Can You Define Your Strategy on One Page?

Jen van der MeerBusiness Model Practice

Can You Define Your Strategy on One Page?

Here’s a roundup of one page strategy tools our opinion of which tools work best.

The idea of the one page strategy tool has been around since the 1880s when French managers sought to see the world beyond mere financial and accounting metrics. The rise of Business Model Canvas and other tools like it take visual strategy out of the wonky heads of MBAs and into the hands and sketches of teams with diverse skills and perspectives. The tools are most popular in organizations faced with uncertainty and complexity. If you need to tap the diverse skills and expertise in a team-based approach to define the future, try a strategy canvas tool on for size.

We start with the Business Model Canvas and conduct a roundup of other tools we’ve seen in startup, non profit, and corporate innovation settings. We’ve eliminated any tools with paywalls under the assumption that a paywall is a bad business model for strategic thought leadership! 

The Business Model Canvas 

Osterwalder, 2009 available at Strategyzer.com

Business model innovation is a fairly recent concept in strategy circles, going back 20+ years ago in sync with the Netscape IPO. Suddenly, seeing the future potential of a fast growing company became more complex, with more options, combinations, and possibilities.

Back then, it didn’t make sense to invest the time and effort to develop a full business plan for every possible combination. We tended to choose one directional path, write a long form plan, and march forward. Often, founders would end up marching to their quick demise following the illusion that a plan was a roadmap, or playbook.

Fast forward to the present day. Business model innovation is popular in startup circles, but also in corporate innovation, nonprofits, and social impact entrepreneurship. The magical tool: The Business Model Canvas, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.

BMC for UberThe Business Model Canvas Canvas includes all 9 building blocks and is based on Osterwalder’s PhD thesis – Business Model Ontologies (don’t click on the PhD thesis link unless you are an extreme business model geek with hours to spare).

The Canvas enables you to see your business model potential as something sketchable, involving sticky notes, and Sharpie pens. Design thinking meets a whole company view. Osterwalder encourages a sketch and prototype approach, and to use the Canvas in group meetings to create a shared language and understanding about business model options.

The Business Model Canvas is best used as an iterative tool, to create shared understanding and document team learning. Osterwalder’s strategy firm, named Strategyzer, and Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad curriculum both use the Canvas to test and validate assumptions over time.

Blank calls this the “z-axis” of understanding – encouraging founders to document their assumptions at the start, no matter how faulty. Over a quick succession of customer discovery interviews, teams update their assumptions and narrow in on unique customer need, and customer value described in their own words. The “z-axis” progression of business model understanding in time is the best way to generate true business model adaptation vision and practice.

Verdict Pros Challenges
The best tool to flex your business model muscles. While widely known, but often underutilized too Comprehensive view of business model components Teams tend to do the business model exercise once, but it works best to iterate over time with a customer-driven validation plan document their shared learning 

 

The Lean Product Canvas 

Maurya, 2010 available at LeanStack.com

Created by Ash Maurya, the Lean Canvas was designed to run his own startup, consulting business, and book “Running Lean.” Maurya was focused on helping the very early stage startup adopt lean methods. He felt the Business Model Canvas wasn’t well prioritized to address the key risks of the early stage entrepreneur.

Maurya “traded boxes” replacing later stage risks (partners, activities) with bigger risks that should be keeping an entrepreneur up at night, focusing on problem, solution, unfair advantage, and key metrics.

The Lean Canvas is not a comprehensive representation  of the business model. It is a focused on page effort to answer the key questions at the early startup phase. If you do not solve for key problems, solutions, a succinct unique value proposition, and unfair advantage – you should not start investing in the next phase of growth.

leancanvas

However if you are going to spend the time talking to customers and figuring out how to grow your business, you may as well flex all of your business model muscles and use the Business Model Canvas early on.

Verdict Pros Challenges
Great focusing tool for the earliest stage of a startup but use in combination with the Business Model Canvas Lean Canvas forces the key questions every startup must answer. It’s a good first test as a precursor to the Business Model Canvas. You are scrimping on major business model levers when you leave out partners and other activities and resources that may drive your growth, even at the early stage.

 

The Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas 

Kim and Mauborgne, 2005 available at BlueOceanStrategy.com

This competitively-focused strategy canvas comes from the popular 2005 management book Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne of INSEAD Business School in France. The simple premise: you can visualize your competition by contrasting how each company solves specific customer problems.

In a “Red Ocean”  market, companies are competing to solve the same problems for the same customers. In a “Blue Ocean” market, an emerging competitors has uncovered new unmet needs, and found novel ways to solve these problems. The authors cite Southwest Airlines, Cirque de Soleil, Nintendo’s Wii and Netflix as examples of how companies can operate essentially without competition and get the blood out of the water.

