The Product Canvas

FYI: Its not that kind of canvas…keep reading.

Over the past few years we’ve watched as human centered design has surpassed all other marketing buzzwords and taken its rightful seat on the iron throne of business ideologies.

Bloody marvelous! Long live the user!

So, If you ever find yourself working on a product that requires an emphasis on the user experience you’ll be happy to know there is a tool that will help you collect all of your research, personas and UX artifacts in one place and streamline the creation of ready stories (development tasks) to be put into production.

I present to you, the Product Canvas.

Image credit: Roman Pichler
“A simple but powerful tool that helps you create a product with a great user experience and the right features. It combines Agile and UX by complementing user stories with personas, storyboards, scenarios, design sketches and other UX artifacts. It’s designed to work with Scrum, Lean Startup, and Business Model Generation. The canvas supports Lean UX by combining user centered design and agile techniques.”

- Roman Pichler

What is it really for?
How much does it cost?
Can I wear it as a hat?

All valid questions, let me explain.

Image credit: Roman Pichler
Important to note: The Product Canvas is to validate product solutions — not to validate whether the product should be built in the first place.

So the first thing you need to understand is that the product canvas is a system within a bigger system and its function is to kick-start your idea/problem validation and product definition process. It helps you go from ideas to validated solutions that are actionable.

The second thing to note is that you are going to need a workshop to create the canvas, but the time invested (4–8 hours) will easily save you days and even weeks later.

What you’ll need:

Environment

What I failed to understand at first is that you really need space. A big wall and all the post-its and stationery your budget can muster. You cannot do this process on a screen or in isolation (don’t be a hero).

Attendees

Obviously you’re going to need a team and it should be made up of only the people carrying out the task of creating the product. They will need to be present in order to create shared ownership and this aligns everyone so that time isn’t wasted and better decisions are made when each expert is present.

Preparation

The Product Canvas is to validate product solutions so you should have at least established a vision by completing the Lean Canvas, Business Model Canvas or Vision Boards.

So before tackling the Product Canvas you will need to have solid answers for the following:

1) Who are the product’s users and who are the customers?

2) What problem does the product solve?

3) What benefits does it generate for its users?

4) What is the product’s value proposition?

5) What business benefits does the product creates?

6) Why should the company invest in it?

7) What kind of product is it?

8) What are the three to five features that make it stand out?

Ok, let’s do this!

So you’ve done all your prep and you’ve assembled the troops. Let’s outline a plan of attack.

Image credit: Roman Pichler

Step 1: Target Group

Create personas based on insights gathered in your prep work. From these personas you will be able to empathise with the user by ascertaining their needs and identifying the functionality (product features) to service those needs.

Step 2: Big Picture

Now by analyzing your personas needs you can explore the main features and UX of the product.

Include scenarios, storyboards, epics, constraint stories, and design sketches / mock-ups.

Step 3: Product Details

I like to refer to this stage as planning for your sprint. You are now discussing how to approach building your MVP. Break up the product features into tasks and have your team interrogate these tasks until all risks/concerns are addressed and you can move forward. You can determine what needs to be done to reach the goal, or to test the hypothesis, for instance, creating a scenario and a paper prototype to learn more about the user interaction.

The three steps above form a breadth-first approach: The product is sketched holistically, but the details are determined on a sprint-by-sprint basis. This keeps your canvas concise, and allows you to make changes quickly and effectively.

Outcome

At the end of the workshop you should have a Product Canvas robust enough to start building your product. Remember this is an iterative process, so once you’ve completed the tasks set out in the first round you will undoubtedly find a few hitches and you can learn from them and take your learnings through the canvas again to improve.

Image credit: Roman Pichler

Key Take-outs

So before you get going on this new found game-changer, let’s recap:

  • The Product Canvas is a collaborative tool that combines Agile and UX by complementing user stories with personas, storyboards, scenarios, design sketches and other UX artifacts.
  • It helps you validate your solutions and ready them for development.
  • You’ll need to spend 4–8 hours as a team to complete the Product Canvas, but it will save you days.
  • It works by identifying your target group, extracting their needs and solving those needs with solutions and finally packaging those solutions as tasks.
  • You can’t wear it as a hat
Actual footage of a conversation about the product canvas.

Knowledge is sexy, so be sure to talk about the Product Canvas on your next date. You stud, you.

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