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How product managers can use the Planning Canvas to go from an idea to making money
A CEO I worked for used the strategy to “create a plan for the plan.” When it appeared we were getting stuck trying to create a plan for the next big thing, he would tell me to schedule a meeting to make a plan for the plan — a meeting to discuss what would need to go into a plan since we don’t yet really know what the plan should be. It was a good strategy for taking action and moving forward.
Our guest, the exceptionally well-known Steve Johnson, has a similar tool for product projects called the Planning Canvas. It is an organized canvas consisting of six categories for creating a product plan. I think you’ll find it helpful for your planning regardless of where you are in a project — the beginning, developing, or launching.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:16] Why did you create the Under10 Planning Canvas?
When I was the founding instructor at Pragmatic, I saw a need for a defining process to go from an idea to making money. After an organization showed me their 37-page process diagram that no one could explain, I decided to create a planning tool in under ten steps.
[5:01] How is the Planning Canvas structured?
Unlike most process diagrams, the Planning Canvas is a circle rather than a line. It looks like a flower with three pairs of petals. Each pair represents a planning step and an execution step. Discover (planning) is paired with Commit (execution); Describe (planning) is paired with Create (execution); and Deliver (planning) is paired with Connect (execution). The steps are not serial, and although the order of the steps is the order that we tend to progress in, I’ve almost never started at the beginning.
Let’s walk through the 6 steps.
[14:55] Discover & Commit.
For Discover, identify your target customers and the problems they’re having. Do customer observation to identify the problem, and talk with your teams about how to solve it. Product management should take a back seat to development. Usually, we do opportunity scoring and define what success looks like. Between discovery and commit, do an executive briefing.
To Commit, begin business modeling, make a financial model, do market validation research, and do resource allocation.
[16:38] Describe & Create.
To Describe, plan the roadmap for the release.
To Create, tell the development team the personas, problems, constraints, and alternatives you’re dealing with. Write acceptance criteria for what you’re asking development to build, and provide ongoing development support. Again, product management is less involved than development.
[17:41] Deliver & Connect
To Deliver, the product managers who are also product marketing managers need to plan the launch. Consider your launch vision and goals.
To Connect with the market, make sure the whole company is ready to take product orders.
[19:37] Learning throughout all the phases.
Learning is the most important step. At each step consider whether you’ve validated or invalidated any of your hypotheses. Have a retrospective meeting and talk about every process.
[22:21] What can you tell us about the future, next, and now columns on the Canvas?
Discover and Commit are about the future–the new products and new markets we would like to explore in the future. Describe and Create are about what we’re doing next–the steps we need to take to turn an idea into a product. Deliver and Connect are about now–the delivery of our current product. These categories serve as a roadmap for product managers to demonstrate what they are doing now and what they will be doing next and in the future.
Bonus Question: When applying the Planning Canvas, where can people expect issues and how can they minimize the impact of those issues?
People tend to want too much precision. They want to know the guaranteed outcome as soon as possible. One technique that I use is to apply complaints to a different department. For example, if sales says, “Why can’t development tell us nine months in advance what they’re going to deliver?” I say, “Why can’t sales tell us nine months in advance what revenue they’re going to generate?” It’s very hard to make predictions about the future. The canvas helps you determine which projects are now, next, and future, but you can’t be more specific than that.
However, to help everyone share a common vision for the future, you can leverage history. Knowing how much you consistently deliver can help you predict what you’ll be able to continue. But if the composition of your team changes, you loose your ability to predict.
- Under 10 Consulting
- Steve’s book, Turn Ideas in Products
- Use an Extended Kanban Board for Project Planning tutorial
“Nothing seems hard to people who don’t do it.” -Steve Johnson
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.