The difference between a product manager, program manager, and product portfolio manager

The Role of The Product Manager & Program Manager

Product management focuses on the why and what – that is, the problems that need to be solved (why) and the product features that can best solve these problems (what). The skills around generating product ideas and prioritizing them are key to product management success. 

To communicate their vision, product managers often create product roadmaps, usually a visual “wish list” of the desired sequence of product features. 

Program management focuses on the when and how – that is, the planning, resourcing, and trade off of competing product features given the limited resources (when), and the sequencing of the suite of product features given priority, dependencies, and changes/ interruptions (how). 

There are also additional elements of “the how”, such as user experience, engineering solutions, and go to market approaches. These How’s are incorporated into the program plan, (aka Execution Roadmap), which is a substantiated product roadmap that includes all essential elements to a successful delivery.

A product manager’s role is primarily around product management. In companies without dedicated program manager, product manager will often program manage her own product and programs.

In some companies there are Product Ops role who covers some of program management responsibilities.

The Role of The Product Portfolio Manager

Portfolio management focuses on orchestrating product management plus program management, across multiple areas, to define and achieve the best outcome agreed by portfolio stakeholders. 

Portfolio management starts with defining and aligning goals and strategies facing the portfolio participants, then identifying allocations to help guide and inform the product and program planning.

The Difference Between Traditional and Responsive Product Portfolio Management

Responsive product portfolio management is one step further than product portfolio management because it adds the goals and outcomes into the portfolio process. So goals are based on the results from the previous iteration to guide subsequent rounds of allocation prioritization, and execution. Thus, creating a closed-loop product portfolio cycle where outcomes and results influence future strategy, priority, and roadmaps.

It’s easy to understand the portfolio management skills that are needed when running millions of dollars of budget in large enterprises for multiple product lines. But it’s also crucial for small companies to treat their product as a portfolio.

A product manager in a software startup with 3 engineers also plays the portfolio manager role. How so? A digital product as the end-user knows it, is often multiple products from the company’s point of view because it serves multiple personas and use cases. Take a mobile game app, for example, it’s a completely different product for a consumer, advertiser, and admin.

The Future of The Product Organization

A product manager’s job is more than building products customers love. A product manager’s job is to build the right product, for the right customers, at the right cost and time, so that the company can achieve its business goals.

This requires the responsive product portfolio management framework – the ability to dynamically connect business goals, customer needs, product strategies, resources, and execution with outcomes. 

Portfolio management is needed by every product organization. Traditional product portfolio management (PPM) relies on expensive tools that take months to implement, an army of people to maintain, and months to make changes. 

* * *

dragonboat democratizes product portfolio management – it’s lightweight, economical, takes hours to implement, and minutes to make changes. The dragonboat platform has seamless integration with popular agile tools like Jira, Github, Asana and requires no process or tooling changes to existing engineering practices.

Sign up for a demo or watch our Intro To Responsive Product Portfolio Management webinar to learn more. 

Becky Flint

Becky Flint

Becky is a product and tech executive based in the Silicon Valley. She has built and scaled product and engineering teams globally for both startups and Fortune 500 companies. Currently Becky is the founder and CEO of dragonboat with a mission to empower responsive leaders and their teams to build better product fasters. Prior to founding dragonboat, Becky has held executive roles at Feedzai, Bigcommerce, Tinyprints/ Shutterfly, and PayPal.

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