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Portfolio Level Abstract
The SAFe Portfolio is the highest level of concern in SAFe. It provides the basic constructs for organizing the Lean-Agile Enterprise around the flow of value via one or more Value Streams, each of which develops the systems and Solutions necessary to meet the strategic intent. The portfolio level encapsulates these elements and also provides the basic budgeting and other governance mechanisms that are necessary to assure that the investment in the value streams provides the returns necessary for the enterprise to meet its strategic objectives.
The portfolio has a bidirectional connection to the business. One direction provides the strategic themes that guide the portfolio to the larger, and changing, business objectives. The other direction indicates a consent flow of portfolio context back to the enterprise. This apprises the enterprise of the current state of the solution set, as well as key performance indicators and other business factors affecting the portfolio. Program Portfolio Management represents the stakeholders who are accountable to deliver the business results. Other significant roles, activities, and artifacts complete the picture.
In the large enterprise, there may be multiple such portfolios. This article describes, in summary form, the basic workings of a SAFe portfolio.
The SAFe Portfolio Level encapsulates the people and processes necessary to build systems and solutions that the enterprise needs to meet its strategic objectives. The primary elements of the portfolio are Value Streams (one or more), each of which provides funding for the people and other resources necessary to build the Solutions that deliver the value. Each value stream is a long-lived series of system definition, development, and deployment steps used to build and deploy systems that provide a continuous flow of value to the business or customer.
Connection to the Enterprise
The portfolio has a bidirectional connection to the Enterprise. Strategic Themes provide specific, itemized business objectives that connect the portfolio to the evolving enterprise business strategy. They provide business context for decision-making within the portfolio, affecting investments in value streams and serving as inputs to the Portfolio, solution, and Program Backlogs. However, strategic themes are not created by the business in isolation. Rather, key portfolio stakeholders participate in that process and thereby are among the cornerstones of strategy formation.
The other direction of the arrow, from the portfolio to the enterprise, indicates the constant feedback of portfolio context to the enterprise. This includes key performance indicators (KPIs) as well as qualitative assessments of the current solution’s fitness for market purpose, along with any strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats that are present at the portfolio level.
Program Portfolio Management
Activities at the portfolio level and governance for the portfolio investment are provided for by Program Portfolio Management (PPM). PPM represents the highest-level fiduciary (investment and return) and content authority (what gets built) in the framework. There, the responsibilities for strategy and investment funding, program management, and governance rest with those business managers and executives who understand the enterprise business strategy, technology, and financial constraints and define and implement the portfolio solution strategy. They are typically assisted in these duties by a Program Management Office (PMO), which shares responsibility for guiding program execution and governance.
One of the primary PPM responsibilities is the allocation of investment funding to the value streams. Budgets are developed and administered with a Lean-Agile budgeting approach, Beyond Project Cost Accounting, which provides for fast and empowered decision-making, with appropriate fiduciary control. Each “partition” in the pie-shaped graphic represents a budget for a specific value stream. Within that budget allocation, value stream managers are generally empowered to develop solutions in whatever ways make the most economic and business sense. With this process, the enterprise exercises its fiduciary responsibility by driving investment to the agreed-to business priorities.
Managing the Flow of Portfolio Epics
Another responsibility of the portfolio level is the discovery, definition, and administration of major initiatives that are required by the business but are cross-cutting in nature. Business Epics capture and reflect the new business capabilities that can only be provided by cooperation among value streams. Epic Enablers reflect the architectural and other technical initiatives that are necessary to enable the new Capabilities.
To manage this flow of work, and to make sure it is visible to all stakeholders, SAFe provides a Portfolio Kanban system. The Kanban system makes the work visible and provides work-in-process limits to help assure that demand is metered to the actual value stream capacities.
The portfolio backlog is the highest-level backlog in the framework, and it serves as a holding stage for epics that make it through the Kanban systems and await implementation. It contains the approved and prioritized epics necessary to help the portfolio achieve market differentiation, operational efficiencies, or better-integrated solutions. Epic Owners take the responsibility for managing epics, at least until implementation is assured.
The Enterprise Architect has significant portfolio duties as well. This role has the requisite knowledge to work across value streams and programs and help provide strategic technical direction that can optimize portfolio outcomes. Aspects of this strategy can include recommendations for epic enablers that harmonize development and delivery technology stacks, interoperability of solutions, APIs, and hosting strategies. The enterprise architect often may act as an epic owner for enabler epics.
 Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Portfolio. Addison-Wesley, 2011.
Last update: 25 October 2015