Open Canvas

A few months ago my wife and I were discussing the difficulty some of her collaborators were having scoping out their open source projects. Often time she was working with builders and it was difficult for them to slow down and articulate why / what they were working on and defining how they’d measure success.

This problem reminded me a lot of my time at Extreme Startups (now and at BDC VC. Often times when I needed to rapidly think through an idea or help a team evaluate their business model, I’d turn to elements of the ever-popular Lean Canvas. In Startup World this is nothing new (but it remains very useful).

Abby and I both loved the simplicity of putting down a company’s business model on a single piece of paper but realized that not all of the dimensions from the Lean Canvas are relevant to open source projects. So, we broke the elements of the Lean Canvas into 3 buckets — elements that directly mapped to open sourced projects, elements that somewhat map and elements that don’t map.

Elements that directly map: Problem, Solution, Unique Value Proposition and Key Metrics are all important elements to understand as part of an open source project. These are important elements of the Open Source Canvas

Elements that somewhat map: Customer Channels and Customer segments are both important, however in open source there are two very different, very important types of ‘customers’. First there are the contributors that are helping to create the project. Secondly there are the users that are benefiting from the project. Both of these groups are acquired in very distinct channels and look very different. For this reason, these two elements of the lean canvas map to four on the Open Source Canvas: User Profiles, User Channels, Contributor Profiles and Contributor Channels.

In addition to these elements, the Cost Structure is important to consider for open source projects but it is helpful to frame it a bit differently. We’ve framed this as Resources Required. Resources might include financial cost, expertise needed on the project, hardware requirements or other needs. It is helpful for a project leader to clearly define what resources they need at the start to help them plan and get those resources aligned to their work.

Elements that don’t map: Revenue Streams doesn’t map to open source projects as these projects tend not to have an important money-making component. Unfair Advantage also doesn’t map very well as open source projects tend to look to include others into the project rather than exclude or beat them.

All of this thinking came together to generate the Open Canvas (1.0):

Interested in using this for your project? Check out a more detailed how-to (and on-line editable version) over at the Mozilla Foundation’s Science Lab Site