Software Product PortfolioThe software market is constantly evolving. Want proof? In the span of a single week technology website Network World reviews an average of more than 20 software and hardware products. For executives at software development companies, the challenge is one of balance — too many products and you get lost in the noise; too few, and you’re not taking best advantage of your market niche. Here’s a top-level guide to help ensure your product portfolio is in good health.

Think Outside the Box

Literally — go beyond the widgets and specs of the hardware and the architecture of the software to consider the larger discipline of portfolio management when evaluating what needs to stay and what isn’t working.

Consider: Effective portfolio management goes beyond identifying potential growth targets and due diligence to include “portfolio fit.” Will a new acquisition candidate integrate with existing corporate infrastructure and culture or will adoption require more work than its potential return? The same rule applies to software product development. Just because a new feature or service is linked to a market opening, success is not guaranteed. If corporate culture and executive support aren’t aligned with the new development it becomes a resource drain instead of a revenue generator.

Flip The Switch

Are you prepared to “kill” products that aren’t working? This is a difficult task since many product executives are under pressure to develop multiple offerings as quickly as possible, especially given the ever-shortening lifecycle of software products. The problem? Most executives in charge of product development are over-extended and under-funded, making it impossible to fully flesh out or thoroughly test new offerings.

The solution? Be brutal. Take a hard look at all current projects and ask three questions:

  1. Are we solving a problem? Does your product solve a pervasive and urgent problem, or fix one that market is currently missing? If so, keeping it on deck makes sense. If new products amount to making slight improvements on existing solutions, however, consider making cuts.
  2. Can we win? Does your product have an advantage in terms of name recognition, feature set or distribution? If not, think hard before committing the funds necessary to address these shortcomings.
  3. What’s our return? What’s the long-term outlook for this product? Are there other solutions in development that offer better immediate gains or more stable returns?

Where necessary, cut products and re-focus time and money on other developments. Expect some pushback but hold your ground — too many products won’t benefit your bottom line and you’re on the hook if things don’t work out.

Get SAFe

It’s also worth taking a look at the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and it’s applications for your product line.  SAFe has gained wide acceptance as a viable framework for portfolio governance and investment decision making.  It’s worth noting that enterprise firms like BMC Software, Mitchell and HP Enterprise are applying the SAFe lens to achieve impressive results across the business, not just in development. If you are concerned about over selling the benefits outside of traditional functions such as engineering, start with a low visibility exercise such as allocating investment and resources to only the mature or aging products of the portfolio. Track the decisions and the near term impact.  Once you have the data, use it to move the approach to the mainstream business. After all, the methodology can help extend the marketable lifespan of new products and current products as well as focus limited development resources on the products with the greatest potential.

Want a healthy product portfolio? Think outside the box, be brutal when necessary and agile whenever possible.