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7. Techniques

7.9 Portfolio Kanban

Agile Extension to the BABOK® Guide

Portfolio Kanban is used to manage the implementation of strategic initiatives by increasing visibility into the process, work-in-progress (WIP), decision making criteria, and feedback loops.

Kanban is a framework which helps in the application of agile values and principles. A portfolio is a collection of strategic initiatives for an organization or department to execute in alignment with their business goals. Portfolio Kanban brings structure to analysis and decision making at the Strategy Horizon.

Portfolio Kanban is a system to manage flow of work during the entire delivery cycle. It focuses on

  • visualizing the work,

  • limiting work-in-progress (WIP) to increase speed of delivery and reduce waste,

  • managing flow by identifying bottlenecks and stalled items,

  • making decision making and rules explicit,

  • incorporating feedback loops, and

  • increasing collaboration and continuous improvement.

The Kanban board visualizes the portfolio to show what initiatives are in progress, identify bottlenecks, and increase visibility to priorities, decision making, and feedback loops. Each portfolio initiative is represented as an item on the Kanban board. Items incorporate metrics or impact goals necessary for decision makers to prioritize initiatives and measure value against business goals.

.1 Kanban Board

Columns of Kanban Board
The columns of the Kanban board represent all the steps identified in the organization to move an initiative or item from idea to completion. For example:

Table 7.9.1: Kanban Board


.2 Done Criteria per Column

For each column or step, there is an explicit criteria indicated when an item is complete and ready to move to the next column. This allows organizations to have a shared understanding of what must be completed to move to the next step.

.3 Limits per Column

Kanban emphasizes limiting work-in-progress to increase flow through the system. To effectively do this, organizations impose limits for each column based on the reasonable capacity of their departments or teams. The focus is on getting items through the portfolio in a timely manner over having many initiatives in progress without completion.

.4 Strategic Business Initiatives or Portfolio Items

Each strategic initiative is represented on the Kanban board as a portfolio item. Each item includes a name, short description, and metrics or impact goals to measure success.

.5 Refinement Meeting

Refinement meetings are used to make decisions and changes based on ongoing feedback and learning. Refinement meetings occur on a regular basis and include all necessary decision makers. Refinement meetings also include those affected by decisions such as product owners for each initiative. There is no standard format for this meeting; the outcomes include a review of the board, analysis of focus areas, and prioritization of existing items.

.6 Metrics

Each portfolio item includes impact metrics used to prioritize initiatives.

.7 Visual

One of the strengths of Kanban is providing values into the items on the board. The Portfolio Kanban board is made easily accessible to anyone who wants to view the information. Physical representations that can be easily interacted with have the greatest visibility and lowest barrier to entry.

.1 Strengths
  • Can be replicated at the Initiative and Delivery Horizons.

  • Optimizes portfolio management to respond to business and customer needs.

  • Increases feedback loop per portfolio item and per step.

  • Increased visibility into work-in-progress allows people to see current priorities and focus for the organization.

  • Increased visibility identifies bottlenecks or impediments which need support.

  • Limiting work-in-progress increases overall flow of the system.
.2 Limitations
  • Useful when all initiatives go through the same flow. It is not useful if there are different paths/columns through which an initiative can move.

  • Initiatives should be appropriately sized to regularly move through columns. The approach does not add clarity when initiatives sit in the same column for a long period of time.

  • Portfolio Kanban is designed to provide visibility. It is best used for a single flow system. Multiple systems represented on one Kanban board will be overwhelming and not provide the necessary clarity.