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What Makes A Lean Portfolio?

Now, when many hear the word portfolio, they think of the struggling artist; arms overflowing with sketchbooks, folders, physical representations of their skills and abilities, how ideas develop, and how long projects take. The idea of artists being the only ones who can have portfolios is certainly inadvertently stressed during school; students doing GCSEs in Textiles, Art and Design, Graphics or Photography having to lug around wallet-like cases between classes, or hefty A3 sketchbooks, crammed full of scrap paper.

A portfolio in this context is unlike what is often the immediate association with the arts; as explained in SAFe Distilled 5.0: Achieving Business Agility With Scaled Agile Framework, authors Richard Knaster and Dean Leffingwell, a portfolio when it comes to agile practice, “contains a set of development value streams for a specific part of the enterprise. Each development value stream delivers one or more solutions that help the enterprise meet its business mission. These can be products or solutions for customers or internal operational value streams.”

They go on to elaborate that “each portfolio is responsible for achieving part of the enterprise strategy. Therefore, Lean Portfolio Managers need to understand the portfolio’s current state and have a plan to evolve it to the desired future state in accordance with that strategy. This is achieved through collaboration.”

What this means is that those who are involved in managing a lean portfolio do not necessarily have to lug around heavy binders because most of their work occurs in behaviour, in action, the transit of information from point A to B. Managing a Lean Portfolio requires a team to have a great understanding of the value streams that exist within an organisation, and whether they are parallel or perpendicular. You don’t want to be on a crash course of WIPs and outstanding projects.

In this role, individuals have to understand, and anticipate changes in the value stream to think ahead, coming up with vague and flexible ideas for how the company will continue into the future. Meaning that an organisation will be able to go forward, implementing the best practices for projects, learning from experiences, and changes in the market, and not being bound to a concrete plan. By understanding how the value streams work in cohesion with one another, you can dictate which projects have the most weight and are released earlier etc.

Unsure of where to start? Don’t worry! Research by Gartner Senior Director Analyst Lorri Callahan and Distinguished VP Analyst Robert Handler posted on Gartner’s website suggests taking the following steps.

Step 1: Define the lean portfolio management function: This means that you need to establish what the purpose of the value streams that create the portfolio mean; how they connect to one another, and how they create the end result as individual cogs of the machine, and as a whole

Step 2: Establish a Portfolio Kanban: Portfolio Kanban describes the idea of visualising the workflow as it goes through the value stream, and assessing the works in progress when applicable.

Step 3: Set up regular Lean Portfolio Management events: This is a process where reflection can take place; referring back to the budget, the rate of progress, whether departments are working with synchronicity etc.

Admittedly, managing this kind of portfolio is not as straightforward as being fifteen and wasting an hour of photography class at the guillotine adding silver boarders to back your images so they capture a sense of personality, stand out against the page, and look like they’re in frames. This isn’t threading ribbon through the spines of your sketchbook so you can add additional information. This is much greater.

Put the scissors and PVA glue down. It’s time to get our hands dirty.

Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra The Agile Works (, is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.

He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.

The Agile Works; a small team of three strive to help shape the leadership's mind-set and values in readiness for their business transformation journey challenges. With Arvind at the helm, we strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.

To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address:

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