This post introduces my Product Canvas, a simple but powerful tool that helps you create a product with a great user experience and the right features. It combines agile development and user-experience design by complementing user stories with personas, storyboards, scenarios, design sketches and other UX artefacts. Read on to find out more.
A Sample Canvas
The best way to understand the Product Canvas is to look at an example. Imagine that we want to develop a game that helps children learn about music and dancing. A canvas for such a game could look like the one below.
The sample Product Canvas above contains the product name, the product (or release) goal and the metrics to measure if the goal has been met. The first bigger section states two personas characterising the target users and customers with their needs. The next section sketches important aspects of the product using epics to describe the product’s functionality, a mock-up to capture the user interface design, a storyboard to illustrate the user interaction, and a constraint card to express the platform for which the game is developed. The section on the right provides a goal for the next sprint and the details necessary to reach the goal.
The Sections Explained
As you have probably noticed, the Product Canvas combines form and function, a structure together with suggested techniques. The following diagram and the text below the sections of the canvas. You can download the canvas template for free from romanpichler.com/tools/product-canvas or by simply clicking on the picture below.
Name simply states the name or version of the product.
The Goal is the product or release goal, the objective that should be met, for instance, to acquire, activate or retain users. If you use the GO product roadmap than you can simply copy the relevant goal stated on the roadmap.
The Metrics provides the measure to determine if the goal has been met, for instance, number of downloads or daily active sessions. If you use the GO product roadmap than just copy the relevant roadmap metrics.
The Target Group describes the target customers and users as personas. The section explains who we believe is likely to use buy and use the product and why. I discuss personas in more detail in my post A Template for Writing Great Personas. Choose one primary persona – the persona you mainly create the product for. Employing a primary persona helps you make the right prioritisation decisions and create a product with a great user experience. Your primary persona should be at the top of the building block to signal its importance.
The Big Picture describes what is takes to meet the persona goals. It captures the user journeys, and the visual design required to create the desired user experience. As its name suggests, it wants to describe your product holistically at a high-level. The section is similar to the outline of a book: It captures the contents without discussing the details.
Scenarios, storyboards, workflow diagrams, and story maps are great techniques to describe the user journeys on the Big Picture. Each journey shows how a persona interacts with the product and the steps the individual has to take to meet a goal. The product functionality on the Big Picture is best captured as epics, which are big and coarse-grained user stories. Epics allow you to describe your ideas without having to commit to the details. This saves time, and it makes it easier to update the canvas with new insights. Constraint stories help you capture the nonfunctional requirements that impact the user experience and the software architecture. You can capture your visual design ideas on the Product Canvas as design sketches, mock-ups, screen-shots, and photos. The Big Picture design artefacts should focus on the critical design aspects of your product—for instance, the design of selected screens or pages.
None of these techniques are mandatory, of course. They rather provide you with a starting point. Choose those techniques that are appropriate for your product. Use additional ones as it suites your needs.
The Product Details provide a goal for the next iteration and just enough implementable items to reach the goal, for instance, to address a risk and to acquire relevant knowledge, or to complete a feature. Depending on the goal, I use different techniques to capture the implementable items. For goals that require coding, ready stories are very helpful. These are small, detailed stories that feed the next cycle and that help create a product increment or minimal viable product (MVP). They are derived from the epics, and are necessary to reach the sprint goal. Make sure you write acceptance criteria for your ready stories. Order the implementable items from one to n, for instance, first, second, third, and so on, to maximise the chances that you reach your goal.
Putting the Users First
The canvas is designed so that the information flows from left to right starting with the personas. This puts the user at the center of the development effort, and it ensures that you develop a product that is beneficial and desirable.
The scenarios, storyboards, epics, design sketches, and constraints describe the future product, and the ready stories ensure that there are implementable items. I explain in more detail how you can create you canvas in my post “The Product Canvas Creation Workshop“.
Learning and Emergence
The biggest challenge when developing a new product is to deal with uncertainty and lack of knowledge. We may not know, for instance, if there is enough demand for the product, or how users will interact with the product. The Product Canvas is designed as a learning tool: to sketch our initial ideas, to get enough stories ready for implementation, and to adapt and refine the content based on the insights gained. The following picture illustrates this cycle.
Consequently, you should expect that your canvas changes as you learn more about the users and customers, and how to best address their needs. It’s common to deal with bigger changes involving clearing out and refilling one or more canvas sections including the section on personas.
The Product Canvas describes the target group and the product features, but not the business model including the revenue sources and the cost structure. While I have intentionally kept the canvas focussed, I have designed it to be compatible with the Alexander Osterwalder’s and Yves Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas. You can use the two canvases together, as the following picture illustrates.
As the picture above suggests, I use the Business Model Canvas to capture the market and value proposition at a high-level, and I state the details for a specific product on the Product Canvas.
I like to work with a physical Product Canvas placed on the office wall, as this has three main benefits: First, it ensures that the relevant information is visible to the product owner and the team. Second, working with simple, yet effective tools such as paper cards and paper sheets facilitates effective collaboration. Third, having to work with limited wall space creates focus and prevents capturing everything that might be relevant. To create your own paper-based canvas, download and print out my free Product Canvas template.
If you require an electronic canvas, try the Canvas Model Design iPad app, or simply re-create the canvas in your favourite electronic tool. When working with Jira, I suggest that you keep the personas and the big picture in Confluence, and manage the product details in your Jira board.