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Adventures in Opportunity Canvasing, Part 1 of 3

I recently finished reading Jeff Patton’s “Mapping User Stories” book.

Jeff’s book is great and gave me many tips on how to improve my story telling but he also introduced me to the Opportunity Canvas, an adaptation of Marty Cagan’s Opportunity Assessment. I had seen models like this before but never thought to use them with stakeholders to determine what opportunities we had in front of us. I thought they were only good for new products not yet in the market, instead of more mature products exploring a new feature set. I read this section of the book just in time because I was embarking on a new, large initiative. I wanted to get my key stakeholder onboard for fully discovering the opportunity and how best we could tackle it, so this seemed like a perfect time to practice my new-found knowledge.

What is an Opportunity Canvas?

For those not familiar with Opportunity Assessments or Canvases, I’ll provide a brief run-down based on what Jeff writes. They both start with a way of organizing all the areas you should discuss regarding an opportunity so that you can see every part at once and connect the dots easily. Here is an image from “Mapping User Stories” (page 170 or visit his website) showing the layout.

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  1. Problems or Solutions – Identify potential problems or pain points you know your customers have and list out solution ideas you have already thought about or heard suggested. Jeff mentions you often hear about a feature or idea first, so if you are starting with a solution think about the problems that solution addresses.
  2. Users and Customers – Identify whom your users and customers. These could be two different audiences for your company. Hopefully, you are already using personas making this part easy.
  3. Solutions Today – List out how your users and customers are solving these problems today. Is there a workaround in the software or product that eventually solves it? Can they solve this problem via a different, perhaps less convenient, channel today?
  4. User Value – What will your users and customers get from having this solution or problem solved? Think beyond just “it will be easier to do” to the additional time they will have to build their relationships with their clients if this task was quicker.
  5. User Metrics – If you implement this solution what could you track to ensure this is delivering value? It is a good idea to think about this two ways – how you will know what you implemented is making a difference, and you should iterate further. As well as how you will know this is not helping customers, and maybe it should be cut.
  6. Adoption Strategy – Think through releasing this new solution and how you will let customers and users know it is available. This could also include possible training videos or materials needed to take advantage of the new solution too.
  7. Business Problem – You have talked a lot about your users’ and customers’ problems already, but what about your own business? What problems could this help solve internally? Could it reduce the number of support calls? Could it reduce call times because representatives do not have to talk through the workaround?
  8. Business Metrics – For those business problems you identified, how can you prove this solution is helping to solve them? Remember, identify metrics in both directions – what success looks like and what failure looks like.
  9. Budget – How much time, money, people, and other resources will this solution require? This is a good time to think about inter-team dependencies that might disrupt a solution another team is building.

Getting Started

To start my adventure, I first needed to get buy-in from my key stakeholder that we needed to take 4 hours out of important people’s days to canvas. We had talked about this opportunity before and were realizing how large this could be, but I wasn’t sure he was convinced that a meeting of this caliber was necessary. Also, we had not done anything like this before so I was trying something new. I sent him an email highlighting how large this could get and the differing opinions I had already heard. All evidence leading me to believe getting together to hash it out would be a great place to start.

Turns out, he thought this was a great idea so all I had to do now was get comfortable with a technique I had never used before! Not only did I have to make sure the discussion was productive, I also had to get consensus on how we would start our work. On top of that it was my first impression with some of these people so I wanted to look professional. Like I knew what I was doing.

Over the next two posts I’ll go over what I did to prepare for the meeting, how it went, and lessons I learned for next time that hopefully can help you with your first Opportunity Canvas.