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The Product Canvas: A top down approach to product envisioning

The Product Canvas

In this article we will talk about product canvas, when it is helpful to use it and give an example product canvas for a specific product.

Canvases are a great thinking framework for decision making and capturing the big picture. A canvas enables a structured way of thinking and with its real estate restrictions can intrinsically establish priority and constraints on how we think about a problem.

Most products are multi-faceted and have multiple factors affecting the outcomes or the properties of a system/product. A product canvas allows you to define the product you are building and help you in decision making throughout the product development cycle.

We recommend using the product canvas after having decided on a certain idea and upon needing to formalize the product definition. 

Later in this article, we will give an example product canvas for a gaming platform named “RaceRichGames”. But first of all we would like to tell the origin story of this product to give a better understanding of the context:

A friend (the co-author of this article Inger) and I were walking back from work and I commented, “Here is an idea, let us build an app which allows people to buy and sell stock the way they bet on sports events. After all, they say the stock market is a gamble”. 

Inger went “Yeah, sounds great, but why would they buy and sell stocks, why not just bet on the price of the stock going up or down?”.

So here we are with a nebulous idea of a product. A product canvas is a great way to take this nebulous idea and make it into something more concrete and helps us drive the next steps. 

The sections of the product canvas are

  • Name: The name of the product
  • Goal: The goal we are trying to achieve through this product
  • Metrics: The objective measures of success of the product
  • Target group: Types of users who will be using this product
  • Big picture: Is the big picture capturing the user experience and the features of the product?
  • Product details: The detailed next steps to take

 
Sections of the product canvas

Steps to fill the Product Canvas

After having done this exercise a few times, we prefer to use the following names for the sections:

Goal becomes Product Goal: I prefer to capture users and the individual goals they seek to achieve with the product in the Target Groups section. The goal section however is to call out the overarching goal for the whole product.

Target groups become Target Groups and their goals: Identifying your potential users is great. But it is just as important to know why your potential users would engage with your product. This would help drive out the metrics that you need to track.

Big picture becomes Features to meet User goals: It is very easy to start putting in features you think you will need or you believe are fantastic without being clear about who exactly is going to get value from this feature.  

I have found that a certain sequence to filling out the canvas helps us discover the product better. This is not about sticking to the steps and sections firmly, but thinking about the canvas in these steps and constantly going back and forth between the sections as you discover more interesting insights about your product. And anytime there is a change to one of the sections, the rest would need to be revisited as well. 

Section 1 – Target groups and their goals: The best place to start thinking about your product is your users. Who will use your product and what goals do they hope to accomplish or problems solved by using your product. 

For instance: In the betting app scenario we described earlier, there could be two types of users:

Gamer: One who loves the thrill of a bet and would bet on anything from local league to Vegas slot machines. This gives them a chance to bet on the stock market without the exposure of buying the stocks. They are only betting if a stock will go up or down and they are not actually buying any stocks.

Amateur Investor: The second user could be a person who believes they are good at predicting stock movements due to their research etc. They would be able to test out their skills and potentially win money without actually buying stocks and holding a position. And yet win some money if you get it right. 

Identifying users and their motivation in tandem helps draw out all the users of the product as well as all the goals.

Section 2 – Features to meet user goals: Fill this out in your first pass based on what you believe are the features of this product. In the second pass associate each feature with one or more users (user goals can be met by many features, and one feature can serve multiple target users). Looking at the features and the user goals in tandem helps you to come up with the metrics for the product. 

Section 3 – Metrics: Metrics are the most important part of the exercise. It is very hard to get the features correct the first time around and to understand if you are on the right path of solving the user’s problems or achieving goals. Metrics allow you to iteratively improve the product.

Each user goal listed must have a measurable metric to prove if this is being successful. The way to do this is to look at the underlying hypothesis/pain point of each goal. Then try and identify what would be a metric to see if this goal is being met or if this pain is being alleviated by the product we have built.  

