Advancing agility from operational team to strategic portfolio level


In the ideal world, organizational agility is achieved by a swarm of relatively independent, cross-functional agile teams that spontaneously self-organize and fluently adapt to changing customer demand. The real world, however, is not so ideal. It forces upon us all kinds of constraints: specialization into competences, key-man dependencies, dependencies between teams, workflows that require work to be handed over from specialized role to specialized role, approvals, cadences for planning and decision making, unstable demand with murky priorities, changing demand that is shifting or fluctuating, conflicting demand, demand that cannot be compared according to the same standard (incommensurability), ... As these constraints often cannot simply be ignored or removed without peril, Agile practitioners are forced to deal with them. They need answers, especially when and where lean-agile (scaling) frameworks or methods fall short in providing them.
Suppose, for example, that you are working in an organization that operates in a highly competitive environment. On a regular basis work finishes and capacity becomes available. At the same time customers – external as well as internal – are requesting new work to be performed. Ideally, you can perfectly match the needs of newly arrived work with the capacity that has become available. In reality, however, work arrives when there is no free capacity (or where the right type of capacity is not free); or, capacity becomes available when there is no new demand (or where the demand is not of the right type). What is even more, it turns out to be costly to adapt (scale up, down or shift) your capacity to meet the fluctuating demand. At the same time there is no flexibility to (re-) shape the demand to make best use of the available capacity. In lean-agile terms, you have just discovered that you have a liquidity problem. Maintaining flow is costly because demand and supply are hard to match to each other. The result is interruptions, loopbacks, work that piles up in one place, capacity that is underutilized at other places, and a failure to collaborate not just within, but also beyond the team level.

Training Description

This workshop provides practical solutions to advancing agility beyond the team level. It does not assume the “agile ideal” nor does it assume a specific set of practices or organizational structure or a specific agile method. To the contrary, it gives participants the tools to develop their own practice(s) and organizational structure, or, in case, to improve agility beyond any methods that have already been implemented. On a practical level, it teaches individual techniques such as CAP tokens, order points, or triage as solutions to balancing conflicting demand that involves many teams, shaping demand and e.g. dealing with unstable priorities. At the foundational level it allows participant to experience the difference between managing options upstream and commitments downstream and gain insight in the concept of liquidity based on options thinking and the use of economic models as a foundation for managing an agile portfolio. The workshop adheres to an experiential style of teaching using close to reality simulations that allow to explore scaling problems and solutions that would take years to develop in reality. All in all, the workshop creates a common foundation and shared language for talking about agility at all levels in the organization.


Introduction to the workshop
- Using simulation to create a safe team practice environment (i.e. the team gym, team dojo)
- Initial simulation – experience “doing agile”
- From blaming to understanding – developing an understanding of the system of work
- Experiment (simulation) – experience “being agile” with flow, collaboration and learning

Multi-tiered flow (staff liquidity)
- Simulating a workflow
- Simulating a Kanban system
- Separating upstream from downstream while introducing a planning cadence
- Experiencing oscillation

Fluctuating and incommensurable demand (options)
- The knowledge discovery process – Discover, Design, Develop, Deliver
- Experiencing and understanding the sources of fluctuation - Delay
- Simulating order points
- Understanding demand that cannot be judged by the same standards
- Triage

Towards a market place (liquidity)
- Simulating flow across interdependent teams
- Bottlenecks and the naivety of “limiting WIP” at the portfolio level
- Representing capacity with CAP tokens
- Simulation with CAP tokens
- Organizing an (internal) market place

Putting it all together
- Upstream and portfolio Kanban
- Agile portfolio management
- What with existing scaling agile frameworks?
- Practical applications

Learning Objectives (bullet points)

  • Extend your agile teaching and coaching to the enterprise level
  • Get started with upstream and portfolio Kanban
  • Learn powerful simulations that you can use to teach basic and advanced agile concepts
  • Learn how to develop and evolve agile portfolio management solutions
  • Learn how to evolve an upstream process
  • Get an understanding of the foundations of business agility


  • Product, program and portfolio managers
  • (Chief) Product owners and Service request managers
  • Department Heads and Division Managers
  • Enterprise level Agile coaches and facilitators
  • Agile coaches, agile transformation coaches, scaled agile trainers and coaches
  • PMO staff, Change managers
  • Management and executives

