Recharted Territory started life as scribbles in a notebook. Every time I had an idea for a blog post, business model, product, or branding I’d write it down on a page.
As it took shape I started separating out notes in different documents and eventually different Google Drive folders. To do lists turned into project plans. The more I tried to organize the information, the more fragmented it got. It became difficult to both see the big picture and drill down to the specifics.
I’ve seen the same issues when working with enterprises. They’re trying to align the work of multiple teams to achieve bigger goals, without sacrificing agility. But with so many moving pieces and potential projects, managing the portfolio with standalone apps or static views like whiteboards and documents becomes painful. That’s where portfolio management software can help organizations of any size.
Whatever your budget, there are software solutions out there to help track notes and manage your portfolio. Whether you’re investing in an all-in-one solution, stitching together a collection of free tools, or anything in between, here are a few features to look for:
1. Project management
Analyzing customer pain points and coming up with a lot of ideas to solve them means nothing without execution. A project management tool will help keep track of larger initiatives as well as individual tasks needed to drive each project forward.
2. Unlimited levels of hierarchy (or at least enough to cover what you need)
Some tools are great for managing team projects, but don’t let you zoom out one or two levels higher to track the big picture across an organization. Verify that you can get the number of levels that you need within your budget. Sometimes vendors charge extra for the features that are best for portfolio management. Look for tools that give you access to all the features you need and charge by the number of editors instead.
3. Ability to customize the names of items
While many industries and companies operate based on similar concepts, they use a range of terms to describe them. Companies going through a transformation could have terms to describe their current processes that differ from both the new methodology and the vocabulary in the software they purchased. That’s a recipe for confusion. Some software tools let you customize the names of the elements, allowing you to match the methodology you’re going for, instead of being constrained by the text in the tool (or needing to create a translation guide).
4. Ability to customize workflows
For some companies, it may be valuable to create custom workflows. Having this feature is helpful for implementing process improvements without needing to hire specialized support. You also won’t feel as constrained by the process the tool designers follow, which might not work for you.
5. Knowledge management
The projects and initiatives are one thing, but there’s also a huge collection of information that you’ll be gathering along the way. You need an additional space for building out a knowledge base that you’ll add to over time. Something like a wiki space or a well-organized collection of documents is a good start.
With the wider scope of work, you’ll have larger projects that need to be broken down into smaller pieces, work assigned to teams and people, plus goals and investment themes. Good tools will allow you to add links between items so that you can easily find related work or notes.
7. Tags, labels, & search
As you build out your backlogs you might realize that you have your main hierarchy and then other views that you’d like to see. Maybe you want a view of all initiatives related to a specific customer, or a specific theme. Tools that offer tags, labels, and advanced search features can make a huge difference for organizing and answering questions about very large portfolios.
8. User-friendly navigation
The more people that are interacting with your portfolio, the more important user-friendly navigation is. Not being able to find the info you need reduces the value of putting it in a tool in the first place.
Doing the work is one thing, but every once in a while we want to see at a glance what’s going on and where success stories or gaps may be. Look out for tools that have options to build and customize reports about your projects, roadmaps, or metrics.
Check out this post on roadmapping tools for ideas of ways to use different software tools to visual the work that you’re planning to complete.
11. Integration options
Manual steps may be fine for smaller portfolios with a small number of people interacting with them but the larger the scope of your portfolio, the more helpful automated integration will be. If you don’t have the expertise or time to work on integrating your software, look for options that offer integration with your other tools out of the box.
12. A free trial
Some software tools look great at first but you don’t realize that the match is off until you get in there and start adding in your own information and try adapting it to your organization. Look for tools that allow you to have access to all of the features you’d need for free during a trial period. The best free trials I’ve seen last for a month or more and also let you invite other people to test it out with you.
Software tools can be very helpful for managing your portfolio if you can find something (or a collection of tools) with these features. If you’re still not sure where to start or just don’t have the time, recommending and customizing software is part of what we offer to clients building out their portfolio. Check out our services and book a consult here if you’re interested in learning more.
What kind of software do you use to manage your portfolio? Which features ended up being a must have?