Mastering the Product Discovery Canvas, Part 1: Introduction

Blank billboard in exhibition centre, a visitor watches board, you can paste in your message or artwork in to blank area,

Fig 1, Product Discovery Canvas.

Building successful products that customers really want and love is really hard. In fact, most product efforts fail! I coach clients to approach product development efforts with dedicated time for product discovery. I guide them to apply elements of Collaborative Chartering, Customer Discovery, User Story Mapping, Pretotyping and Lean Startup. And lately I’ve been inventing on, experimenting with, and sharing insights on a product discovery ideation tool that I call “The Product Discovery Canvas” (fig .1). Let’s look at this canvas and see how you too can use it to guide your product discovery success.

Yet Another Curious Canvas!

First off canvases are not new; they are commonly used as a communications tool in business and information technology. Perhaps you’ve previously encountered one of these: Business Model Canvas, Lean Canvas, Opportunity Canvas, or Team Trust Canvas. And more canvases are introduced daily. My goal in creating yet another canvas, the Product Discovery Canvas, is guided product discovery on a single page that teams can approach quickly, collaboratively and repeatedly.

Start Using the Product Discovery Canvas

Does your team have a product idea that could benefit from the product discovery process? If so, then download a Product Discovery Canvas and use it as I discuss its structure. Product Discovery and the “canvas” are really big topics and best investigated over multiple blog posts. Please follow along and feel free to contact me with questions, suggestions, successes, frustrations or whatever. I would like to hear about your experiences. I will take that feedback into account as I present subsequent installments that provide detailed examples of teams applying the canvas for product discovery.

The Boxes on the Product Discovery Canvas:

The Product Discovery Canvas is comprised of 8 discovery boxes, of varying sizes and numbered 1 through 8. Each discovery box has questions or activities that teams should investigate about a product idea. There are increasing time requirements to complete the activities as you proceed left to right, top to bottom. So that whole teams can collaborate, I suggest that you put the Product Discovery Canvas up on a wall; use a writeable wall or large post-it paper. Then encourage everyone to participate! Fill it out quickly in one meeting, then come back later and review and revise it in another meeting. Perhaps your team may prefer to work within a single discovery box (topic) to gain intensive understandings. It may happen that the team is not able to capture answers, the first time, and has to leave a box blank. Blanks or no answers are okay, they are a clear understanding of what the team does not yet know.

Now let’s examine the layout of the Product Discovery Canvas.

1. Draft your Vision Statement

Have the team start by creating a clear vision for the product idea that you desire to explore. In this discovery box answer these two questions:

  1. What are you building? (This is a good time to give it a name or code-name)
  2. What value does it provide?

Use the answers to craft a Vision Statement; often called the Elevator Pitch.

2. Know your Users & Customers

In this discovery box, describe the different types of users & customers of your product. Answer these two questions:

  1. Who are you building this for?
  2. What value will they obtain?

To gain a better understanding of the users and customers, the team should briefly touch on Pirate Metrics (aarrr): Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue.

Create Personas for your users and customers. Start with a drawing or photo, include a description, what they value and their actions as they engage with your product. 

3. Define the Goals for the Product

In this discovery box, discuss product goals in three different areas:

  1. What are the business goal the products?
  2. What are the technology goals of the product?
  3. What are the process improvement goals of the product?

To gain better understanding of the granularity of goals, the team can discuss the frequently occurring problem(s) that the product will solve.

4. Define Success Measures

In this discovery box, answer these two questions:

  1. How will you know the product is a success?
  2. What will change for the targeted user community?

To gain better understanding of the success measures, have the team discuss these questions:

  1. What are the outcomes (immediate) of having this product?
  2. What are the impacts (long-term) of having this product?

5. Timeframe for Discovery

How long will the team invest in product discovery? Keep in mind that this is product discovery not product development. So think in terms of the shortest time frame possible to gain plausible feedback on the viability of the product idea. Quicker is definitely better!

6. Tell Stories about the Product

In this discovery box, have the team tell stories about users and customers using the product. Talk in descriptive sentences: who is using the product, what they are doing with the product and why. Gain product understanding by having discussions to include the following:

  1. Examples of users realizing the product goals.
  2. How realizing the goals impact a specific user.
  3. Play “What ifs”, taking different routes on the same goal.
  4. Discuss what happens in the event of invalid scenarios.

Now build a User Story Map. Use information from the stories that the team told and put them in a User Story Map, a visual narrative of product functionality that includes:

  1. Goals
  2. Personas
  3. Activities performed by users

7. Validate if it is the Right Product to Build

In this discovery box, you will test the product idea as fast and cheap as possible. You will build pretotypes to test if is the right product and answer these questions:

  1. Do customers want it?
  2. Will customers buy it?

Part of the pretotyping effort should be to validate the customers. So go to where your customers are and collect insight to answer these questions:

  1. Do customers have a need for your product?
  2. Is your product what they want?

Pretotype is a term unfamiliar to most people. The simplest definition that I can offer is “Fake it and test it before you make it!”, more at http://www.pretotyping.org

8. Learn from the Product

In this discovery box, we will utilize a core component of the Lean Startup methodology called the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. If the team has proceeded though the canvas in a sequential order then by now they have developed a shared understanding of the problem (product idea) that needs to be solved. Here you are testing and learning from the product solution. So next, develop a minimum viable product (MVP). Go back and examine the User Story Map for a slice of functionality (a MVP) to build, measure how customers respond and learn whether to “pivot or persevere”.

Examples of Using the Product Discovery Canvas

The next post continues this topic by using the Product Discovery Canvas for product discovery on a product idea, called “Card SafeZone”. See you next post.

Influences

The Product Discovery Canvas combines forward thinking Lean and Agile insights that originate in the thought leadership of David Hussman, Steve Blank, Jeff Patton, Alberto Savoia and Eric Ries to name a few. I strongly encourage that you investigate their work, samples of which can be found here:

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