Refine Your Plan

When starting your business or reassessing/reviewing your business objectives with your team, a lean canvas (figure 1) is a great tool to use for visualizing your business plan on a single sheet of paper. I have facilitated reviews such as this with new teams that recently formed around a new business idea as well as with relatively new but established organizations that needed more focus on their goals and objectives. I think it is a very valuable tool to use with your entire team if you are a relatively small organization or with a group of thought leaders for a larger organization. The complete lean canvas looks like this according to Ash Maurya in his book “Running Lean”.

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Figure 1 - The Lean Canvas

When discussing your organization's business plan using a Lean Canvas, it is best to stay in the present tense. You will want to objectively describe the target problem and your top 2 or 3 customer segments as they exist today and not how you think these will look at some point in the future. It is helpful to have a dedicated facilitator and a scribe for these discussions. Here are the phases of that discussion that seem to work best:

  1. Identify the problem or problems that your target customers are experiencing (it is helpful to consider these together)

    1. Articulate the problem objectively in terms of what “jobs” your customers need to be completed periodically.

      1. After articulating the basic problem, note the existing alternative solutions that are currently used by some potential customers. This can be used as a comparison to your proposed solution and help you better understand the problem to be solved.

    2. Identify the potential customers that are currently experiencing the problem that you have just described.

      1. Keep in mind: “Customers” are people or organizations that will buy your product and “Users” are people (possibly in those same organizations) that will use your product. For example: A customer of an online publishing platform is an author and a user of that platform is a reader.

      2. A customer segment a group of customers with a specific set of attributes or come from a particular industry

      3. Once the customer segments are identified, identify each in terms of their ability and willingness to adopt a solution to the problem that you described. That is, differentiate by: Early Adopters (willing to take some risk and try new, unproven products) and Majority groups (not able to absorb much risk and require established products) 

      4. Focus on your Early Adopters

  2. Identify your Unique Value Proposition - why is your idea different from existing solutions and why should your customers consider investing in it.

  3. Briefly describe your proposed solution. This should be only the essence of your solution written on the canvas. There can be a more detailed description in supplemental documentation that you can reference, but take care not to get into detailed discussions about your solution during this exercise. Those conversations are best saved for one or more dedicated “white board” sessions as needed.

  4. Channels - what are the pathways to your customers. What are your next steps to connecting to potential customers in your target segment?

  5. Key Metrics - what activities do you need to measure the success of your product. It is critical that you can quickly identify when a change is needed through these metrics.

 

The remaining boxes on the canvas pose 4 critical questions about your idea: 

  1. Unfair Advantage - can a similar solution be easily purchased or replicated?

  2. Revenue Streams - what are the sources of your revenue?

  3. Cost Structure - what are the fixed and variable costs for producing your product?

 

Periodically gathering your team around a lean canvas will provide your product managers/owners basis for identifying and refining the work required for your team to develop the next version of your product(s) that you can then share with your customers and get feedback from. This is the lean startup approach to product development:

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Figure 2 - Build-Measure-Learn loop

Incorporating this loop in your product development iterations can be facilitated by Leveraging Agile practices and your team’s approach to Measure Success. See the related articles in the “Our Tools” section of this website.