Organizing a Product Portfolio

A portfolio or suite of products must be managed like a product with a target persona, positioning, and pricing.

Microsoft boils its products into three suites or "Operating Segments" which represent its main product lines: Productivity and Business Processes, Intelligent Cloud, and More Personal Computing. Productivity and Business Processes includes Office and LinkedIn; Intelligent Cloud includes SQL Server, Visual Studio, GitHub, and Azure; More Personal Computing includes Windows, devices such as Surface, Gaming, and Search.


At the macro level, you can see Microsoft has organized these product groups around the personas who buy, not the original teams who built the products. (Other organizations often group the products by development team rather than buyer and users.)


I like to use Microsoft Office (now Microsoft 365) as a portfolio example.


Most of us have had the Microsoft Office suite for so long we can’t remember a time when we didn’t have it. The original packaging decision for Office dates to the early early days when the PC user’s productivity tools were Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, and Harvard Graphics. Users of those products were really happy—but the central IT department wasn’t. The PC support or IT group needed to buy licenses from multiple vendors, each with unique installation processes, and a different user experience for each product. Supporting the end users on three products was incredibly difficult. Microsoft targeted the PC support group with one price for one solution with one user interface that included applications for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations as well as database and email. The Microsoft Office suite was born.


Microsoft likely had a portfolio manager looking at the friction of adopting all of these products, not just the pickup for one of them. They probably also had product managers for each of the products in the suite—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.—and likely a technical product manager for the enabling technologies.


Organization for your product suite or portfolio


To be successful, a product suite needs a portfolio or strategy manager who looks at the needs of buyers of the suite. Each product manager plans improvements within their product area while the portfolio manager looks at the requirements that impact all products. The portfolio manager might see that each product is planning a “table making tool” and tells all teams to call a common library to make tables. Or perhaps they want to enforce a common look and feel and so they implement it in the API layer and all products get it automatically.


Ideally the portfolio manager, product managers, and marketing managers should be in the same department with clear goals or aligned OKRs. However, some teams put the product managers in development and the marketing managers in marketing. And that can work—if their goals are aligned. Otherwise the product managers spend most of their time supporting development and the marketing managers focus on supporting marketing.


But what happens when these managers cannot agree? Maybe one wants to emphasize the powerful features of the new release while the other intends to emphasize the ease of use of the last release. That’s where a portfolio manager needs to decide which approach has the better potential for business success.


The Portfolio “Product”


What artifacts do you have for your product? At a minimum, a good product playbook has a business canvas, roadmap, backlog, positioning, and usually a launch plan. Shouldn’t the portfolio have these as well?


Here’s the thing: the individual products are “features” of the suite. Infrastructure, architecture, and APIs serve the products; the products serve personas.


Because product packages should be aligned by persona, make sure you’re clear on the persona who buys and uses the products in your portfolio or product suite.


Discuss how to deal with conflicting opinions on packaging, positioning, and pricing. A business-oriented strategic product manager or portfolio manager may be the key to alignment.