Course Details

  • Duration: 2 Day
  • Approach of Delivery: Experience before theory (Classroom Training)
  • Timing: 9 AM to 5 PM (1 Hour break in between)
  • Prerequisite: None
  • Recommended Batch Size: Maximum of 20
  • Participants Profile: Beginner and Intermediate (we require active practitioners with multiple years of experience in real-world environments involving multiple teams delivering complex projects and products)
  • Trainer: Patrick Steyaert; co-facilitator: Arlette Vercammen
  • Course Delivery Language: English

Course Deliverables

  • Attendees will receive the Certificate of Completion on ‘Title’
  • In person 2-day training full of learning and fun
  • Takeaway guide covering core principles used in the workshop
  • PDF including the flipcharts jointly developed during the workshop
  • Copy of the Essential Upstream Guide by Patrick Steyaert


Patrick Steyaert is founder of Okaloa. As a creator of Okaloa Flowlab, he teaches and coaches agile thinking (before methods) by making use of business simulations. With his work on upstream, customer and discovery kanban he helps organizations to look at the end-to-end flow (from suspected to satisfied need). He is the author of the Essential Upstream Kanban guide, a regular speaker at international conferences, and recipient of the 2015 Brickell Key award for outstanding contribution to the Kanban community.
Together with Arlette Vercammen, co-facilitator and product manager of Okaloa Flowlab, he will be facilitating this 2-day training. As creators of Okaloa Flowlab, they will provide you with new insights on how work works, how the upstream stream process works and how it differs from the downstream process, and how to deal with conflicting, incommensurable demand that needs to be delivered by different teams. Through their novel teaching approach you will be given a rich, new experience about agile portfolio management.

More details on the topics covered

  1. From operational teams to strategic portfolio level
    The purpose is to create a common understanding and set the context for the rest of the workshop. Using the agile foundations simulation (also referred to as Okaloa Flowlab Teamflow), participants learn about flow, collaboration and learning as the cornerstones of business agility. A “systems” understanding is created for how work works that provides a foundation for subsequent discussions. The depth and nature of the simulation, and subsequent discussion, will be adapted to the level of familiarity of the participants with Okaloa simulations.

  2. Balancing supply with demand (value streams)
    Business agility requires that we deliver value to the customer early and continuously (i.e. flow). Flow is created by balancing supply and demand. Through the value stream simulation (also referred to as Okaloa Flowlab Cross-team flow), participants experience a multi-tiered flow system where a distinction is made between flow at the team level and flow across teams. The simulation illustrates the effects of capacity constraints. We inspire ourselves upon techniques form Quick Response Manufacturing and tokenization (token economics) to enrich our toolbox of solutions with CAP tokens, reservation systems and a market place to match supply and demand.

  3. Fluctuating demand (supply chains)
    Every so often work finishes and capacity becomes available. At the same time the customer is requesting new work to be performed. In the ideal world, we can perfectly match the needs of newly arrived work with the capacity that has become available. But we are not living in an ideal world. In the real-world demand fluctuates. Adapting capability to meet fluctuating demand can only go so far. Demand must be shaped. Through a simulation, participants experience the root cause of oscillating demand. They experience the effects of delay and how mechanisms for prioritization and selection, while well intended, may actually make things worse. Inspired upon supply-chain logistics, participants experiment with order points to even the end-to-end flow and create a more continuous value delivery.

  4. Incommensurable demand (knowledge discovery)
    Ideas for fulfilling customer needs can be generated much faster than they can actually be realized. This is the source of much tension between the organization and its customers, but also, in the organization itself, between those that represent the customer and those that deliver to the customer. Especially since customer value is not always clear. Making decisions under uncertainty requires a different approach than making decisions when things are more routine. Business agility not only requires delivery, it also requires knowledge discovery (and vice versa). Not all demand can be judged by the same standards. Inspired upon techniques from emergency situations, participants will learn about and exercise triage as a technique to deal with incommensurable demand. They will learn how triage differs from prioritization and why this distinction is crucial in a VUCA world.

  5. Agile portfolio management
    The purpose is to fit all the different techniques together into a comprehensive agile portfolio management solution. Participants discuss the organizational context and find an answer to the question of what is next?

Do you have questions?

Management Consultants

+49 6151 503349-0

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[protected email]

Do you have questions?

Management Consultants

+49 6151 503349-0

[protected email]

[protected email]