The Product Roadmap is Not the Project Portfolio

I keep seeing talks and arguments about how the portfolio team should manage the epics for a program. That conflates the issue of project portfolio management and product management.


Several potential teams affect each project (or program).

Starting at the right side of this image, the project portfolio team decides which projects to do and when for the organization.

The product owner value team decides which features/feature sets to do when for a given product. That team may well split feature sets into releases, which provides the project portfolio team opportunities to change the project the cross-functional team works on.

The product development team (the agile/lean cross-functional team) decides how to design, implement, and test the current backlog of work.

When the portfolio team gets in the middle of the product roadmap planning, the product manager does not have the flexibility to manage the product backlog or the capabilities of the product over time.

When the product owner value team gets in the middle (or doesn’t plan enough releases), they prevent the project portfolio team from being able to change their minds over time.

When the product development team doesn’t release working product often, they prevent the product owner team from managing the product value. In addition, the product development team prevents the project portfolio team from implementing the organizational strategy when they don’t release often.

All of these teams have dependencies on each other.

The project portfolio team optimizes the organization’s output.

The product owner value team optimizes the product’s output.

The product development team determines how to optimize for features moving across the board. When the features are complete, the product owner team can replan for this product and the project portfolio team can replan for the organization. Everyone wins.

That’s why the product owner team is not the project portfolio team. (In small organizations, it’s possible people have multiple roles. If so, which hat are they wearing to make this decision?

The product roadmap is not the project portfolio. Yes, you may well use the same ranking approaches. The product roadmap optimizes for this product. The project portfolio team optimizes for the overall organization. They fulfill different needs. Please do not confuse the two decisions.

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  1. Lisa Schlecht

    We’ve been struggling to define the boundaries between our portfolio team and product owners so this article was very helpful. Could you provide an example of how this could work in practice?

    • johanna

      Hi Lisa, It depends a little on how you visualize the project portfolio and the roadmaps for a given project/program.

      Take a look at How to Use Continuous Planning. There is an image of a potential one-quarter roadmap there. There is an image of a six-quarter roadmap in Three Tips for Product Owners. Now you can see the big picture roadmap, the smaller-picture roadmap, and how you might plan between them.

      For the project portfolio, take a look at More Ways to Visualize Your Project Portfolio. These boards are the level of projects, not features. (That post points to another post that shows a calendar view of the project portfolio.)

      Here’s the big question: Do you have one product that you use sequential projects to release? If so, your product roadmap is going to look like your project portfolio.

      However, I mostly see organizations with several products that they want to release at different times. Now you manage your project portfolio by deciding which project is first, second, third, etc. Each project is affiliated with a product. Each product has its own life cycle: start, middle, end of life. The product manager decides on the product life cycle.

      If you have a program, where you have several products (in the form of projects) that all need to come together to release, I advocate making decisions like this:

      1. Decide when you want to fund the program (project portfolio decision).
      2. Ask the product managers to decide on the project life cycles for each project in the program (product owner value team decisions).
      3. As the program proceeds, use continuous planning to update the roadmaps for each of the products in the program (product owner value team decisions).
      4. The product owners (possibly with a program product owner/overall product manager) decide when the program is done and is ready to release (product owner value team decision). If the people managing the project portfolio ask for an earlier release date, that might be because something is more valuable to the organization (project portfolio decision).

      To implement the strategic plan for the organization, manage the project portfolio.
      To implement the tactics for a given program or project, manage the roadmaps for the product that the program/project instantiates.

      The more agile and lean you are, the more continuously you want the product owner value team to manage the value for the project/program.

      Did this help? Do you have more questions?



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