How I use canvas exercises to understand, align and assess
I use canvas exercises like the Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas or a variation of my own design with new clients or prospects all the time. It’s one of the most effective ways to quickly and comprehensively understand what your client is trying to achieve, align the product team and asses what they need.
Typically I draw the canvas on a whiteboard or a big sheet of paper taped to the wall. This helps my team and the client team have full transparency into what is being created so they can make adjustments or ask questions.
It takes about an hour for me to effectively facilitate a session. It’s a really lively event with a lot of interaction from our team and the client’s team. Pointed questions are asked, ideas are exchanged and the facilitator works to keep it focused and makes sure we get to an answer.
Who is the customer? What is their problem? How do we make money? What assumptions have been made? I get the answers to all of my most important questions. I see how the pieces are intended to fit together. It also helps me learn what my clients value, how they make decisions and what personally types are in play. To date I haven’t found a better exercise for a team to learn a client’s business or product.
Every time I facilitate a canvas session the client team discovers that they aren’t quite as aligned as they think they are. They use words differently, they see the customer differently, prioritize differently and it goes unnoticed or un resolved until an outsider points it out.
I ask “what does that mean to you” a lot during these sessions. If I sense that there is un-said or un-noticed misalignment, I’m going to point it out and try to get the team to resolve it. I’ve been told by many clients that they got more done in an hour session with me than a leadership retreat because we bring everything out into the open and get action on it.
There is no place to hide on a canvas. Every section is important and I’m going to probe in all of them. This helps me understand what’s working and where the client needs help. There is usually a section or two that is uncomfortable for the client. The exercise makes it easier to delve into difficult subjects that might be avoided in a regular meeting.
Image: I did a series of canvas sketches to go along with what I hope is a series of blog posts on this topic.