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Product Portfolio Manager vs Product Manager – What’s the Difference?

product portfolio manager vs product manager roles

There is one significant difference between a Product Manager and a Product Portfolio Manager. You might think it’s related to managing a single product area versus multiple areas and products. That’s partially true, but the real difference comes down to the organization’s mindset, operations, and strategy.

Let’s start with simple definitions.  

Product Managers typically identify customer needs, align those needs with business objectives, define the “what” and “why” behind new product features the team will build, and manage their own product roadmap. 

Product Portfolio Managers have a broader, more holistic view—overseeing all aspects of the product(s) the organization sells. A Product Portfolio Manager’s responsibilities include identifying opportunities and risks across the entire product portfolio, optimizing resource allocation, and switching from feature roadmapping to outcome-driven OKR roadmaps.

At its core, Product Portfolio Management guides the collective efforts across the entire product org toward the higher-level company goals. It connects objectives, products, and resources with execution.

What Type of Companies Hire a Product Portfolio Manager?

Whether they have one product or several, companies need a Product Portfolio Manager if they take a portfolio approach to their decision-making across multiple product goals, themes, timeframes, user groups, regions, etc.

As companies scale, they need portfolio-minded leaders to be the internal strategic driver around how all product areas/products, and their teams, fit into the top-level strategy to accelerate business outcomes.

In some companies that have product operations, the activities of product portfolio management may fall under the scope of the Product Operations Manager/ Director, since both PPMs and Product Ops exist to drive product portfolio outcomes.

Ready to scale your Product Management skills to Product Portfolio Management? Watch this webinar recording to hear from industry experts on incorporating the framework into your organization.

Can You Have a Product Portfolio Manager With A Single Product?

Yes! Even with one product, you can manage it as a “one-product portfolio” since it most likely has multiple facets, use cases, and markets. You also may have to balance customer needs, product vision, and business goals when making trade-offs and prioritization decisions. 

For example, Gmail by Google is a one-product portfolio. Within the Gmail product team, there are many product managers and each is involved in building a different facet of Gmail within the company’s overall product portfolio (e.g., the mobile app, desktop app, ads, smart recommendations, etc.)

Another way to think about it is that every touchpoint where a customer interacts with your product, service, customer support, or brand is a product. Your website should be treated like a product. Your integration ecosystem is another product with its teams, delivery cadences, and features. Your internal systems are a product. You get the idea. 

Why Should You Care About Product Portfolio Management?

Some of the most successful companies practice Product Portfolio Management, including Paypal, Chime, and Miro, just to name a few. Companies that put Product Portfolio Management into practice have consistently increased revenues while reducing costs with more efficient resource allocation, deliberately investing in more impactful projects, and overall improved internal efficiencies.

How to Get Started as a Product Portfolio Manager

The best Product Portfolio Managers start with the corporate-wide business goals and identify where to invest time and resources across the portfolio to achieve meaningful results. It takes progressive and strategic thinkers to view all business areas as interconnected products. Next, you set objectives that span multiple products or areas of the business and link them to the corporate strategy. Many teams connect objectives and key results (OKRs) to their initiatives and roadmaps. 

By linking these, an outcome-driven organization prioritizes initiatives for the relevant OKRs based on how much they contribute to each objective. This framework guides teams to prioritize what to build next while keeping the entire organization aligned through planning, resourcing, tracking, and communicating. A Responsive Product Portfolio tool helps to facilitate this process, guide best practices, and rally all stakeholders to achieve both team-level and company-wide OKRs. 

Join the Product Portfolio Management Community

Are you interested to learn more or level up your skills in Product Portfolio Management? Check out the new home for Responsive Product Portfolio Management. It’s the fastest-growing community for outcome-focused product teams. Product-led organizations gather in the community to connect, share knowledge, and Slack about successes and best practices. 

Replace Your Roadmap With a Responsive Portfolio to Drive Outcomes. CTA
Kalei White

Kalei White

Senior Marketing Manager and Team Rower at Dragonboat
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