Lean Project Portfolio Management
Kanban is great for managing software development projects, but how about managing a whole portfolio of projects? Well, Kanban can be used for that, too. A kanban board (physical or electronic) can be used to track the flow of entire projects all the way from conception through execution and (post-deployment) evaluation. Just as the work capacity of a particular team is limited, so is the capacity of the organization to handle many projects at once. By limiting the number of projects-in-process at each stage, it’s possible to reduce wasted effort and improve project throughput. Fewer projects-in-process should also reduce project overhead (effort spent coordinating a large portfolio of active projects), and understanding the actual project capacity of the organization enables management to make more informed decisions about staffing and/or outsourcing.
Using A3 Reports to Summarize Projects
Ultimately, though, some projects are better off not being done at all. Before beginning any significant project effort, it should be clear what we hope to achieve. Creating an A3 Report for each project provides a concise, consistent format for evaluating and documenting projects. The specific format can be adjusted to the needs of the organization, but it should fit onto one sheet of A3-sized paper and it should answer the following questions:
- Problem Statement – What is the exact problem we are trying to solve?
- Current Condition – What does the current state of affairs look like?
- Root-Cause Analysis – What do we believe is the root cause of the problem?
- Goals – What are the (business) objectives of this project?
- Plan – How do we plan to achieve these objectives?
- Results – Did we succeed in meeting our planned objectives?
At first, this may seem like a lot of information to fit on one page, but keep in mind that A3 is a really large piece of paper. Of course, there will be lots of information that is not included directly on the A3 Report, but part of the value of creating an A3 Report is the discipline of including only what is truly important and necessary. Too often, important project details are buried inside a large report that few people actually read. This wastes a lot of time and a lot of paper. Using a concise, consistent format enables projects to be quickly evaluated and prioritized based on their urgency, risk, and potential to add value to the organization. In addition, the success of a completed project can be quickly evaluated against its stated (business) objectives.
The following graphic shows how using Kanban to manage the project portfolio can be integrated with the use of Kanban to manage project execution. The A3 Report is used as a concise, consistent format for presenting, discussing, and evaluating projects.
Shorter Project Cycles Encourages Experimentation
Ideally, shorter project lead times and reduced project overhead will encourage internal customers to request smaller, shorter projects. In contrast, when it takes “forever” to get a project approved and started, internal customers are more likely to pile everything they can into one big project. Larger projects also make more sense when there is a relatively large, fixed amount of overhead costs associated with each project. With these obstacles removed, internal customers are free to try lots of small “experiments.” Not all of them will pay off, but the learning cycle is shorter and the risk of failure is reduced.
The following graphic shows how continuous improvement at level of project execution (process improvement) supports continuous improvement at the organizational level (business improvement).