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What is Portfolio Kanban?

29 Apr 2020

In its essence, Portfolio Kanban is a comprehensive method that aims to improve an organization's ability to deliver viable results through visualization, limitation of work in progress and by improving the workflow of every system. 

It denotes an organizational application of Kanban in order to reap the benefits that will have a wide-reaching positive effect on the organization as a whole.

Portfolio Kanban in a nutshell

Kanban has been used in software development for a while now, most successfully on a team level. Due to its simplicity and efficiency, Kanban grew into a system that can be applied to an entire organization and not just software development processes. 

Portfolio Kanban is designed to help organizations visualize their initiatives and achieve their goals with efficiency and minimal waste. 

Therefore, whether you're in need of managing customers, marketing strategies, financial projections and any other relevant business process, Portfolio Kanban is an option to consider.

How does it work?

Portfolio Kanban is designed to help organizations break down large projects. The projects are broken down into smaller tasks until you have minimal marketable features or MMFs. That way you can achieve full transparency and overview of the project by tracking the number of smaller tasks your teams have completed. 

It's a process that allows you to track the progress towards achieving the goal, thus allowing you to see and, of course, not lose track of the bigger picture at all times. All of this can be achieved with a Kanban board and Kanban cards that will help visualize both initiatives and tasks that need to be completed. 

Refining the process

Portfolio Kanban can be implemented on any system within an organization. However, for Portfolio Kanban to work in your favor, you must follow a few simple steps. 

Those steps include matching demand with a capacity based on work in progress (WIP) limits, visualizing potential bottlenecks in every process to achieve continuous improvement, defining policies that govern the entry and exit of all work items in each state. 

In Portfolio Kanban, you can divide the initiative into states. Each state represents an example process. Once that's done you can refine the process further. Such refinements may include adjusting the WIP limits, combining or further splitting Kanban states, adding service classes to optimize the workflow and so on.  Here's an example of a Portfolio Kanban roadmap that describes each individual state from start to finish (Done). 

  • The funnel state - This state is used to capture big organizational ideas, such as cost savings strategies, new business opportunities, acquisitions or mergers, marketing tactics, issues with existing solutions and so on. Each idea can be turned into an Epic that can later be broken down to smaller user stories. 
  • The review state - In this state, stakeholders need to agree on the definition and intent of an epic since epics are considered to be enterprise-level investments. The time invested in review, however, must be minimal, which is why the epic hypothesis must be created. Such a hypothesis includes the description of an epic, business outcome hypothesis, leading indicators and nonfunctional requirements.
  • The analyze state - In this state, multiple departments, such as business owners, Agile teams, system and solutions architects or engineers and product and solution managers must work together to analyze and work on the epic. In this collaboration, activities, such as identifying solution alternatives, defining the MVP (Minimal Viable Product), estimating costs of an MVP and project scope of an epic and limitations of WIP commonly occur. 
  • The portfolio backlog state - Epics that have been approved are stored in this state. Here you can also review and prioritize epics based on the Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) method, which is a prioritization model that produces maximum economic benefit for an organization. The work items with the highest WSJF can proceed to the implementation state.
  • The implementation state - In this state, epics are implemented by using the so-called build-measure-learn cycle due to their scope size and value. Agile teams, therefore, proceed with the activities that are required to develop the MVP and prove the business hypothesis. 
  • The done state -  When Portfolio Kanban is involved, the definition of "done" occurs once you achieve sufficient knowledge or value. That said, the epic is done once the hypothesis is proven true, which leads to implementations of additional features and capabilities, feature prioritizations and additional investments. An epic is also considered done if the hypothesis is proven to be false in which case stakeholders may create a new epic or drop the initiative entirely.

The benefits of Portfolio Kanban

Portfolio Kanban helps organizations in more ways than one. Surviving in a highly competitive and overcrowded environment today is very difficult, especially for new companies on the market. By implementing this system, companies can ensure a seamless workflow and achieve the following benefits.

  • Visualization -Kanban helps organizations with its boards and cards to visualize the scope of the project and track progress towards certain business goals.
  • Applicability - Kanban is famous for being highly applicable. You can apply this system to any workflow ranging from team level operations to C-level strategic processes.
  • Aggregation - Every task within the project, no matter how small or big it may, be can be monitored. Thanks to Kanban boards, cards, horizontal or vertical columns and tasks you can streamline information in the way that makes the best sense for your organization.

Closing word

Portfolio Kanban is designed to help an organization grow while helping them maintain efficiency, productivity and overall performance at optimal levels. By helping organizations visualize their initiatives, Portfolio Kanban ensures seamless processes with minimal waste and maximum value for both the organization and their customers.