Blue Ocean Cirque vs. Ringling

“The only way to beat the competition is to stop trying to beat the competition.” The Strategy Canvas serves as one of the primary tools, and the authors provide access to all of their frameworks on their website. The idea is to map the known customer needs and problems vs. how your company and competitors solve the problem.

Verdict Pros Challenges
Useful for thinking through a competitive environment connected to innovation moves in an industry Makes competitive analysis more proactive and connected to product and service innovation (vs. something that is external) The promise of eliminating competition is a stretch – it’s more about finding niche opportunities for growth

 

The Product Canvas 

Pichler, 2012 available at RomanPichler.com

The Product Canvas was created by Roman Pichler for teams practicing Lean UX (user experience). The goal is to help teams create a product with a great user experience using stories with familiar UX tools: personas, storyboards, scenarios, design sketches, and other artifacts. Pichler explains that the Product Canvas is designed to work as a companion tools and method alongside Scrum, Lean Startup, and Business Model Generation.

The Product Canvas is meant to be a close up view of the Value Proposition box in the Business Model canvas, and represents the type of activities typically performed by product and UX leads at the start of the project.

ProductCanvasStructure

The challenge with the product canvas – it gets teams right back to to their comfort zone, developing products, seeing product details as the primary task, rather than finding a business model. The worst case scenario – the Lean UX team is separated from a multidisciplinary business modeling team to “just go figure out the product.”

Verdict Pros Challenges
Proceed with caution – does not include the core strategy elements involved in product/service innovation embedded in the business model One page view of key UX elements for UX-specific projects. Does not detail the core elements of value proposition – focusing instead on product details. Where are the benefits, the pain points?

 

The Value Proposition Canvas

Osterwalder, 2014, available at Strategyzer.com

The creator of the Value Proposition DesignBusiness Model Canvas, Alexander Osterwalder, recognized all of the canvas adaptations popping up in response to Lean Startup but found “the adaptations made it impossible to accurately describe the essential elements of a business model and they didn’t do the mapping of customer value creation well either.”

So Osterwalder created the Value Proposition Canvas which is a close up view of  customer segments and value proposition fit, and helps describe value creation at the product and service level.

 

The Value Proposition Osterwalder is describing aligns with a familiar innovation theorist’s view of the world – Clay Christensen. Starting at the right of the Value Proposition Canvas, you are asked to articulate customer “jobs” – reference the “jobs to be done” concept of Christensen.

Value Proposition Canvas

The focus on pain points and pain relievers also stem from these theories – that customers only change their behavior and adopt a new, innovative solution when they are in sufficient enough pain to make the switch. This lesson is hard for many startup founders and new product developers to learn, and not everyone agrees that the pain points/jobs to be done theory is always the best bet.

Side note: Beware the Value Proposition Confusion Syndrome

In fact we’ve found the Value Proposition Canvas causes internal strife at many a corporate innovation retreat because there is not a shared consensus for the meaning of Value Proposition. There is the Christensen/Osterwalder view – that a value proposition clearly articulates the pain relieved and gains created.

The counterpoint view is that a Value Proposition is a brand’s position. As articulated in David Aaker’s Brand Strategy books, but also practiced at major brand building companies like P&G and advertising firms like Ogilvy. Value Proposition in brand-centric companies focuses on the major positioning claims, the “reasons to believe” the claim, and focus the brand team on competitive position in the market place.

Christensen was challenging the branding as positioning concept when he introduced “jobs to be done” in his Innovator’s SOlution book, a follow up to The Innovator’s Dilemma (THE primer on disruption theory).

 

Verdict Pros Challenges
Best “close up” canvas tool to work with in startup environments, when the task is focused on the unique pains and unmet needs of the target customer Drives home the critical assumption for new, disruptive innovation – if a customer is not in pain, they are unlikely to switch, so the canvas forces teams to focus on pain relief and gain created. You may find terminology confusion in larger companies or teams with brand-focused experts – people who see the Value Proposition as a positioning exercise (vs. alleviating pain points)

 

The Customer Journey Canvas  

Stickdorn and Schneider, 2010 at ThisisServiceDesignThinking.com

Inspired again by the Business Model CanvaCustomer Journey Canvass, Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider created a Customer Journey Canvas to support a book on service design thinking.

The tool is also meant to augment the Business Model Canvas, and serves as a different view for the flow of customer experience.

As compared to the Product Canvas which may drive product teams into features and details, the Customer Journey Canvas gets outside of the product to include the full customer flow. Critically, it forces teams to think through how customers learn about the service, and what they do after using the service (pre-sales, post-sales, and retention).

