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Portfolio Kanban: Setup Guide and Management Responsibilities

Kanban is a project management methodology that helps visualize your workflow, control the process, and maximize results. There are many ways to use Kanban effectively.

This post explores the concept of Portfolio Kanban – what it is, how it works, and who is responsible for managing it.

What is Portfolio Kanban?

Portfolio Kanban is a system for managing and improving workflow when you have a portfolio of projects. It takes the basic concept of Kanban methodology and applies it to multiple projects simultaneously. Just as with individual projects, it’s a visual tool for simultaneously tracking the status of interconnected projects. 

Portfolio kanban board
Teamhood Portfolio Kanban

Discover the basics of Kanban, its principles, and essential tools like project visualization, WIP limits, and feedback loops in the Ultimate Kanban Project Management Guide.

Using Portfolio Kanban helps improve project visibility. You can see what projects are in progress, what resources you need to complete them, and how they are related. Used well, this will help reduce cycle time and increase throughput. 

Individuals, teams, or organizations can use Portfolio Kanban to manage any combination of work for any kind of project. This ranges from software development to sales, marketing campaigns, HR projects, and construction. Any project with a long list of interconnected tasks can benefit from visualizing those tasks using Portfolio Kanban.

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rich kanban board cards

How is Portfolio Kanban different from a regular Kanban board?

Managers and project management professionals who are new to Kanban can often get confused about how to use Portfolio Kanban. That’s because it is a little more complicated than using basic Kanban boards. 

rich kanban cards

In particular, the Portfolio Kanban method applies across all hierarchy levels. You can use it to track projects at the team, product management, project management, or higher level. This makes it hard to know who should manage the process. 

If a regular Kanban board operates at the team level, then the Kanban cards on your Portfolio Kanban board are “parents” of one or more cards on your team Kanban board. Completing a card or task at the team level should then automatically update the Portfolio board.

If your team is using a Kanban system like Teamhood, you will be able to create synced item copies across several boards. This way, a parent item will be visible in the portfolio Kanban board and then you can create synced copies of its subtasks on the team Kanban board.

This will give you an easy way to track progress and avoid overwhelming the team with large items and too many unnecessary details.

Here is a video explaining the option in more detail.

Team-level Kanban board

Team-level Kanban boards represent workflow visually as a series of tasks arranged into three basic columns: 

  1. Backlog. All new ideas and work items that are waiting to be worked on. 
  2. Work In Progress. All tasks are currently being worked on. 
  3. Done. All completed tasks. 

This looks quite simple:

portfolio kanban

When a card on the team board is moved to “In Progress”, the parent card on the Portfolio Kanban board should also be considered “In Progress” because the team task has been started. Similarly, when all the related team-level cards are moved to “Done”, the parent tasks on the Portfolio Kanban board should also move to “Done”. This process can be automated with synced copies.

Portfolio Kanban board

A Portfolio Kanban board, by contrast, aligns strategy and execution by identifying, communicating, and governing the largest and most strategic initiatives. These are also known as epics. Portfolio Kanban describes the process of ‘statuses’ that an epic goes through on its way from creation to execution.

Usually, the statuses of a portfolio Kanban board look something like this:

  1. Funnel – For all new ideas and initiatives
  2. Reviewing – Crystalizing the idea and business needs
  3. Analyzing – Definition of MVP, business value, cost, user feedback
  4. Portfolio Backlog – To hold the chosen epics
  5. Implementing – divided into MVP and Reserve – To track progress
  6. Done
Portfolio kanban board

Who should be responsible for managing Portfolio Kanban?

Portfolio Kanban can visualize and track projects from team level all the way up through project managers to program managers to C-suite business leaders. This is one reason it can be confusing when it comes to who should manage it. However, the answer is relatively simple and dictated by the process itself.

Those responsible for managing Portfolio Kanban epics are known as epic owners

These epic owners collaborate with other stakeholders to define the epic, its minimum viable product (MVP), and the Lean business case. Once the business case is approved, the epic owner also oversees and facilitates implementation. Epic owners collaborate directly with other stakeholders to define the features and capabilities that will realize the value of approved epics. 

Who is assigned as epic owner in an organization varies depending on an organization’s policies and processes. This can be a trial-and-error process that you will need to perfect over the course of several projects.

Epic owner responsibilities

The critical thing to remember is that the epic owner should be someone who can carry out the following responsibilities:

  • Prioritizing work according to urgency or impact and delegating tasks accordingly.
  • Managing the team’s timeline, communicating priorities, and ensuring that there’s enough capacity to meet deadlines.
  • Checking if Kanban cards have been completed correctly.
  • Identifying potential risks or issues with implementing requirements and features, and determining if the available resources are sufficient.  
  • Developing work plans and timelines for teams that include dependencies where necessary. More on Kanban planning.
online kanban board

Using Portfolio Kanban in your organization

Now you know what Portfolio Kanban is, how it works, and who is responsible for managing it. Isn’t it time to look at how it could help you to manage your organization’s projects more effectively? 

Find out more about how Teamhood’s flexible Kanban system works, or book a demo to see how it could work for you:

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Kanban board

Frequently asked questions

  • What are the steps in portfolio Kanban?

    In portfolio Kanban, the key steps involve:

    1. Epic Definition: Define the epic’s scope and strategic importance.
    2. Minimum Viable Product (MVP): Determine the essential features needed for value delivery.
    3. Lean Business Case: Create a business justification for the epic.
    4. Approval: Gain approval for the epic’s implementation.
    5. Implementation: Oversee and facilitate the epic’s execution.
    6. Feature Definition: Collaborate to define specific features and capabilities.
    7. Value Realization: Ensure value is delivered to the organization and customers.
  • What are the benefits of portfolio Kanban?

    The benefits of portfolio Kanban include:

    1. Improved Visibility: Clear visibility into work at all levels of the organization.
    2. Enhanced Prioritization: Effective prioritization of initiatives and epics.
    3. Efficient Resource Allocation: Optimized resource allocation for maximum value.
    4. Faster Delivery: Faster delivery of valuable features to customers.
    5. Adaptability: Ability to adapt to changing priorities and market conditions.
    6. Reduced Waste: Minimized waste and improved efficiency.
    7. Alignment: Better alignment of work with strategic goals.
  • What is the difference between Kanban and portfolio Kanban?

    The key difference is scope:

    Kanban is used for visualizing and managing work at the team or department level.

    Portfolio Kanban, on the other hand, extends Kanban principles to manage larger-scale initiatives, such as epics and projects, often involving multiple teams and strategic objectives. It focuses on aligning these initiatives with organizational goals and optimizing their delivery.

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