Portfolio Kanban Workshop

With Lean Austin Startup Circle we conducted a Portfolio Kanban workshop at Capital Factory yesterday. Thanks to Emiliano Villarreal for organizing the event and Capital Factory for hosting, and to everyone who participated and provided feedback on the session.

The Pain Point

The workshop centered on a common portfolio-level pain point in agile & lean transformations: poor stakeholder alignment. Stakeholder alignment is critical to successful agile & lean transformation. It raises the impact of transformation to the organizational level rather than isolating it at the level of product teams. Failure of stakeholders to align reduces clarity of mission, imposes conflicting demands on teams, and disrupts productivity.

The Context

An organization that has multiple products or product lines and multiple teams working on them is our model. This is typical in the enterprise setting. We also ruled out of scope questions related to product strategy and vision, and questions of local versus remote teams.

The Principles

We grounded our approach to improving stakeholder alignment in a set of principles:

Some of these lift directly from the team level. Their importance at the portfolio is magnified by the impact they have across all teams

The Exercises

Participant teams set up a portfolio kanban board for an example product line called Vid Vault, walked through a set of steps designed to maintain the portfolio in accordance with the aforementioned principles. After practicing these we then introduced a new executive initiative for Vid Vault, and applied them again to incorporate a new initiative launched by executives.

Take Aways

The central take-away from the session is that alignment is a practice, not a state. Good portfolio-level management requires frequent and effective realignment among stakeholders. This includes working agreement on where to focus development efforts, and stakeholder engagement in clearing blockers to productivity escalated from the team level.

The broader context is one of building an effective product culture. How do people operate in such a culture? Here are a few behavioral keys of an effective product culture:

Workshop perticipants came away with simple and practical ideas and techniques that they can apply immediately in their own business setting. You can download a copy of the slides for the workshop here.

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