In any portfolio function, the goal is always to ensure that the day-to-day execution aligns with strategy. This may appear to be a straight-forward process, but in practice there are many variables that have to be considered. In this article, SAFe Programme Consultant (SPC) Andrea Darabos discusses what some of the most common variables are, as well as the most effective way to approach them.

When large companies begin to explore good practices from SAFe, a fairly common misunderstanding is that the SAFe big picture will simply map directly into their enterprise. But in reality, the situation is much more complex.

Typically, large global corporations will have top level portfolios with multiple product lines and/or services within each portfolio. However, as portfolios in such organisations are often nested within a hierarchy, and/or a complex web of portfolios – the first, and most important, thing that each portfolio function has to do is to align with the local strategy in our portfolio.

So for example, if we were a research portfolio looking into a new product – we have to align that specific undertaking with the overall enterprise strategy, and must ensure that where we invest our funds also aligns with the enterprise vision, strategy, and business goals.

This is where the portfolio strategy, and more specifically the portfolio canvas tool, can really help.

Portfolio Strategy

Portfolio strategy planning should be undertaken at least once a year. This is important because if we are not intentional about the design of our portfolio then we won’t know who our customers are and how we should measure success. This is applicable to both our end customers, and in-house customers – as portfolios will often have in-house customers as well.

I recently delivered a training course with a client who had an infrastructure portfolio. It was the IT and Technological infrastructure for a large bank, and their challenge was that their portfolio has in-house customers or in-house beneficiaries. So how should they measure success? Well they need to be affordable, reliable and fast to respond within the infrastructure, because the whole bank and end-customers rely on it.

In such scenarios, there are a number of tools available that allow us to gain clarity and direction, and the Portfolio Canvas Tool can be particularly productive for this purpose.

The Portfolio Canvas Tool


This tool brings together all of the people who manage, or are stakeholders of, that portfolio, and enables them to make effective strategic choices together as a group. This could include Senior Executives, Heads of Portfolio, Value Stream Owners (Services / Products Lines), Technical Authorities (System Architects & Enterprise Architects), CIOs/CTOs, and the CFO Team.

Bringing all of these people together, the Portfolio Strategy Planning process is delivered, as part of a collaborative workshop that centres around the use of the Portfolio Canvas Tool. This will inform the Portfolio of what all of those building blocks are, and gain real clarity on each of the following items:

  • Who are our customers?
  • What are the products, services and solutions that make up this portfolio’s value proposition?
  • What are the channels? (ie the way that we intend to reach those customers, and how – digitally or physically)
  • How do we maintain relationships? (ie customer support, marketing, sales function / cycle, partner networks etc)
  • What is the budget allocation? (ie percentage allocation between the various parts of the portfolio)
  • How do we measure success? (these KPIs are very important, they must be particularly clear and measurable to be effective)

This tool creates a dialogue and clarity on how you measure success for each line item, and how success is subsequently measured for the whole portfolio. To view a copy of The Portfolio Canvas Tool on the Scaled Agile Framework website, please click here.

SAFe Lean Portfolio Management 5.1

If you’d like to learn more about Portfolio Strategy and how to utilise the Portfolio Canvas Tool, then join us on our upcoming SAFe Lean Portfolio Management course.

A significant proportion of this course focuses specifically on portfolio strategy. We’ll discuss various strategy tools, in addition to the canvas tool, as well as understanding how you can begin to inspect and adapt the canvas going forward – allowing you to map both the current, and future state, of your portfolio.

As the portfolio canvas is so closely connected to funding, a large part of the training will also deep dive into how we can effectively budget, based on the strategy and based on the portfolio canvas. How we can allocate funds, and how we can make the whole process more agile.

We also look at how organisations can and should look into the future to build resilience. Undertaking scenario planning, we’ll explore future scenarios and future research, and understand the impact of those scenarios on our portfolio – this will drive your backlog and budget allocations.

All attendees are also encouraged to bring along their own context and scenarios for consideration, alongside a training case study that we will work through as part of the course. To find out more about our SAFe Lean Portfolio Management 5.1 course, simply click on the following link: SAFe Lean Portfolio Management.