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SAFe Portfolio Canvas : Sections and Benefits

What is Portfolio?

Portfolio is referred to as a collection of few value streams for a particular type of a business in a very large enterprise. A large enterprise can have multiple business domains – for example, domain focused on consumer business, another domain focused on enterprise business, the third one focused on small and medium business. Each business domain can be considered as a Portfolio. All the products connected to that business domain will fall under that portfolio. Each of these products will have its own value stream.

In SAFe, Portfolio has a distinct competency called “Lean Portfolio Management (LPM). Lean Portfolio Management helps align the Portfolio level strategy with the ground execution in each program / release train through Lean Thinking and Systems thinking approaches. LPM has 3 dimensions

  1. Strategy & Investment Funding
  2. Agile Portfolio Operations
  3. Lean Governance

Portfolio Canvas falls under “Strategy & Investment Funding”.

What is Portfolio Canvas?

The portfolio canvas describes how a portfolio of solutions creates, delivers and captures value for an organization. It also helps define and align the portfolio’s Value Streams and solutions to the goals of the enterprise. It’s a key artifact in developing and maintaining the portfolio vision. 

Portfolio Canvas is derived from Business Model Canvas (BMC), which was developed by Alexander Osterwalder.

Here is the structure of the Portfolio Canvas template defined in SAFe.

portfolio canvas

Portfolio Canvas helps define Development Value Streams that are included in a SAFe Portfolio, the value propositions and the solutions that each value stream deliver. It also includes the customers that it serves, the channels through which it serves, the ways in which the relationship is built with the customer, budget allocated for each value stream and the measurable KPIs for each Value Stream.

Sections of Portfolio Canvas

Here are few sections of Portfolio Canvas. This is divided into 2 parts.

  1. For each value stream
  2. Common for all the value streams of the portfolio

For each Value Stream

  1. Development Value Stream: Build the systems and capabilities that enable business process in an operational value stream.
  2. Solution: Each Development Stream builds multiple products, solutions, services and systems that are used in operational value stream.
  3. Customers: Identifies both internal and external customers for each development value stream
  4. Channels: Describe the way the products and services are delivered to customers. For example, Sales through web portal, sales through brick-and-mortar store, direct sales
  5. Customer Relationship: Type of relationship that is essential with customers to apply and leverage products and services of business.
  6. Budget: Budget that is allocated for the portfolio to manage operations, overheads and capital expenses.
  7. KPIs: These are the measures defined and later measured to evaluate the results investment done by the Development Value Stream.

Portfolio Canvas also helps identify the overall parameters related to resources/activities, Cost Structure/Revenue Streams, common for all the value streams. Here are quick definitions.

Common for all the value streams under a single Portfolio

Resources & Activities:

  1. Partners: All the partners like buyers, sellers, business alliances are identified, listed
  2. Activities: All the important actions that the Portfolio executes to deliver value
  3. Resources: Critical resources connected to physical, financial, intellectual and human
  4. Cost Structure: Helps identify critical cost elements in the Lean portfolio model. 
  5. Revenue Streams: Ways in which Development Value Stream gets revenue – for example, fixed price model, usage based model, etc.

What are the benefits of using a scaled agile portfolio canvas?

  1. Help build future vision of Lean Portfolio

As part of defining Portfolio Vision, SAFe Lean Portfolio Management (LPM) uses Portfolio Canvas to define current state of Portfolio as a first step. Then based on SWOT and TOWS analysis, it helps LPM comes up with multiple future Portfolio Canvases and finalize the summarized future portfolio canvas. Hence, Portfolio Canvas is very critical element of defining the future of Lean Portfolio.

SWOT analysis
TOWS strategic options matrix

The below picture describes how current Portfolio Canvas is created, how SWOT & TOWS are used to create multiple future Portfolio Canvases and how they are converged as 1 single future Portfolio Canvas.

future Portfolio Canvas
  1. Defines large Epics as the outcome of Future Portfolio Canvas

The outcome of Future Portfolio Canvas are the large Portfolio level Epics and Portfolio level Enablers. These are driven from portfolio to Large Solutions and Agile Release Trains (ARTs)

1. What is SWOT Analysis?

SWOT stands for Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to the Portfolio. Opportunities and Threats are external to the Portfolio / organization. Every Portfolio analyses its internal strengths and weaknesses, measures external opportunities and threats.
SWOT is primarily used to measure the current state of the portfolio.

2. What are TOWS? Why is TOWS required?

TOWS is used to define the future state of the Portfolio. For ex., if you look at the below picture, SO box identifies how to exploit and maximize the external opportunities using our internal strength.
Another extreme WT helps to strategize and minimize weakness and avoid threats.
Doing only SWOT without TOWS will not be helpful for the portfolio. Conducting both SWOT and TOWS will be helpful to identify current state and define a future state of Portfolio.