How to Run Product Portfolios at Scale

BY Barry O'Reilly ON AUGUST 24, 2017

In this talk I share my lessons learnt from client engagements with many of the world’s largest organizations. I showcase how I’ve helped enterprises rekindle their capability and culture of experimentation and learning.

What are the key aspects to consider? Where should you start? What are the tools and techniques to use? How do you organize to make a meaningful business impact?

I highlight the key issues holding organizations back from unleashing innovation and demonstrate the areas to consider when seeking to create high performance organizations at scale.

Innovation Portfolio Management

One of the first exercises I run with executive teams is mapping their business portfolio to visualize current work in progress and how it aligns to the overall business strategy. Without exception, every time I run this exercise the gap between current state and desired state is far wider than every executive believed, hoped or even imagined.

Innovation portfolio mapping requires taking an end-to-end view of the lifecycle of initiatives in your organization. Lean Enterprises’ consider four main domains:

  • Explore early stage initiatives that are bets for the future with high degrees of uncertainty
  • Exploit initiatives that have achieved product-market fit and the organization wants to grow and scale
  • Sustain initiatives that have become repeatable and scalable business models, products or services that drive the majority of revenue for the organization
  • Retire initiatives that are long lived, no longer beneficial (even limiting) to the organization future success or strategy and should be sunset from the portfolio

Initiatives that do not achieve desired outcomes in any domain should be killed, and their investment transferred to other initiatives.

High performance organizations focus on building capability to continuously move initiatives through the model from Explore to Retire. They understand that using the same strategy, practices and processes across the entire portfolio will result in negative outcomes and poor results.

Alignment at Scale

Organizations big and small constantly fall into the trap of over investing in precision, analysis and planning without exercising the plan to find out if their hypotheses are invalid and untrue. The tension between planning and execution needs to be managed and the gaps in your knowledge, alignment and action addressed to achieve the desired outcomes we want.

High performance organization understand that clearly articulated purpose, provides context and the outcomes to be achieved. Leaders communicate the why and what, and trust their people closest to the work figure out how to get there. This is the basis of Mission Command, an alternative to command and control to create alignment at scale.

Barry O'Reilly


Barry O'Reilly

Barry O’Reilly is a business advisor, entrepreneur, and author who has pioneered the intersection of business model innovation, product development, organizational design, and culture transformation. He is co-author of the international bestseller Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale—included in the Eric Ries Lean series, and a Harvard Business Review must read for would-be CEOs and business leaders. He is an internationally sought-after speaker, frequent writer and contributor to The Economist, Strategy+Business, and MIT Sloan Management Review. Barry O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of ExecCamp, the entrepreneurial experience for executives, and management consultancy Antennae. He is also an executive advisor and mentor at Singularity University that works to educate, inspire, and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity's grand challenges. O’Reilly’s mission is to help purposeful technology-led businesses innovate at scale.