different kanban approaches: personal kanban vs portfolio kanban

Once you learn how to use a Kanban board, you can start completing tasks faster with less effort. You become more organized, and you can more easily see the bigger picture and prioritize your tasks in a way that reflects any challenges and changes you run into along the way.

And since Kanban has a very versatile nature, their different Kanban approaches that allow you to use it for tracking personal daily chores, or your professional tasks and projects. You can use a board on your own, or you can share it with a team. You can have just one Kanban board or connect several boards to track the workflow and larger projects’ progress across the whole organization.

But are all of these different Kanban approaches and board setups based on the same rules? Can you use personal and team or portfolio Kanban boards interchangeably? Well, let’s look into it.

Portfolio Kanban

Portfolio Kanban is a holistic Kanban approach that provides complete traceability. It is applicable across the organizational levels, starting from the team level, and advancing up, thorough product management and project or program level, to C-level strategy execution. Portfolio Kanban boards ensure that everyone stays focused on the most important tasks based on your goals.

Portfolio Kanban allows organizations to break down large projects into several levels of smaller tasks and link them between each other. In fact, the cards that you’d place on your Portfolio Kanban board are the large projects and initiatives which are then broken down into smaller tasks on the different Kanban boards. You can think of your Portfolio Kanban board as the ‘parent’ board to your Team Kanban boards. This ‘main board’ helps teams create a connection between their own tasks and parent projects or initiatives. Thus, get a clear and transparent overview of the progress on all projects based on the smaller assignments that they complete as a team.

Personal Kanban

On the other side, we have the Personal Kanban approach. It is a simplification of the original Kanban method that helps you stay focused and more organized when managing your personal or professional tasks. This approach to Kanban was created and popularized by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. As the name suggests, it’s meant to be used by individuals to help them improve their efficiency in completing the work they need to do and become significantly more productive.

But unlike the original Kanban method that relies on numerous principles and practices, Personal Kanban boards use only two ‘rules’ – the first two core Kanban properties: visualize your work and limit work-in-progress. Since personal Kanban boards are meant to be simple (use only two rules), the general advice is to use a simple three-column Kanban board. Even though applying WIP limits to your personal errands may seem strange at first, over time you may find that you are completing more work than you did before.

Differences Between Kanban Approaches: Personal vs Portfolio Kanban

At a first glance, they might seem very different or very similar, depending how you look at things. Well, there are a few key differences between the different Kanban approaches.

Let’s begin by looking at the similarities. Both, personal and portfolio Kanban allow and help you to:

  • Visualize the workflow and limit work in progress.
  • Act fast and adjust your priorities.
  • Stay focused and work smarter (and faster).
different kanban approaches

As for the differences, there are few substantial ones:

  • Personal Kanban is simple because it is intended to be used by one person only, and reflect individual tasks (Duh!).
  • Portfolio Kanban is meant to be used by organizations that manage multiple projects and initiatives, more specifically, to be used by managers – from C-level to team-level – that need to have a better view of the project’s status and overall work of the organization, or their departments.
  • Personal Kanban uses only two ‘rules’.
  • Portfolio Kanban, like the original Kanban, follows all core principles and practices, which are ten in total (4 principles and 6 practices).
  • Personal Kanban tracks progress only through visualization and does not offer any means to measure your progress and process, nor data to help you adjust your flow. But, do you really need metrics to notice that your ‘In Progress’ column is overflowing with cards?
  • Portfolio Kanban uses a multitude of metrics you can track on a regular basis. Then, make informed decisions about your next steps. Identify areas that need improvement and implement changes or adjust your flow, and improve your efforts based on valuable actionable data.
  • Personal Kanban uses only one board to track all tasks, and since there’s no differentiation between projects it can get a little cramped-up and unclear (OK, you can use color-coding, but wouldn’t it be better to use it to assign priority, hmm….).
  • Portfolio Kanban uses one main ‘parent’ board on which the cards represent the organization’s projects and initiatives. You can then break down each card on a separate ‘child’ board and derive Team Kanban boards. Each Team Kanban board, and the cards on it are interlinked with the appropriate card on the Portfolio Kanban board. And since the movement of the cards on ‘child’ boards is reflected on the ‘parent’ board, you can easily follow the overall progress on one neat ‘parent’ board, and follow the links to open lower-level boards to check single-task progress when necessary.


I hope that reading about the differences between these two different Kanban approaches will help you understand how Personal and Portfolio Kanban are used and why. Both of these different Kanban approaches, Personal and Portfolio, are very beneficial, but each has a very different application than the other.

Portfolio Kanban belongs in organizations. In fact, it allows you to upscale the original Kanban method though the whole organization.  And it helps businesses, big and small, to visually manage their processes, find and resolve problems and opportunities for improvement, and improve their overall efforts.

On the other hand, personal Kanban takes a couple of Kanban’s core principles that are key for improving productivity (and staying focused) and applies them to a personal level. It is meant to help you organize personal tasks and errands. Hence, simplicity. And the absence of any complex board set-ups.

So to answer the question I asked at the beginning – no. No, you can’t (and shouldn’t) use Personal, Team and Portfolio Kanban boards interchangeably. They are just apples and oranges. Each of these approaches has its own purpose. Can you use the principles of Portfolio Kanban for visualizing personal projects and breaking them down into several boards? Yes, you can. But those will still be Personal, yet connected, Kanban boards. But if you master creating and using Team Kanban boards, you can easily master creating different Kanban boards. You can advance to Portfolio-level Kanban, or apply Personal Kanban to your own tasks and errands!

Learn to Work Smarter, Not Harder!

Get our top articles weekly.

About the Author: Ivana Sarandeska

Ivana Sarandeska is a digital marketer, creative writer and master procrastinator. An Agile enthusiast and a firm believer that thorough planning is key to good execution and even better improvisation. She has a soft spot for technology, so most of her full-time jobs were in IT companies where she was introduced to Agile and Scrum. After she got her Scrum Basics certification she started actively using these methodologies and their main principles. Learning how to organize her time and tasks better has motivated her to dive deeper into these methodologies. Now, she is an avid advocate of Agile and Scrum and happily shares her knowledge and experience to fellow procrastinators.

Table Of Contents

Discover many more posts…

Unleash the Power of Lean Visual Management!

Boost traceability, and collaboration across all organizational levels with Kanban Zone!

No credit card | No contract | No risk