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  • Writer's pictureRomano Roth

Lean Portfolio Management at Zühlke

As a leading innovation company with 1600 employees in Germany, United Kingdom, Austria, Serbia, Bulgaria, Singapore, Hong Kong, Portugal, Switzerland and Vietnam, Zühlke has always some ongoing and planned strategic initiatives.

In 2021 the group executive decided introducing a state-of-the-art portfolio management.

By Ueli Kleeb and Romano Roth

Our ambition

Zühlke Lean Portfolio Management adds better decision making and a lean approach to strategic group initiatives

Group executives want an open, comprehensive Portfolio, and expects:

  • Transparency, fosters alignment for goals and initiatives

  • Continuously care about strategic goals

  • More holistic decision making due to “north star” and improved WIP (work in progress) view

  • Professionalize portfolio management to facilitate benefits over time, including cost.

Group executives and the board wants us to do change initiatives in a lean approach and expects:

  • Faster learnings, results and feedback

  • Improve effectiveness (adapt/fail fast/reduce waste)

  • Reduce work in progress – “getting things done”

  • Requires splitting large initiatives into MVP (minimum viable product) and succeeding iterations

What we did

  • We decided to apply the lean portfolio management from the SAFe® framework for our portfolio of change initiatives.

  • SAFE® has become the quasi-industry-standard for lean enterprises.

  • Zühlke supports clients in transforming into lean enterprises and we wanted to “eat our own dogfood”.

  • SAFE® provides valuable guidance and templates for the lean portfolio management.

Where we are after our 6-month MVP

  • We have a vision and strategic themes on enterprise level

  • We have epics and epic owners – an epic in our case is identical to a change initiative. We have a Confluence page with the major information, including the hypothesis and – for large initiatives - a lean business case.

  • We have a Portfolio Kanban with the epics and an epic roadmap

  • We have a portfolio team that includes a top executive, a portfolio manager, a LPM consultant and an enterprise architect.

  • We are establishing operational value streams.

  • We don’t have development value streams. Therefore, we cannot simply put epics in the backlog and enabling the value streams to pull them. We still need to decide, which epics from the backlog to implement and we can hardly do lean budgeting in change initiative portfolio (in other portfolios this is already possible see Participatory budgeting – financing in the 21st century). The epic roadmap is currently most important artifact to limit “work in progress” on group level.

We used the opportunity and introduced some Zühlke specifics:

  • In addition to the «initiative» epics, we encourage putting «goal» epics into the funnel of the Portfolio Kanban.

  • We introduced OKRs for alignment and tracking groupwide using the same tool (gtmhub). This allows us to conveniently keep track of goals and initiatives in the same tool that leadership team uses for setting and tracking their business goals. All staff can view what’s going on.

Our learnings after the MVP

  • Positive - Strategic Themes are the “north star” for yearly goals and epics.

  • Positive: Transparency about strategic initiatives across the entire group

  • Positive: Support to elicit strategic goals and track implementation progress

  • Positive Zühlke add-on: We encourage entering goals as well as epics into the Portfolio Kanban.

  • Todo: Implement initiatives in a lean way

  • Todo: Lacking Development Value Streams complicates coordination (e.g., ensure WIP limit) and budgeting

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