It might seem as though I’m late to the show writing about a Lean Canvas, but I’ve been using them for years, and I continually find my clients are unaware of their existence. They’re a wonderful tool for rapidly creating options and representing a product or business. So I thought I’d share a bit about getting started with them.
Where to Start
You’ll find that if you read any material on the canvas, it asks you to fill things out in a specific order. I don’t always follow that order, though.
I go where I’m excited first, but I make sure to fill out everything.
Most groups I know have the solution section figured out, and they might have one or two sections, but the rest suddenly get hard. You have to fill them all in.
I tend to go to cost and revenue immediately. Just how my brain works.
Bottom line, you can wander the canvas, but fill every single section out.
Keep Extra Canvases Handy
When filling out sections, your goal is to create an option that might work. The goal is not to represent every option.
As you fill the canvas out, you’ll inevitably have another idea or another option. Fill that in on a different canvas.
For any given product idea, I will typically wind up with 3-7 canvases when I’m done. Some may vary only in the pricing or the problem statements, but they’re unique enough that I want to capture them.
You can also consider this a strategy to go wide with your ideas before you dig deeper into them.
There are a few sections I tend to see groups struggle with repeatedly, so I want to take a few moments to address that.
Problem Statement & Customer Segment
Everyone knows what they want to build, but it turns out that not many people know what problem it solves. Knowing who your customers are and their actual problems are critical in product development. So if you find that these two sections are really weak, you have work to do validating the problems exist.
Unique Value Proposition and Unfair Advantage
In my years of experience, most of my clients will answer this question with a vacation of, “We’re us!” or, “We have data!”
Most of the time, these are lazy answers. Unless you have incredible brand recognition in that space, your existence isn’t an unfair advantage or unique. Similarly, if you say you have data, but it isn’t part of the solution, or you can’t use it, it doesn’t mean anything.
So for these sections, think about the truly unique thing you’re doing in this space. The less unique you are, the stronger your competition is. Also, if you go into a business or endeavor without a clear sense of why you will win, you’ll easily forget to play to that strength.
After completing your canvases, put them into order with your best option leading the way.
Gather feedback from people around you. Hear what they say, but think of this as panning for gold. You’ll get a lot of junk in your pan before you find a spec of something you want.
Within organizations, walking through canvases is an excellent way to generate interest and support for the idea if it continues to have legs. It’s quick to put together, quick to explain, and tends to have a lot of the essential details people want.
You will bump into people who are used to only seeing UI Mockups and requirements lists but just be patient with them.
Test Your Canvas
The last, most important, and never followed step of using a canvas is testing it. Testing it involves finding evidence that your canvas isn’t a work of fiction.
This is also where the order you’ll find in every blog post matters.
For example, you almost always start by testing if the customers you’ve identified have the problems you think. If they don’t, the rest of your canvas doesn’t matter.
If they do, then see if your solution is a fit.
Testing a canvas is more than I can cover in an article, but this is what removes the risk in your business or product idea, so it is essential.
Try One Out
Go get a canvas and try one out for something you already know. Then put a twist on it somehow and make a new one. Let me know what you think, and if you need help, just reach out!