The SAFe Portfolio Kanban

SAFe Portfolio Kanban is a method for visualizing and managing the flow of portfolio Epics, aligning strategy and execution in SAFe.

In SAFe, Portfolio Kanban is a crucial tool for managing the flow of portfolio Epics, guiding them from ideation to analysis, implementation, and completion. It’s part of the larger SAFe framework, which encompasses various Kanban systems at different levels, such as team, program, solution, and portfolio Kanban systems. Each of these systems plays a role in enhancing the flow of value through the Continuous Delivery Pipeline.

Portfolio Kanban is vital because it aids in aligning strategic goals with execution by identifying, communicating, and governing the selection of the most significant and strategic initiatives, known as Epics, within a SAFe portfolio. This alignment is crucial for the overall success of the organization.

In essence, SAFe Portfolio Kanban is a structured approach that defines the stages or ‘states’ an Epic progresses through from its inception to its ultimate completion. It provides visibility and control over these strategic initiatives, ensuring they are executed in alignment with the organization’s strategic goals.

Who is responsible for managing the Portfolio Kanban?

Lean Portfolio Management manages the Portfolio Kanban in the SAFe framework.

Portfolio Kanban - managing the Portfolio KanbanWithin the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Portfolio Kanban’s responsibility falls under the Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) purview. LPM focuses on aligning an organization’s strategy with its execution by overseeing the flow of work in the portfolio.

There are 5 key stakeholder groups in Agile Portfolio Operations, and they are:

  1. Value Management Office (VMO): This group ensures value delivery and alignment with the organization’s strategic objectives.
  2. Lean Agile Center of Excellence (LACE): The LACE promotes and supports adopting Agile practices, tools, and culture across the organization.
  3. Release Train Engineer (RTE): The RTE facilitates and supports the work of ARTs and Solution Trains, ensuring alignment and effective execution of initiatives.
  4. Scrum Master/Team Coach: provide coaching and support to individual teams, helping them adopt and adhere to Agile principles and practices.

LPM is responsible for ensuring that the Portfolio Kanban system is effectively used to visualize and manage the flow of portfolio Epics. They play a central role in identifying, communicating, and governing the selection of the most significant and strategic initiatives (Epics) within a SAFe portfolio.

LPM also utilizes strategic portfolio review and portfolio sync events as crucial mechanisms for managing and monitoring the work flow within the portfolio. These events help ensure that the organization’s strategic objectives are met through the proper execution of Epics.

In summary, Lean Portfolio Management is the designated entity responsible for managing the Portfolio Kanban system within SAFe, making it a critical component of aligning strategy and execution in agile enterprises.

How do you use Lean Portfolio Kanban to manage the portfolio backlog?

The Portfolio Kanban creates a visual workflow for Business Epics and Enablers. It enables tracking Epic’s progress and identifying process bottlenecks or areas for enhancement.

The six key elements of managing the Portfolio Backlog with Lean Portfolio Kanban are listed below:

  1. The Portfolio Kanban system provides a visual representation of the progress of Business Epics and Enablers, making it easy to track their status and identify bottlenecks or opportunities for improvement.
  2. Epic Owners are responsible for the essential collaborations to manage Epics within the Portfolio Kanban system. They ensure that Epics are effectively developed, prioritized, and moved through the process.
  3. Enterprise Architects guide Enabler Epics, which supports the technical considerations for Business Epics. Their expertise ensures that the organization’s technical infrastructure aligns with its strategic goals.
  4. The Portfolio Kanban system helps to align strategy and execution by identifying, communicating, and governing the selection of the largest and most strategic initiatives (Epics) for a Lean Portfolio.
  5. Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) oversees the Portfolio Kanban, ensuring that it is effectively used to manage and monitor the flow of Epics within the organization.
  6. Strategic Portfolio Review and Portfolio Sync Events: The Portfolio Kanban system is often used during these events to facilitate discussions around Epics’ prioritization, selection, and progress. This helps to maintain alignment between the organization’s strategy and the initiatives in the portfolio.

