Using the Product Canvas to Define Your Product: Getting Started – Part 1

By Ellen Gottesdiener –

I usually find a diversity of opinion when I ask anyone within an organization what their products are. This is true for product companies whose primary source of revenue is their product and for companies who use products internally to run their business.

Not having agreement on “what is our product” is particularly problematic in large enterprises that have built complex organizational structures. It also surfaces in organizations attempting to modernize their product development practices. Many organizations recognize the need to take an outside-in approach to their business in order to focus on their customers. Even when organizations shift from project thinking and embrace product thinking, the problem remains the same. We don’t agree on what our products are and what our products are not.

What a Product Canvas Is All About

Since Alex Osterwalder and colleagues introduced the BMG canvas, many people have found a canvas to be an appropriate tool to succinctly communicate important business information. A canvas provides a compact, cohesive, and concise format to build and sustain shared understanding. My Product Canvas has evolved into two parts and is used to help a diversity of stakeholders agree on what their product is. The Product Canvas has the following benefits:

  • Helps identify product outcome metrics
  • Prepares you for collaborative product roadmapping
  • Provides insight for restructuring an organization (product and engineering teams)
  • Facilitates product discovery, backlog management, and release planning

An Example Product Canvas

Let’s explore the power of a Product Canvas with an example based on a case study in Discover to Deliver. Squeeky Kleen is a residential window cleaning business. Squeeky Kleen plans to expand to commercial properties, but for simplicity sake, we’ll focus on their residential business.

The Product Canvas has two parts. Product Canvas Part 1 provides an overview to the product, its stakeholders, what stakeholders value, the product’s profitability, product’s marketing methods, and competitive information needed for product strategy. Part 1 of the Product Canvas for Squeeky Kleen might look like this:

Source: EBG Consulting | The Product Canvas Part 1 for Squeeky Kleen

Product Canvas Part 2 identifies the 7 Product Dimensions to provide a holistic, comprehensive understanding of the product. You could say that part 2 is used to define product requirements:

Source: EBG Consulting | The Product Canvas Part 2 for Squeeky Kleen

The Product Canvas Part 2 will be discussed in the next blog.

The Product Canvas in Context

As shown below, the Product Canvas feeds two important product management tools: the product roadmap and the product backlog:

Source: EBG Consulting | The Product Canvas in Context

The product roadmap depicts how your product will evolve to realize your vision and achieve value for your customers and business. For that reason, the product roadmap is strategic. The product backlog contains near-term (Now-View), mid-term (Pre-View), and longer-term (Big-View) items that may be delivered to achieve the outcomes defined in the roadmap. Thus, the product backlog is tactical.

Product Canvas Part 1 concisely lays out your product’s strategic information. It feeds creating a continually adapting product roadmap. It helps you define the themes to array across time horizons on the roadmap.

How to Create Product Canvas Part 1

The Product Canvas Part 1 is a tool to build shared understanding. Here are some high-level guidelines:

  1. Start with your product vision. The vision defines the core “why” behind your product.
  2. Define the WHO and WHY by completing the middle row: your product partners (stakeholders from the customer, business, and technology realms), and what they value.
  3. Layout the financial information. How you stay in business (revenue streams), cost factors, and mechanisms you use for connecting with customers (channels).
  4. Next, tackle your competitive and leader landscape. The competitive analysis informs your product roadmap.
  5. Continue with strategic thinking by completing the Innovation Waves block. Consider your product’s technology platform and global trends. Note: you may need to reconsider to this block after having completed the Environment dimension in Product Canvas Part 2.

Knowing the competition and innovations in your product space promotes strategic thinking.

In Closing

The Product Canvas provides you with a concise way to define and communicate the essence of your product. Part 1 articulates critical strategic information you need to guide product planning, development, pricing, marketing, funding, servicing, and deployment.

As always, please share your experiences, comments, and suggestions by emailing me at ellen@ebgconsulting.com.

Note: see full version of blog originally posted on EBG’s Blog.

Ellen Gottesdiener is a Product Coach and CEO of EBG Consulting, focused on helping product and development communities produce valuable outcomes through product agility.

Ellen is known in the agile community as an instigator and innovator for collaborative practices for agile product discovery and using skilled facilitation to enable healthy teamwork and strong organizations.

She is the author of three books on product discovery and requirements, frequent speaker, and works with clients globally. In her spare time, she is Producer of Boston’s Agile Product Open community and Director of Agile Alliance’s Agile Product Management initiative. You can connect digitally with Ellen via her Blog | Twitter | Newsletter | LinkedIn | Email

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