What is Portfolio Architecture?

About a year ago, I assumed the role of Head of Portfolio Architecture. However, even within the first few months, I encountered a common question: ‘What is portfolio architecture?’

Well, this is one of those posts that have been sitting in some draft form or another since the first few days of me taking on the new role. It’s not exactly the type of job title that one can easily ask your nearest AI and get a straightforward or relevant answer for - so I thought I’d add to the corpus of knowledge by writing down something here.

In this post, I’ll delve into the concept of portfolio architecture, its significance, and its role within the Product/Portfolio domain.

Product Taxonomy: Building the Foundation

Portfolio Architecture refers to the strategic design and organisation of a suite of products within a business. It ensures coherence, alignment, and optimal customer outcomes. Before I get too much into the detail, let’s understand a couple of things first.

When building a catalog of products, you start with a product taxonomy - the way you structure your products; by type, by item, how you price, how you bundle etc. When inside an organisation with 1-2 products it’s easy enough to fit inside the head of a single product manager. In larger organisations, managing a growing number of products becomes more complex. Product bundles and propositions start to emerge to group things together and products can vary in type, in size and across many other different axis.

Role of a Portfolio Architect

Now, let’s return to Portfolio Architecture. This role becomes prominent in larger contexts. In our case with a suite of products > 100. Keeping products inline with a taxonomy, making sure that products work together and making sure there are no gaps or other odd behaviours is a real challenge. Architecting in this context is bringing together the large suite of products into a coherent set of customer outcomes. Just as a Systems Architect makes sure a set of tools and technologies meet a set of principles and all works together - so does a Portfolio Architect make sure products and services do the same.

Portfolio Architecture, Systems Architecture and Enterprise Architecture are all roles which play in harmony together to make sure any product or service business can delivery effectively for it’s customers. Not all organisations will have each of these roles filled by separate people, but each role have their own focus areas and priorities.

If you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll realise that I’m a big fan of wardley mapping. Being an architect for a portfolio of products, means understanding the impact of introducing new products into that ecosystem. Either though action of the company or through changes to the ecosystem (e.g. climatic pattens) I have to assess what this means, what gaps and opportunities this opens up what actions we can take to influence it. This means thinking like a technology strategist, a product manager and systems architect - all every exciting stuff.

What is means for me

I have to admit, this post has been waiting around mostly because it’s taking me a year to realise the scope of this new role, to settle into working in a product organisation (rather than the engineering organisation that I come from) and because I like to speak with some experience before writing things down.

Anyway, for all of you who have asked me this question recently, or those of you who’ve seen my title and asked the question in your head, hopefully this goes some way to answering that question.

If you’d like to know more, or you’d like to to write a bit more of this topic, then reach out and let me know. If any you have similar roles then I’d love to chat more so get in touch.