The SAFe Portfolio Backlog

The SAFe Portfolio Backlog is a vital component in managing the strategic direction of an organization’s portfolio. It is a dynamic repository for business and enabler epics to enhance the portfolio’s products, services, and solutions.

Portfolio Kanban - Benefits and Structure

Key features of the SAFe Portfolio Backlog:

  1. Strategic Alignment: The Portfolio Backlog plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the work at the portfolio level aligns with the organization’s overall strategic objectives. It captures the high-level initiatives, known as epics, crucial for achieving strategic goals.
  2. Epics Management: Within the Portfolio Backlog, epics are categorized and prioritized based on their strategic importance and business value. This process ensures that resources are allocated to the most critical initiatives directly contributing to the portfolio’s success.
  3. Visibility and Transparency: The Portfolio Backlog provides a clear and transparent view of all the epics under consideration for implementation. This visibility helps stakeholders, including executives, decide which initiatives to pursue and when.
  4. Continuous Prioritization: Epics in the Portfolio Backlog are subject to constant prioritization based on changing market conditions, customer feedback, and evolving business priorities. This adaptability is essential in the fast-paced world of business.
  5. Collaboration: Cross-functional teams collaborate to refine and elaborate on the epics in the Portfolio Backlog. This collaboration fosters a shared understanding of the work and ensures that it aligns with the organization’s objectives.
  6. Dependencies Management: The Portfolio Backlog also highlights dependencies among various epics. Identifying and managing these dependencies is critical to avoiding bottlenecks and delays in executing strategic initiatives.
  7. Capacity Planning: Organizations can effectively plan and allocate resources to work on epics by maintaining a well-organized Portfolio Backlog. This prevents overloading teams and optimizes the utilization of available resources.
  8. Flow of Value: Ultimately, the Portfolio Backlog feeds into the SAFe Portfolio Kanban system, where work is visualized and managed at a higher level. It ensures that epics flow smoothly through the various stages of implementation, from ideation to delivery, thereby delivering value to customers.

Building and Refining the Portfolio Backlog

Building and refining the portfolio backlog in SAFe involves identifying, describing, and prioritizing epics.

The construction and refinement of the portfolio backlog is a continuous process that starts with identifying potential epics. Stakeholders across the organization propose new ideas, which are then captured as epics and entered into the funnel stage of the Portfolio Kanban system. Each epic is then elaborated upon, capturing its intent and business value. Refining involves analyzing these epics for their strategic alignment and financial feasibility. It includes go/no-go decisions made during the review phase. Epics that align with the organization’s strategic themes and provide substantial value are prioritized and moved into the portfolio backlog, where they await implementation.

Portfolio Kanban - Portfolio Backlog Refinement ProcessThere are eight steps involved in refining the Portfolio Backlog, and they are:

  1. Strategic Review: This is where the organization’s strategic themes, budgets, and business context are reviewed to ensure the portfolio backlog items align with them. This step also considers changes in market trends, technology, and other factors that might impact the direction of the initiatives in the portfolio backlog.
  2. Identify Epics: The epics are high-level initiatives that will drive the portfolio’s work. They are typically broad in scope, cross multiple teams or programs, and take a long time to implement. Key stakeholders identify the epics, including business owners, product managers, system architects, and others.
  3. Review and Prioritize Epics: After the epics have been identified, they are then reviewed and prioritized based on the organization’s strategic goals, the value they deliver, and the costs and risks associated with them. The Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) method prioritizes epics in SAFe.
  4. Analyze Epics: Each epic is analyzed in detail to determine its potential impact, feasibility, and estimated cost. This analysis helps determine whether the epic should proceed to the portfolio backlog or be discontinued.
  5. Define Epic Hypothesis: An epic hypothesis statement is created for each epic still under consideration after the analysis. This statement provides a high-level description of the epic, including its purpose, the value it will deliver, and the metrics used to measure its success.
  6. Lean Business Case: For each epic, a Lean Business Case is developed to elaborate further on the business need, the potential solutions, the estimated cost, the expected benefits, and the associated risks. This helps the stakeholders decide whether to proceed with the epic.
  7. Approval and Implementation: The portfolio stakeholders implement the Epic based on the lean business case. If approved, the epic is added to the portfolio backlog, broken down into features or capabilities, and then pulled into the Program or Solution Backlogs for implementation.
  8. Review and Adjust: The portfolio backlog is continuously reviewed and adjusted as new information or conditions change. This could include adding new epics, removing or reprioritizing existing ones, or adjusting the epics’ scope based on implementation feedback.

