Portfolio Kanban

19 ap-portfolio-kanban

The Portfolio Kanban is a method used to visualize and manage the analysis, prioritization and ow of portfolio epics from ideation to implementation and completion.1

Explore More.

Related Mindset:




Agile Portfolio


All big ideas (new business opportunities, cost savings, marketplace changes, mergers & acquisitions, problems with existing solutions, Innovation Lab findings), Strategic Themes, and productive capacity of each Agile Release Train.


The primary output of Portfolio Kanban is implemented Epics that drive the strategic themes of the organization. A secondary output is a Cumulative Flow Diagram that will allow you to identify bottlenecks and provide insight into issues, cycle time and likely completion dates.

Successful organizations have the ability to manage the flow of high-level ideas through implementation, ensuring that the highest priority Epics are evaluated and implemented.

The Portfolio Kanban is a construct of the Scaled Agile Framework®. It is defined as:

The portfolio kanban is a method used to visualize and manage the analysis, prioritization and ow of portfolio epics from ideation to implementation and completion.1

One important aspect of the Portfolio Kanban is the way that portfolio items are analyzed and prioritized. The Scaled Agile Framework utilizes Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) prioritization which is defined as:

Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) is a prioritization model used to sequence “jobs” (features, capabilities) so as to produce maximum economic bene t in a ow-based system. WSJF is calculated as the cost of delay divided by job duration (or job size as a proxy).1

You can learn more about the Portfolio Kanban and WSJF in the following abstracts from the Scaled Agile Framework®:

Common Pitfalls

Even in organizations that adopt a Portfolio Kanban, there are problems that can occur in the definition and implementation, causing a derivation from the ideal implementation:

  • Not measuring results - Not periodically measuring the Epic’s success criteria poses two risks:
    • Work that is done is not meeting the success criteria as expected, and since you are unaware, you cannot adapt.
    • Teams may continue to work on initiatives past the point where that work is more valuable than other work.
      You should begin measuring results in the Implementation stage and continue to measure after each release.
  • Allowing clutter - If an Epic is not moved from the Funnel into Review after a certain amount of time, it should be aged-out so as not to continually distract from other initiatives. You can set up an aging-out agreement where, if an item is not pulled in a certain amount of time, it will age-out. If it’s important it will always come back.
  • Not defining pull criteria - Without clear, visible pull criteria for each state, the movement of Epics from one stage to the next will become ad-hoc and vulnerable to abuse. The PPM team should make sure they have discussed and documented readiness criteria for each stage and that that criteria is met.
  • WIP limits too high - This is the most common pitfall for organizations switching from a waterfall system. Waterfall systems encourage large batch sizes, and an organization may instinctively feel the need to load up their queue with as much work as possible in order to feel productive. However, we know from systems thinking that more work in-process actually delays value. Encourage your team to start small and build up if necessary versus starting high or not enforcing WIP limits at all.


There are multiple mature tools for Kanban boards. At Universal Mind, we would recommend the following tools:


  • Scaled Agile Inc., SAFe® 4.0 Glossary, Licensed Usage.