Portfolio Governance

The Problem

How might portfolio governance look like? Who will be making decisions and based on what evidence about funding, roadmaps, problem prioritization for a product portfolio? How to transcend different mindsets and goals to make decisions across all three horizons?

The Solution

Eric Ries proposed "metered funding" and "growth boards" (1).  Below are my interpretation and adoption. 

I suggest creating a portfolio board at the middle management level.  It should be cross-functional with representation  from at least these functions:

  • business

  • finance

  • technology

 

Management by committee has pros and cons.  The advantages include bringing transparency and a holistic view, as well as developing the missing mindsets.  A portfolio leader will make decisions not by consensus but by consent (2). For consensus, each member should be for the decision, while for consent, they must not be against it.  Therefore, no attendance means implicit consent.  The opposition should always be supported with a substantial argument against a proposed decision by the leader.  In this sense, opposition to concent is different from a veto where no thoughtful explanation is necessary. Each representative should serve on more than one board for calibration across portfolio boards.

In a portfolio board meeting, the board meets with a product manager (PM) from each development team.  The cadence of meetings in H3 and H2 should be monthly because of extreme risk and variability, while for products in H1, quarterly meetings are enough.  I will provide more details about complex vs. complicated problem domains in future articles.  

The board should ask a PM the following questions:

  • What has the team learned since the last board meeting?

  • What is the current PDLC phase?

  • How long has the product been in this phase?

  • What are the appropriate product KPIs, including OMTM, for this phase?

  • What are the values of these KPIs since the last meeting?

  • How has the product roadmap changed?

  • What are the blockers? 

  • What help does the team need?

The board should inform a PM about updates at the portfolio level, such as roadmaps, and decisions in other portfolio teams. 
 
The board should make the following governance decisions: 

  • Decide on what to do next: "kill, pivot, or persevere."

  • Allocate resources for the next phase (or horizon) when needed

  • Aggregate and update the values of portfolio KPIs.  

  • Communicate financial status (budget forecast)

  • Re-balance the portfolio if needed.  How does scaling or de-scaling of this team affect the balance of the portfolio as a whole (and other team sizes)?

  • Prioritize problems in the portfolio backlog.

Takeaway

Effective product management practices, lean allocation of resources, and a balanced, sustainable pipeline of innovative products are the foundation of success and long-term relevance.  

References

 
  1. The startup way” by Eric Ries

  2.  Consent vs. consensus