What are Portfolio Epics?

Portfolio Epics are significant strategic initiatives within the SAFe framework that represent large-scale business objectives and are managed through the Portfolio Kanban system.

SAFe Portfolio BacklogPortfolio Epics are substantial endeavors within an organization’s SAFe portfolio. They are not typical day-to-day work but represent significant strategic initiatives and objectives crucial for achieving the organization’s long-term goals. These Epics are often characterized by their complexity, impact, and strategic importance.

In the Portfolio Kanban system context, these Epics are visualized and managed as they progress from the initial idea stage through analysis, development, and, ultimately, approval or rejection. Before an Epic is committed to implementation, it undergoes a thorough analysis and approval process.

Responsibility for these Portfolio Epics is divided among Epic Owners and Enterprise Architects. Epic Owners focus on the essential collaborations required for business Epics, while Enterprise Architects guide the enabler Epics, which supports the technical aspects of the business Epics.

The Portfolio Kanban system is instrumental in managing these Epics, helping to align an organization’s strategy with execution. It identifies, communicates, and governs the selection of the most significant and most strategic initiatives (Epics) within the SAFe portfolio.

Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) oversees the Portfolio Kanban and ensures that Epics are aligned with the portfolio’s strategic themes, vision, and economic framework. LPM plays a key role in facilitating the flow of Epics and making informed decisions about which initiatives to pursue.

Achieving a better future state in the SAFe framework involves Development Value Streams adopting a ‘one-portfolio’ mindset, where they collaborate to achieve the portfolio’s higher-level objectives and the broader enterprise goals. This collaboration is essential for successful portfolio management.

Managing The Portfolio Backlog with Kanban

Managing the Portfolio Backlog with Kanban involves visualizing and controlling the flow of business epics and enablers within the SAFe framework.

In SAFe, the Portfolio Kanban system is a powerful tool for managing the portfolio backlog, which consists of significant initiatives known as portfolio epics. These epics represent strategic objectives and are taken from the initial idea stage through various process states until either approved for implementation or rejected.

Before an epic is committed to implementation, it undergoes a crucial phase of analysis and approval. This process is orchestrated by Epic Owners, individuals responsible for essential collaborations required for business epics. Additionally, Enterprise Architects play a role in guiding enabler epics, which support the technical considerations of business epics.

One of the challenges organizations face is a lack of rigor in managing their portfolio backlog, leading to less critical efforts continuing. At the same time, potentially more valuable initiatives are delayed or starved of resources. Choosing the best ideas is insufficient to advance the portfolio; it demands a purposeful journey.

Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) plays a pivotal role in this process. LPM and stakeholders identify specific epics aligned with the portfolio’s vision. The Portfolio Kanban system facilitates the alignment of strategy and execution by identifying, communicating, and governing the selection of the most strategic initiatives (epics) for the SAFe portfolio.

While opportunistic epics are considered, LPM has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the flow of epics that best align with the portfolio’s strategic themes, vision, and economic framework. Achieving a better future state involves “Development Value Streams” adopting a ‘one-portfolio’ mindset, collaborating to achieve higher-level objectives and broader enterprise goals.

The figure below illustrates the epic’s journey through the Portfolio Kanban system, from the Funnel stage to completion. The Reviewing, Analyzing, and Ready states have explicit Work in Process (WIP) limits. In contrast, the MVP sub-state has an implicit WIP limit based on available capacity and value stream budgets.

The design of the Kanban system should evolve to meet the specific needs of a portfolio, incorporating continuous improvements. These enhancements may involve adjusting WIP limits, reconfiguring Kanban states, or introducing classes of service to optimize the flow and priority of epics, ensuring the portfolio backlog is effectively managed.

