Portfolio Kanban - Implementing a Kanban Roadmap

What shall we do next? This is the question that Product and Project managers have to answer. A Portfolio Kanban Roadmap provides the answer.


Project and product roadmaps are one of the most important artifacts that every project or product manager has to provide so that key stakeholders are kept informed. However, the way most professionals build roadmaps today is broken. The minute someone believes they can predict the future, a lot of damage is done. If we plan that something will start on a given date and finish on a given date, we start fooling everyone, including ourselves. If we ever have to foresee the future, the Portfolio Kanban concept can be employed so that we deliver a flexible, lean, Kanban roadmap, that will actually help.

Challenges with Traditional Roadmap Implementations

The real problem with all roadmaps is that they are, by definition, incorrect. Everyone knows that they are based on guesses and assumptions, but we keep lying to ourselves that they work.

Even worse, we force the teams into accepting our roadmaps, even if they have no idea whether it’s going to happen or not. Then, if they fail to deliver “on time”, a lot of blame is being thrown all over the place, people get frustrated, others get fired and what not. Quite irrational, but that’s what happens in most of the organizations out there.

What’s the way out? Portfolio Kanban and a Kanban Roadmap.

Before digging into the depths of the Portfolio Kanban application for Kanban Roadmap implementations, let’s scratch the topic of Upstream Kanban otherwise known as Customer Kanban.


Upstream Kanban / Customer Kanban

As Patrick Steyaert explains in the article Customer Kanban – from customer push to customer pull”, Upstream Kanban (Customer Kanban) is:

Upstream Kanban visualizes the demand in terms of options that are explored to define and select the work items that will be committed.

Kanban system

Everything else aside, thinking in terms of options is critical to getting to a better understanding of how a Kanban Roadmap works. All non-started projects are options visualized as Kanban cards on the “Requested” area of the Kanban board. Even if a given project is committed, unless it’s been started, it’s still an option that we can choose to execute or not.


Portfolio Kanban and a Kanban Roadmap

As explained in the What is Portfolio Kanban article, here is what Portfolio Kanban is all about:

  • Visualize projects on a global level in the form of a Portfolio Kanban Board
  • Signal for blockages and bottlenecks in underlying processes
  • Limit the overall number of projects across the organization
  • Easily measure the overall lead time or cycle time for both individual projects and sets of projects
Kanbanize roadmap board

The key to our Portfolio Kanban Roadmap implementation is to visualize the options that we want to invest in and allow our stakeholders to prioritize at any time, as long as the option has not been executed (started).

After an option has been executed (the project has been started), we shall do our best to complete it in the fastest way possible, without caring how much time exactly it takes. This sounds like heresy, but in most of the cases, we only need to know that a project is smaller than X days / months / years. If we suspect that a given option would turn out to be too big, we should break it down before it’s actually started and execute the different parts as separate, standalone projects.

Are you are now ready to setup your own Portfolio Kanban board? Try our Portfolio Kanban implementation in Kanbanize.

In Summary

There are five major advantages to implementing a Kanban Roadmap using a Portfolio Kanban Board:

  • Thinking and working in Options - We can cancel an option anytime, as long as it is not started. Note that we can still cancel an option if it’s executed (started), but that would be waste of time and resources, so we should restrain from doing it often.
  • Commitment is deferred to the latest possible moment - we can execute an option when we have free capacity (teams, people, resources, etc.). Until then we can reprioritize as frequently as needed, based on the new information available.
  • Thinking in Flow - When our roadmap is a Kanban roadmap, our options “flow” through the Portfolio Kanban board. This gives us the freedom to escape from red/green/yellow reporting and embrace the Lean Kanban flow metrics, such as Cycle Time and Flow efficiency.
  • Detecting and resolving blocks - When options flow through the Portfolio Kanban board, we can spot when a given option is stuck for too long in a given state. This gives us control over the situation and allows us to unblock it before it’s too late.
  • Easily extend and change - Given the structure of a Kanban board, we can always add columns to the left and label them “Next 3 months”, “Next 6 months”, “Next Year”, etc. This gives us a great visual representation of what’s coming further down the line, without us digging into estimations and too much detail.

Up Next

Step 1

What is Portfolio Kanban

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Step 3

Portfolio Kanban – Epics Flow Efficiency

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