We are really big in Japan 

Besides the metrics for each individual goal you have identified, you have to also have larger product metrics. One of the first and foremost is user adoption. Even if your product is for a very niche market, it is critical to track what percent of this market is using your product. Here are a couple of more examples:

  • In a website selling train tickets, a goal metric would be something like this: For a journey search team, which suggests to users a potential journey map (connections), conversions of journey results to ticket purchases are important. However, we will also have to track the overall metric of the total percentage of tickets sold on the website versus the total tickets sold on the train.
  • In the current NHS 111 (UK national Health Services emergency service) website there is a feature that gathers user symptoms and information and then gives the user a choice to go to a local GP or have a local pharmacist call you. A goal metric would be to see how often people choose the pharmacists and the pharmacist can meet the needs of the customer. This metric is a good assessment of your clinical flow logic, however we still have to keep an eye on the overarching goal of NHS to provide accurate, accessible information to the citizens and to see how many people who ended up calling GPs first visited the NHS 111 website and if their needs were met by the website.

As we already said, metrics are the most important aspect of any product development as this guides the direction of the product. Without this feedback, the product even if it were successful to start with will slowly lose relevance or be exposed to a risk of a competitor swooping in to meet your customers’ unfulfilled needs.

Section 4 – The single line description of the product or the goal: This is important to communicate the purpose of the product in one sentence. At this point, we have to look to put together a vision statement for the product. Ideally to say in a single sentence why this product exists. For example, Facebook’s goal is to connect people.

Section 5 – The name of the product: Once we have narrowed down the single purpose of the product, giving it a name establishes a brand and creates an identity of its own. The product name is also perhaps its most marketable features. Good product names are usually catchy enough and fit into the users’ memory.

Section 6 – The next steps of product development (Product Details): This is the next step to build and validate the product. This section details the next steps/actionable items necessary to achieve the goals. They are also usually prioritised, so that the current state of the product is also easily depicted. 

Example Product Canvas: RichRaceGames

An example product canvas: Imagine we are building the gaming platform we talked about in the beginning of the article, where users can bet on stock market movement instead of sporting events. 
Example Product Canvas: RichRaceGames

Step 1: We identified the two types of users for the product:

  1. Gamer: Someone who loves to bet on things and events and would like to try their hand at the stock market. 
  2. Amateure Investor: Someone who would like to test out their stock market investing instincts but does not want to invest a ton of money on this, but would like to put some skin in the game. 

Step 2: We identified 3 key features for the MVP:

  1. Being able to place a bet on either the stock moving up or down in cost the next day so that a gamer or an amateure investor can place a bet. 
  2. Being able to see the past trend of this stock over time so that a gamer can base his bets on past performance alone. 
  3. Being able to see the detailed company financials and sector level details and analysis of the annual report so that an investor can make informed decisions on which stock to bet on.

Step 3: We identified the key metrics for the MVP. The thing to note here is that we are measuring what is important to the target users like:

  1. Dollars paid out to the users (as this is a good measure of how often people will come back to the app, as well as if the number is too high, it could bankrupt the app, so we need to manage this by changing the odds of the bet).
  2. Time spent on each page of the application.

We are also most importantly tracking metrics that will make us as the product creators successful. Metrics like:

  1. User adoption rate
  2. Dollars spent by users on the app – you not only want more people to use your application but also spend more money on this.
  3. Percent of winning bets to the total number of bets – If this is too high you end up paying out more money than you earn back.

Step 4: We spent time talking about the goal of the product. The goal of a product should always be defined in terms of the value provided to the user. Unless you are a charity, we all know the goal of your product would be to earn you some money, so calling that out as a goal is redundant. When we think about this product we realise this could be the ideal gateway product to allow folks who take large bets on the stock market to make smaller safer bets but also encourage them to start making educated decisions. 

Step 5: This is where we had to think of the next steps – how do we start building this product? What are the prerequisites that need to happen before this product can be in the hands of a customer? The steps we have to take to make this product a reality like figuring out how much money do you need to get started.

Conclusion 

The product canvas is a great framework to help conceptualise a product. For a detailed analysis and exploration of a business model, “A Business Model Canvas” is better suited for the job. We would recommend using the product canvas to get a quick testable MVP out, if the product seems to have legs, to then use “A Business Model Canvas” to expand the product. The key aspect to remember when filling out the canvas is to always focus on measurable metrics and ensuring they are aligned with the goals. Tracking these metrics would help you decide the future direction of the product. 
A Product Canvas works best when you have an ambiguous idea and the canvas forces you to decompose it into certain concrete ideas that may be actioned.

Acknowledgements and Thanks to Vishak Dinakar, Ammara Gafoor and Ajay Brar

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