Portfolio Kanban States

The subsequent section describes the default states within the portfolio Kanban. It’s crucial to emphasize that these states serve as an illustrative process. The Kanban’s configuration may adapt over time, incorporating enhancements drawn from practical portfolio insights. Such enhancements might encompass modifications to Work in Process (WIP) limits, partitioning or consolidating Kanban states or integrating service categories to enhance the management of epic flow and prioritization.

Portfolio Kanban - Portfolio Kanban StatesFunnel

The “Funnel” Kanban state is an intake stage for significant business and technology ideas within a specific portfolio. These ideas can originate from various sources, including strategic considerations, Agile Teams or Agile Release Trains (ARTs), or suggestions from customers and partners. The primary purpose of this state is to capture ideas that are expected to be substantial, potentially exceeding the epic threshold guardrail or significantly impacting the portfolio’s strategic or business model.

Portfolio Kanban - Funnel StateEpics entering the Funnel are initially described in the form of an Epic Hypothesis Statement. Unlike other Kanban states, the Funnel does not have Work in Process (WIP) limits because it functions as a repository for these initial ideas, which may or may not progress further in the portfolio management process. These ideas are essentially candidates for consideration.

If, upon an initial review, it is determined that an idea is unlikely to exceed the epic threshold guardrail or isn’t a significant portfolio concern, it may be moved to the Kanban of the Agile Release Train (ART) or Solution Train, as it may be more relevant at that level.

Initiatives that contribute to the portfolio’s vision and roadmap, including updates from the enterprise strategy or other portfolios, are identified and fed directly into the Kanban portfolio, which includes the Funnel. Additionally, the Continuous Exploration process plays a role in discovering user and market needs, often identifying epics that are then considered within the Funnel state.


During the “Reviewing” state, “Epics,” which are significant enterprise investments, are evaluated and refined. During this state, an Epic Owner takes responsibility for the epic and its definition.

Portfolio Kanban - Reviewing StateIn the “Reviewing” state, the primary focus is on defining the intent and purpose of the epic. The Epic Owner collaborates with relevant stakeholders to develop a comprehensive Epic Hypothesis Statement, which includes four main components:

  1. Epic Description: This structured portion provides a high-level description of the epic in general terms, helping stakeholders understand its scope and purpose.
  2. Business Outcome Hypothesis: This component outlines the anticipated quantitative or qualitative benefits that will be realized if the hypothesis behind the epic is proven true.
  3. Leading Indicators: Early measures are identified during this stage, which can help predict the potential business outcomes of the epic. These indicators are crucial for tracking progress and success.
  4. Nonfunctional Requirements (NFRs): Attributes such as security, reliability, performance, maintainability, scalability, and usability are defined as constraints or restrictions for the epic.

Additionally, in the “Reviewing” state, Work in Progress (WIP) limits may be specified, indicating the maximum number of epics allowed in this state simultaneously. If there is no available Epic Owner to work on the epic, it effectively serves as an implicit WIP limit, preventing unnecessary backlog buildup.

The “Reviewing” state also involves establishing preliminary size and cost estimates for the epic. This information calculates the Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) estimate, which helps prioritize the epic relative to other items in the reviewing state.

Finally, the epic undergoes review as part of the regular portfolio synchronization agenda. If there is sufficient knowledge and consensus that the epic is ready for further analysis and development, it may be approved to progress to the “Analyzing” state. However, if the epic does not appear viable or aligned with the portfolio’s strategic themes or guardrails, it is moved to the “Done” state. This decision frees up capacity for more promising alternatives within the portfolio.


During the “Analyzing” Kanban, promising Epics undergo in-depth evaluation and analysis to determine their viability and potential for further investment.

Portfolio Kanban - Analyzing StateSeveral vital roles collaborate actively during the “Analyzing” state, including Business Owners, Enterprise Architects, System and Solution Architects, Product and Solution Management, and Agile Teams. This collaboration is essential to ensure a comprehensive assessment of the epic.