 

 

Verdict Pros Challenges
Good intro companion tools to the Business Model Canvas for teams that have not yet thought through how their customer experience will work Forces three critical ideas that are often difficult for teams: Presales (how do they learn about me), aftersale and retention, front stage / back stage (how will we deliver) The Customer Journey canvas and Service Canvas are first draft, high level sketches, and often customer experience flows need to represent more complex relationships and interaction to be fully understood

 

Happy Startup Canvas

McCahill, 2013, available at TheHappyStartup.co

The Happy Startup Canvas was created by Laurence McCahill, the co-founder of the Happy Startup School. The Canvas is a provocative counter-trend of focusing founder time on business models and exit strategies and value. McCahill aims his Canvas tool to help the “new of entrepreneur to realise their dreams. Startups that put people first and place happiness before profits.”

Happy Startup Canvas

The Happy Startup Canvas is intended to help companies so they can “live according to their own rules, not someone else’s – especially investors or shareholders.” The canvas aims to help people think through long term legacy building ideas like purpose and vision – creating companies “that have their own personal values and purpose as part of their DNA.”

The work of creating a vision is a critical job of startup founders most certainly. But do founders truly have the world changing vision at the start? Do they need to know how the world will be changed by their ideas? There is evidence in both directions – companies that have been started with world changing visions from day one, and companies that were started as accidental experiment.

Also – the belief that companies need to be organized around shared values is likely important in a social impact-oriented world changing venture, but not necessary for everyone. The problem herein are the strategic choices that enable founders to define their own destiny, and the most critical set of steps gives founders and innovators the right method to define a winning business model. Too many happy startup dreams have failed the business model test.

 

Verdict Pros Challenges
Focuses team attention on vision and values – but does not replace finding a business mode Acknowledges that vision, values are often important for founding teams Lacks the rigor of serious business model validation and question when starting a business, and determining if the venture can actually generate enough free cash flow to achieve the purpose of the founders

 

Tableau de Bord (Modern Day KPI Digital Dashboard)

Initial Tableaus created in the 1880s according to archival historical research (Pezet, 2009)

The Tableau de Bord is a one page strategy and planning tool used by French companies to make decisions at the management level. Seen as a supplement to financial and accounting measures, the Tableau de Bord includes qualitative and quantitative information, in enabled tableau-de-bord-entreprise@w_720leaders to see things conceptually, and to see the company as a whole. The Tableau de Board combines seeing with doing – and gives a management framework for decision making and intervention.

 

We see the modern day Tableau de Board in interactive spreadsheets and dashboards – but the original version was carefully constructed on paper.

 

Verdict Pros Challenges
Use with intention. What data do you truly need to see to best inform your team? While the paper version is a bit dated, the effort to create required thoughtful and comprehensive analysis to determine the data and KPIs that inform decisions. Can be a waste of time to create and build real time or near time data if these tools are not deliberately designed to inform insights, and decisions.

 

The Balanced Scorecard

Kaplan and Norton, 1990 available at The Balanced Scorecard Institute and the original book

Much like the Tableau de Board, the Balanced Scorecard was motivated by “a belief that existing performance-measurement approaches, primarily relying on financial accounting measures, were  becoming obsolete.” – The Balanced Scorecard, Kaplan and Norton.

While it may seem like a new idea, back in the 1990s managers were concerned about an overly financial focus hindering their ability to see the future.

Balanced Scorecard

The Balanced Scorecard included financial, customer, internal, and innovation and learning perspectives. “The name reflected the balance provided between short- and long-term objectives, between financial and non financial measures, between lagging and leading indicators, and between external and internal performance perspectives.” The Scorecard was to be constructed to show the cause and effects relationship between intended strategy and outcome.

 

Verdict Pros Challenges
Steep learning curve. describes a way to build a one page view, rather than guidance on what to measure. Focuses management attention on metrics other than financial / earnings per share as indicators of performance. Over-simplicity and reducing everything to an index or score  may distort reality

 

Which Tools Should We Use?

You can get a bit lost with the Canvas-palooza happening in the startup and corporate innovation circles.

Here are our top 5 Strategy Tool Recommendations in order of how we like to use them:

  1. Start with the Business Model Canvas – familiarize everyone on the team with the full canvas and use the tool each week to document your assumptions as you conduct customer discovery interviews and validate your assumptions.
  2. Dive into the Value Proposition Canvas to focus your efforts on key pain points and needs at the start
  3. Do a quick analysis of competitors using the Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas
  4. Once you feel you’ve started to achieve value proposition fit – meaning you have identified a unique customer segment and a solution to their identified problem – start working with the Customer Journey Canvas
  5. When you are moving beyond direct customer interviews into test mode, create your own dashboard or “tableau de bord” – a way to track non-financial metrics that drive key decisions in your growing business

That’s our round up. What do you think? Have you had different experiences implementing strategy tools? We’ll be adding and augmenting as we’re sure the concept of the strategy canvas continues to take hold, and we sketch and sticky note our way to a more adaptable future.

 

 

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