this single view presents the overall direction and links across products.

In this example, note that there is one item that was shipped in the general "Releases" swim lane. This indicates that one product had a release that did not roll up to any particular company or product line-level strategy. This can be an example of a product-level execution building the wrong thing, and underscores the importance of adhering to strategic tie-ins during execution.

Product portfolio roadmaps are important because they set the direction for the overall product line or organization, while ensuring that the plans are in sync for each product. This central view ensures that each product in the portfolio is working on building the right features and focused on the key initiatives that roll up to initiatives at the product line levels.
 Without having a product portfolio roadmap, organizations run the risk or building the wrong things and working on initiatives that are inconsistent with the organization's goals. In addition to ensuring that each product is working on the right initiatives, this roadmap allows executives to see the high-level view across all products to understand how everything is in sync with one another.

How to create a product portfolio roadmap

Step 1: Identify your goals and strategy

The first step is to set the overall vision and identify goals at the top level of the product portfolio. This may be set at either the product-line level or company level. Identifying the vision and business goals for the portfolio helps the organization better understand the overall direction as well as the success metrics that the business wants to achieve.

Setting goals allows the organization to identify the high-level strategic initiatives for the overall product line. These initiatives are large projects which can be implemented to reach the business goals. An organization can outline the initiatives at the top level, which informs strategy down to each product within the product line. At this point, it is important to set the strategic initiatives for each product. The product line goals and initiatives will inform the strategy, on through to each product and down through the organization. Taking this step-by-step approach will ensure an overall consistent strategy, and identifying initiatives through a roadmap helps the entire organization to be in sync with the portfolio plans.

Step 2: Prioritize key initiatives

Organizations have a long list of initiatives they want to work on -- and many initiatives will support the goals and vision of the organization. However, it's important to prioritize which initiatives will have the biggest impact on the organization's goals.

One way is to create a scorecard defining the most important factors for ranking initiatives. Organizations can use these data-driven scores to identify which strategic initiatives matter most for achieving the vision and goals.

This evaluation period is crucial, because it ensures the organization focuses its efforts on what matters most -- not only for specific products, but across all products in the portfolio. This prioritization process may uncover that some products require more resources than others, and is a crucial step in overall portfolio planning.

Prioritization helps organizations identify the most important initiatives, and helps them set the high-level timeline in which key initiatives will be worked on. This can be used to inform the entire organization and help the team plan for the work ahead.

As each key initiative is defined, then it will be time to create features and focused releases which are linked back to the strategic initiatives. This ensures that the strategy flows on through the tactical efforts for the product, and that key features actually relate back to the higher-level strategy.

It's important to map this back to the strategy to see that the high-level vision and goals are implemented through each feature or release.

Step 4: Visualize your portfolio roadmap

A typical portfolio roadmap template will include the product line(s) and child product(s). At the product-line level, it will include:

  • Strategic initiatives for the product line

  • Releases for child products

Each swim lane will include a strategic initiative for the product line, as well as milestones for each child product's completed release over time which map to the strategic initiatives. This allows key stakeholders to see when releases will be worked on, and how they map to high-level initiatives.

A portfolio roadmap will also include strategic direction at the product level. Similar to product lines, it includes:

  • Strategic initiatives for the product

  • Releases for the product

Stakeholders can dive deeper into the roadmap for a better understanding into the time frames and key activities to be completed over time, with the primary objective of reaching the business goals and vision.

Product portfolio roadmap tools

There are many different ways to manage and share a portfolio roadmap. Oftentimes, this can be done through product roadmap or management software, or in simpler environments through spreadsheet tools like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.

Product roadmap software tools provide the ability to create and visualize portfolio roadmaps. Associations between strategic initiatives and releases and features can be set. Roadmap tools also provide a variety of visualization options and the ability to easily share roadmaps across the organization.

Spreadsheet tools can also be used to manage the roadmap. Many organizations use spreadsheets, as they are a familiar tool and provide customization options. However, spreadsheets must be manually updated often and shared as the roadmap progresses.

A roadmap is a communication tool. Ultimately, it is only useful if it is openly shared. So, portfolio managers should share product roadmaps across the organization to ensure that everyone is in sync with the plans.

The overall direction and key initiatives for the product portfolio has major implications across the organization (in terms of department initiatives and resources), and everyone needs to stay in-the-know and focused around these key areas. This enables the product to be focused on the most important goals and initiatives, and also helps guide the organization to focus on what is most important.

Product management dictionary
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