Key activities that typically occur during the “Analyzing” state include:

  1. Identification and Review of Solution Alternatives: Various potential solutions or approaches are identified and thoroughly reviewed to determine the most suitable path for the epic.
  2. Defining the Minimum Viable Product (MVP): The core features and functionalities required for the MVP are described, clearly understanding what needs to be developed initially.
  3. Establishing Refined Cost Estimates: Precise cost estimates are calculated not only for the MVP but also for the full scope of the epic, allowing for better financial planning.
  4. Creating the Lean Business Case: A Lean Business Case is developed, outlining the rationale, expected benefits, and financial aspects of the epic. This document plays a crucial role in decision-making.
  5. Small Research Spikes: Research spikes are conducted to assess the technical and business viability of the epic. These spikes provide valuable insights into the feasibility of the proposed solutions.
  6. Initial Customer Validation: Early validation with potential customers or stakeholders is carried out to gather feedback and ensure alignment with their needs and expectations.
  7. Updating WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First): The WSJF of the epic is recalculated concerning other epics in the “Analyzing” state. This helps in prioritizing and sequencing work effectively.

The decision-making process in the “Analyzing” state is more rigorous. The Lean Business Case and WSJF are used as a basis for the ‘Go/No-go’ decision by the Lean Portfolio Management (LPM). A ‘Go’ decision indicates that the epic is approved for implementation and will be sequenced using WSJF. In contrast, a ‘No-go’ decision moves the epic to the “Done” state, signaling it won’t proceed.

Typically, only a limited number of epics are in the “Analyzing” state at any given time and are subject to regular review by LPM. Since initiating and implementing an epic consumes valuable capacity, careful evaluation and alignment with strategic objectives are essential before progressing to the next stage. Additional considerations beyond WSJF, such as the Lean Business Case, are considered to make informed decisions. During portfolio synchronization meetings, LPM makes the final determination, ensuring that the Epics selected for implementation align with the organization’s goals and priorities.


Epics in the Analyzing state with the highest priority are pulled into the Ready state as soon as space is available. This is a low-cost wait state where Epics are periodically reviewed and prioritized by updating WSJF and other relevant factors.

Portfolio Kanban - Ready StateImplementing

In SAFe Portfolio Kanban, the “Implementing” state represents the phase where epics are actively worked on by Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Solution Trains for development. This phase involves breaking Epics into features and capabilities, pulling them into backlogs, and initiating Epic’s Minimum Viable Product (MVP) development.

Portfolio Kanban - Implementing StateThe “Implementing” Kanban state in SAFe Portfolio Kanban signifies the execution phase of Epics within the framework. At this stage, the focus is on turning high-priority epics into tangible deliverables. Here’s a breakdown of what happens during this state:

  • Epic Decomposition: The Epic Owner collaborates with various stakeholders to dissect the epic into smaller, manageable components known as Features and Capabilities. This decomposition process ensures that the epic’s objectives are translated into actionable work items.
  • Backlog Inclusion: The features and capabilities resulting from the decomposition are then included in the backlogs of the responsible Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Solution Trains. These backlogs serve as the prioritized lists of work items to be tackled.
  • MVP Development: The primary goal during the “Implementing” state is to initiate the development of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) associated with the epic. The MVP represents the core features and functionalities that will provide value to customers and users.
  • Progress Monitoring: Throughout this phase, Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) closely monitors the progress of the MVP. This monitoring involves tracking leading indicators, Value Stream Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and conducting demonstrations to assess the MVP’s business outcome hypothesis.
  • Resource Allocation: It’s crucial to understand the available capacity within the ARTs, as the prioritization and sequencing of work are influenced by it. The Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) prioritization method is often used to decide which epics should advance to the MVP state based on capacity and value.
  • Budget Considerations: The allocation of funds for the MVP is closely managed. The work on the MVP continues until the allocated budget has been expended or until the hypothesis associated with the MVP can be effectively evaluated.
  • Adaptability: SAFe emphasizes adaptability, and organizations can adjust these rules and processes to suit their specific needs. Flexibility is essential to ensure that the framework aligns with the unique context and goals of the organization.

Implementing: MVP

In SAFe Portfolio Kanban, the “MVP” sub-state is a crucial phase within the “Implementing” Kanban state. It’s where Epics with the highest Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) advance to develop the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The Epic Owner collaborates with Agile Teams during this sub-state to work on the MVP and evaluate its business outcome hypothesis.

