What is Portfolio Kanban?

Portfolio Kanban management systems helps you visualize the current state of multiple projects and apply the principles of Lean & Kanban to deliver faster.


When teams master Kanban on the team level, they start delivering value faster than ever before. However, when all parts of a project start moving even faster, it becomes a real challenge to get the bigger picture and figure out the actual state of affairs. This increased team velocity requires a new way of tracking project status and this is where the Portfolio Kanban Management concept comes to play.

In short, Portfolio Kanban management allows you to easily visualize projects on a global level while keeping blockages and bottlenecks under control.

A Common Portfolio Kanban Management Application

Portfolio Kanban management board

One of the most common challenges with using a single team Kanban board for all of your projects is the ability to track the progress of bigger work items.

For example, delivering a new home page for your corporate website. Even if this is not a huge page, it will still require engagement from a product manager, product marketing manager, designer, copywriter, front-end developer, back-end developer, tester, etc. This sort of distributed ownership makes it almost impossible to track the progress of this deceptively simple initiative.

There are various reasons why cross-team dependencies lead to long cycle times and difficulties getting the project out the door:

  • The team is not collocated and communication is difficult
  • The different teams/roles in the organization use different ways to track their work and there’s not an easy way to see the whole
  • The different teams work on multiple different projects and coordination requires a lot of effort

Map Project Progress with a Portfolio Kanban Board

To address these issues in a quick and easy way, we can use the concept of a portfolio Kanban board. This portfolio Kanban board will visualize the initiative as one Kanban card and many other Kanban cards linked to it. If we look at Kanbanize as an example, the view will be something like this:

On the image above, it is easy to see that the project on our portfolio Kanban board has 5 “children” tasks. They all live in different Kanban boards, most likely team boards. When you use Kanban software to visualize this, it is very easy to track the current status of the project, without having to ask for status reports from each and every person or team involved in the process.

The visual nature of the Kanban boards lets you SEE and determine:

  • The current position of the project in the workflow
  • Whether the project is blocked and if it requires help from the outside
  • How much time the project is taking to finish
  • Which of the individual work items have been completed

Portfolio Kanban – Even More Valuable with Multiple Projects

This portfolio Kanban approach becomes even more valuable when you deal with multiple projects that compete for the available people and resources. Imagine that you have a lot of home pages to tackle and you need to make sure you do this in the most efficient way possible. In this situation, the Kanban element of the portfolio implementation becomes even more important, because you have the means to reduce work in progress on a system level.

This will reduce the overall number of concurrent projects, which in turn will lead to less context switching, sharper focus and faster execution. Limiting work in progress on the Portfolio Kanban level is also a great way to communicate with your entire organization the importance of “too much going on” and introduce a more disciplined way of getting things done.

Do you want to learn more about Kanban and Portfolio Kanban management implementations in particular? Take a look at our Kanban Case Studies.

In Summary

Portfolio Kanban management is a way of using a central Kanban board that allows you to:

  • Visualize projects on a global level and see their actual status without the need of extra reporting
  • Signal for blockages and bottlenecks across projects and departments
  • Limit the overall number of projects in progress
  • Easily measure the overall lead time or cycle time that the projects take

Up Next

Step 2

Portfolio Kanban – Implementing a Kanban Roadmap

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