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Portfolio Kanban and Doing the Right Thing

Some organizations are focused on a continual stream of project work (the offshore web software shop). Others operate on projects that they then sell as a product (game design studio). Then there are companies whose sole purpose is the construction of a single big project (young start-up). No matter what style of enterprise you belong to, Pawel Brodzinski thinks that Kanban strategy could be your one-size-fits-all boost to success.

Economic Constraints

Kanban can work wonders in project portfolio situations, but the distinction of how revenue is generated matters. In some scenarios one knows more about return on investment. This, in turn, can facilitate the use of Kanban. Brodzinski writes that it doesn’t matter how much revenue a single project is generating if other projects are eating up time by being ‘works in progress.’ Constraints generated by partially finished projects effect the discussion about starting new projects:

Typically the discussion about economic feasibility of starting a new product or a project happens in isolation. If the ultimate problem that we are trying to solve is choosing the right initiatives to work on it should never happen in isolation. After all most of ideas we come up with make sense… in some context. An interesting question would be whether we are in such a context.

In any scenario, decisions will need to be made. Is it worth running project X or should we favor project Y? Is it more feasible to run two concurrent projects or three, or maybe more? That is where Kanban comes to the rescue.

Self-Imposed Constraints (The Kanban Way)

For start-ups, portfolio decision making is less of a dilemma since there are fewer options in the early stages of a business. As organizations begin to grow in size and complexity, the appropriate decision making apparatus makes all the difference. Then again, Brodzinski writes, one can take the opposite approach. Define a clear objective, and then use that mission as a guiding framework for your project(s). Of course, there are problems with this approach, and Brodzinski lists three:

  1. Limiting objectives do not rule out more attractive endeavors.​​
  2. Limiting objectives do not rule out more attractive methods.
  3. In large organizations, a single purpose is confounded by politics or lack of leadership.

Moral of the story: Though Kanban cannot always be employed in its purest form, it can often act as a facilitator of important portfolio management decisions, no matter what style of business it serves.

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About Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is a staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success. He is an intern at Computer Aid Inc., pursuing his master's degree in communications at Penn State University.

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