Portfolio Kanban - Implementing MVP StateThe “MVP” sub-state encompasses the following key aspects:

  • WSJF Prioritization: Epics that have the highest WSJF, which considers factors like value, time criticality, risk reduction, and opportunity enablement, are selected to move into the “MVP” sub-state. This prioritization ensures that the most valuable and time-sensitive work receives immediate attention.
  • Epic Owner’s Role: The Epic Owner leads during the “MVP” sub-state. They collaborate closely with Agile Teams, which are responsible for implementation. Their primary tasks include overseeing the activities needed to develop the Minimum Viable Product and assessing the business outcome hypothesis associated with it.
  • MVP Development: Work during this sub-state is focused on developing the Minimum Viable Product. The MVP represents the minimal features and capabilities that can be deployed to provide value to customers and users. It serves as a crucial step toward delivering the epic’s intended benefits.
  • Budget Management: The work on the MVP continues until the allocated budget has been exhausted or until the hypothesis can be effectively evaluated. Budget management is a critical aspect of this sub-state to ensure that resources are optimally utilized.
  • Adaptability: As with other aspects of SAFe, organizations can adapt the rules and processes of the “MVP” sub-state to align with their specific needs and circumstances. Adaptability allows organizations to tailor SAFe to their unique context.

Implementing: Persevere

In SAFe Portfolio Kanban, the “Persevere” sub-state is where epics advance if their associated business outcome hypothesis is proven true during the “MVP” sub-state. In this phase, teams continue implementing additional features and capabilities, with Agile Release Trains (ARTs) managing ongoing feature prioritization in various value streams.

Portfolio Kanban - Implementing Persevere StateThe “Persevere” sub-state involves the following key elements:

  • Hypothesis Validation: Epics that successfully validate their business outcome hypothesis during the “MVP” sub-state progress to the “Persevere” sub-state. This means that the MVP delivered the expected value and outcomes.
  • Continuous Development: In the “Persevere” sub-state, teams continue to work on the epic by implementing additional features and capabilities. These enhancements contribute to the ongoing development and evolution of the epic.
  • ART Responsibility: Agile Release Trains (ARTs) take on the responsibility of managing the ongoing prioritization of features within various value streams. This prioritization ensures that the most valuable work is continually addressed.
  • “Done Enough” State: The goal in the “Persevere” sub-state is to reach a state where the epic is considered “done enough” to meet the needs and objectives. This means the Epic has delivered sufficient value and functionality to fulfill its intended purpose.
  • WSJF Adaptation: Over time, as the epic matures in the “Persevere” sub-state, the WSJF prioritization may shift to prioritize new capabilities and features from other sources as higher priorities. This adaptive approach ensures that the portfolio remains aligned with changing business needs.
  • Epic Owner’s Role: Epic Owners remain available to assist Agile Release Trains (ARTs) and Solution Trains responsible for implementation. Their involvement helps ensure that the epic continues to deliver value and meets evolving business requirements.
  • Flexibility: SAFe allows organizations to adapt and tailor the “Persevere” sub-state to their specific needs and evolving contexts. This adaptability is a fundamental aspect of the SAFe framework, allowing organizations to optimize their Agile practices.


In SAFe Portfolio Kanban, an Epic’s “Done” state signifies that it is no longer a portfolio concern. It can occur when certain conditions are met, such as ejection from the portfolio kanban, MVP results, or no need for additional portfolio governance.

Portfolio Kanban - Done StateThe “Done” Kanban state in SAFe Portfolio Kanban is a significant milestone that indicates the status of an Epic from a portfolio perspective. It is essential to understand that achieving Epic’s “Done” state does not necessarily mean completing the entire scope outlined in the Lean business case. Instead, an Epic is considered “Done” when one of the following conditions is met:

  • Ejection from Portfolio Kanban: An Epic can be considered “Done” if it is removed or ejected from the portfolio kanban by Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) at any of the earlier states within the kanban workflow. This may occur due to strategic shifts, changing priorities, or other reasons that make the Epic no longer relevant to the portfolio.
  • MVP Disproves the Hypothesis: If the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) developed for the epic disproves the original business outcome hypothesis, the Epic can be considered “Done.” This means that the expected value or outcomes were not achieved, and further investment in the epic may not be justified.
  • Hypothesis Proven, No Governance Needed: In cases where the hypothesis associated with the epic is proven to be true, LPM may determine that additional portfolio governance is no longer required. This decision may be based on the epic’s successful outcomes and alignment with portfolio objectives.

In scenarios where the epic reaches the “Done” state, it may still have some ongoing activities or responsibilities. Various Agile Release Trains (ARTs) may continue working on the epic, and the Epic Owner may be tasked with stewardship and follow-up. However, the epic itself is no longer a primary portfolio concern.

To keep LPM informed of the epic’s progress and outcomes, leading indicators, Value Stream Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and Guardrails are utilized. These metrics help ensure that the portfolio remains aware of the epic’s status and any potential impacts on the overall portfolio strategy and goals.

Setting up a Portfolio Kanban Board

Portfolio Kanban - Setting up a Portfolio Kanban Board Step by StepDefine Columns and Swimlanes

In SAFe Agile, setting up a Portfolio Kanban Board begins with defining columns and swimlanes. Columns represent different stages of the portfolio management process, like “Backlog,” “In Progress,” “Review,” and “Done.” Swimlanes to categorize different initiatives, epics, or portfolios, providing a visual separation and organization of work items.

Identify Work Item Types

The next step is to define the work items that will be managed on the board, such as initiatives, epics, and features. Each work item type should have clearly defined criteria, including its purpose, size, and priority. This clarity ensures that all stakeholders have a common understanding of the portfolio components.

Establish WIP Limits

Setting Work in Progress (WIP) limits for each column is crucial to prevent overloading and optimize flow. WIP limits control the amount of work initiated, focusing the team on completing work items efficiently. This approach prevents bottlenecks and maintains a steady, manageable workflow.

Add Metrics and Visualizations

Incorporating relevant metrics and visualizations on the Kanban board, like cycle time, lead time, and cumulative flow diagrams, is essential. These metrics provide insights into the performance of the portfolio management process. They help teams to identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions.

Facilitate Collaborative Decision-Making

The final step is encouraging collaborative decision-making by involving all relevant stakeholders in the Portfolio Kanban board. This inclusivity ensures the alignment of the portfolio management process with the organization’s strategic goals. It enables effective prioritization and resource allocation, fostering a unified approach to portfolio management.

Implementing SAFe Portfolio Kanban

Portfolio Kanban - Implementing Portfolio Kanban Step by StepDefine Portfolio-level Policies

The first step in implementing SAFe Portfolio Kanban is to define portfolio-level policies. This foundational action involves creating clear guidelines for managing the portfolio Kanban board. It encompasses setting criteria for initiating, prioritizing, and managing work items at the portfolio level. Additionally, it involves establishing roles and responsibilities for stakeholders, ensuring a structured approach to portfolio management.

Populate Portfolio Kanban Board

Once policies are set, the next step is populating the Portfolio Kanban board with relevant work items. This action aligns the board with the organization’s strategic goals and priorities. It’s essential to ensure work items are accurately represented on the board, with detailed descriptions, dependencies, and deadlines. This step effectively visualizes the organization’s strategic initiatives and promotes efficient workflow management.

Monitor and Manage Workflow

Continuous monitoring and managing the Portfolio Kanban board workflow are crucial. This involves tracking the progress of work items, updating their status, and managing dependencies and blockers in real-time. Utilizing metrics and visualizations on the Kanban board, such as cycle time and cumulative flow diagrams, is key to identifying bottlenecks, risks, and areas for improvement.

Collaboration and Decision-Making

Encouraging collaboration among stakeholders and facilitating decision-making at the portfolio level is essential for effective Portfolio Kanban implementation. The Kanban board is a visual aid for discussions, reviews, and prioritization sessions. Regular portfolio reviews are crucial for evaluating progress, ensuring alignment with strategic goals, and making informed decisions.

Continuous Improvement

The final step in implementing SAFe Portfolio Kanban is fostering a continuous improvement culture. Regularly reviewing and refining the Portfolio Kanban board and associated policies is vital. Encouraging stakeholder feedback and utilizing it to identify opportunities for optimization and innovation in the portfolio management process drives ongoing enhancements and adaptability.

How does the Portfolio Backlog feed into PI Planning?

The Portfolio Backlog feeds into PI Planning by providing the prioritized Epics, broken down into Features and User Stories, forming the basis of work for the Agile Release Trains during the upcoming Program Increment.

This key event has four critical intersections with the portfolio backlog:

  1. PI Planning and Portfolio Backlog Prioritization: PI Planning helps Agile teams to understand and prioritize the most important work items in the portfolio backlog. The event allows for discussion and understanding of business goals, thus enabling teams to align their work items with these strategic objectives.
  2. Refinement of Epics through PI Planning: During PI Planning, teams can refine and break down epics into features and user stories, providing additional details to the portfolio backlog. This results in a more effective implementation of the epics.
  3. Visualizing PI Objectives in the Lean Portfolio Kanban: The PI Planning outputs, particularly the PI Objectives, can be visualized and tracked in the Lean Portfolio Kanban. This provides transparency into the progress of work across the organization.
  4. Feedback Loop and Continuous Learning: PI Planning also serves as a feedback mechanism, allowing teams to learn and adapt their strategies based on the results of the previous PI. This feedback can then update and refine the portfolio backlog, leading to a more effective and efficient workflow.

What are the SAFe Core Competencies?

SAFe Core Competencies are a set of seven capabilities essential for achieving Business Agility.

SAFe Business AgilityThe Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) defines seven core competencies, and they are:

  1. Lean-Agile Leadership: Inspires adoption of Agile practices.
  2. Team and Technical Agility: Enhances team capabilities and technical skills.
  3. Agile Product Delivery: Delivers customer value through fast, integrated delivery cycles.
  4. Enterprise Solution Delivery: Manages large-scale, complex solutions.
  5. Lean Portfolio Management: Aligns strategy and execution.
  6. Organizational Agility: Enables quick, decentralized decision-making.
  7. Continuous Learning Culture: Encourages innovation and improvement.

These competencies provide a roadmap for organizations to navigate their transformation to Lean, Agile, and DevOps practices.

What are the SAFe Principles?

The SAFe Principles are a set of ten fundamental principles derived from Lean and Agile methodologies that guide the implementation of SAFe.

SAFe principles are guidelines derived from Agile practices and methods, Lean product development, and systems thinking to facilitate large-scale, complex software development projects. The ten principles that make up the SAFe framework are as follows:

  1. Take an economic view: This principle emphasizes the importance of making decisions within an economic context, considering trade-offs between risk, cost of delay, and various operational and development costs.
  2. Apply systems thinking: This principle encourages organizations to understand the interconnected nature of systems and components and prioritize optimizing the system as a whole rather than individual parts.
  3. Assume variability and preserve options: This principle highlights the importance of maintaining flexibility in design and requirements throughout the development cycle, allowing for adjustments based on empirical data to achieve optimal economic outcomes.
  4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles: This principle advocates for incremental development in short iterations, which allows for rapid customer feedback and risk mitigation.
  5. Base milestones on an objective evaluation of working systems: This principle emphasizes the need for objective, regular evaluation of the solution throughout the development lifecycle, ensuring that investments yield an adequate return.
  6. Make value flow without interruptions: This principle focuses on making value delivery as smooth and uninterrupted as possible by understanding and managing the properties of a flow-based system.
  7. Apply cadence and synchronize with cross-domain planning: This principle states that applying a predictable rhythm to development and coordinating across various domains can help manage uncertainty in the development process.
  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers: This principle advises against individual incentive compensation, which can foster internal competition and instead encourages an environment of autonomy, purpose, and mutual influence.
  9. Decentralize decision-making: This principle emphasizes the benefits of decentralized decision-making for speeding up product development flow and enabling faster feedback. However, it also recognizes that some decisions require centralized, strategic decision-making.
  10. Organize around value: This principle advocates that organizations structure themselves around delivering value quickly in response to customer needs rather than adhering to outdated functional hierarchies.

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