In your typical design-thinking workshop, an organization gathers bright minds from design-adjacent fields to tackle complex problems.
The Continuity Canvas is a tool for continuing work and checking in after design sprints
By Marcelino Alvarez, Chief Product Officer, Fresh Consulting
Over days or hours, hundreds of Post-Its are sacrificed, ideas are generated, business plans proposed, prototypes created, and, occasionally, concepts are even validated with potential users. A few weeks later, many of those ideas are forgotten, stymied by a lack of momentum or a clear next step.
This is an epidemic on a grand scale. Hundreds of thousands of hours spent brainstorming and planning are wasted, and countless frustrated individuals wind up disillusioned, dissuaded from participating in another event. The sunk cost of those resource hours is probably equivalent to the GDP of a small nation. Big dreams get rusty fast.
Taking Our Own Medicine
Fresh is an integrated consulting team of designers, developers, and engineers that builds fresh experiences people love. Powered by our design-led innovation process we deliver end-to-end experiences to help businesses grow. Fresh acquired Uncorked Studios in November 2019. Our employees are accustomed to working cross-functionally on high-level system design, as well as graphic, visual, and interaction design.
That being said, we still occasionally fall down when it comes to taking the momentum from a focused block of collaboration time and translating it into heads-down work. But why, we asked, is it a challenge to create this sort of continuity?
We started with the tools. After all, according to John M Culkin, a media scholar, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Design-thinking tools are hyper tuned to the workshop format. Consultancies and design firms promote the power of Post-Its and Sharpies. But when it comes to translating to individual tasks, this is an outdated way of working. The intent behind these tools is to promote velocity, but we already live in an acceleration-obsessed society. Without continuous support after the initial adrenaline rush, ideas fade as fast as they arrived.
A Cure for Early Stage Idea Asphyxiation
Workshops beget design sprints, which beget prototypes, which beget proofs-of-concept. But then what? If it takes a project several weeks to go from one phase to the next, the momentum is gone.
There are few tools that connect these phases, and even fewer helping their output make use of the power the ultimate user community can provide: everything from user validation to customer testing to mentorship to advocacy to funding. As our collective efforts mutate into “what’s next?”, we’ve designed a tool we think can help identify how to continue beyond the workshop. It’s designed to encourage idea holders to solidify their concept’s audience, stakeholders, and beneficiaries and better understand how they can maintain the momentum.
We believe this tool can help the top ideas emerging from these events to find a potential home, further validate their hypotheses, or connect people working on the project to individuals and organizations who have already been thinking about a particular problem and its possible solutions. In addition, we believe this tool can increase the likelihood of success for fledgling ideas, and improve the odds for those seeking to generate traction and create meaningful change. We’re calling it the Continuity Canvas, and we’d be honored if you’d take it for a spin.
Use As Directed
Start in the center with the Problem Statement. What’s the problem your team is trying to solve? This might be the prompt from the workshop or hackathon, or it might be the business problem your group is tasked with solving.
Next up is the Product Concept. Describe the product or business solution you are proposing. Is it a platform, a mobile app, or a service? What does it allow its users to accomplish? How does it address the problem statement? Why Now? What is unique about this moment in time? (This was inspired by an excellent blog post titled “It’s okay that your startup doesn’t have a communications strategy” by Ashley Mayer from Social Capital). Is it a new technology that has made it easier to solve a previously unsolvable problem? Is it a shift in public policy or a regulation? How Do We Know We’ve Solved It? This is what we’re working towards. How do you measure it along the way?
Next, move towards the left-hand column. Whose Needs are Being Met by this problem? For example, is it a consumer, an age group, or an under-represented portion of the population? Who is Mutually Benefiting? This might be a source of potential sponsors, advocates, or subject matter experts. Who is Paying? Note that it might be the same or different from the two questions above. How Are We Making Money? Describe the business model. Is it a non-profit, a service model, or a product that you sell? Are you applying for grants? Raising money? Bootstrapping?
Next, move on to the right-hand column. Who are potential Mentors for this product? Think of people who have looked at this problem statement before. They could come from a variety of sectors, from the public to the private. Focus the initial search within your community. Who are people that might offer insight or other connections over a cup of coffee?
Some individuals have been blessed with a combination of a great network and a sense of altruism and purpose behind making sure that all the nodes are connected. These are Connectors, and they are vital components of a healthy startup ecosystem. These individuals might not be able to help with the immediate needs you have, but they likely know someone who might. Give them a hat tip and pay it forward. Be willing to make an intro or take a coffee with someone someday.
Advocates are a more focused, high-touch form of a connector. They might be able to unlock a powerful ally by not just making the intro, but also by vouching for you and your team, or maybe even by taking part in some of the conversations. They might be a subject matter expert in the area your idea is focused in, or someone who is generally interested in advocating for folks who are just getting started out. They might one day make a great member of your board.
Tools help you maintain traction. How will you stay in touch? Will you set up a new Slack account or use your own? How often will you communicate? Weekly stand-ups via Hangouts? Many ideas fail to gain traction after an event because there’s no agreed-upon way to stay in touch.
We’ve borrowed from the idea of tear-away posters on telephone poles and in coffee shops to help guide your conversations with folks you meet along the way. The intent is that the top portion stays relatively the same, but that you customize the bottom part into two pieces for people who help provide continuity: Your ask to the helper, formulated as a Call-to-Action. And a counter-signed piece, which they’ll take with them, What Am I Doing? This is designed to be a soft commitment to how that individual will help out, from mentoring to connecting to advocating for your concept.
Canvas in Action: Some Side Effects
Late last year, the Tech Association of Oregon (TAO) was looking to advise its members on innovative business models. What new approaches to structuring our businesses were out there? What were the pros and cons of each? Who might be able to build a more structured approach to not just the TAO’s own organization, but its members’ organizations? The topic was large and had many potential discussion areas where the group could get waylaid and energy could wane.
The Continuity Canvas was a great tool to keep our working group focused on the problem. After an introductory session, we filled out the canvas. The group was able to clear up roles and responsibilities over a series of asynchronous work sessions and subsequent conference calls and then presented it back to the organization. Insights from the canvas helped inform House Bill 2395, an IoT Security Law passed by Oregon in the summer of 2019.
As designers and people who love making things, we’re eternally optimistic, and dive into the novelty of a problem with full enthusiasm. But we know not all concepts born at a hackathon are destined to become a product, or a company worthy of investment. The experience of participating is often a motivator enough. But as more and more organizations rely on the workshop and the hackathon as a proxy (or starting point) for innovation, the Continuity Canvas might help maintain momentum beyond the initial surge of shared creative adrenaline.
The Continuity Canvas helps maintain momentum on concepts by encouraging community validation and insight.
From Design Museum Magazine Issue 014
The Prescription: Early Precursors
We designed the canvas to integrate with our favorite, most effective design thinking tools, but it also works by itself. If you’re using this as part of a longer workshop or engagement, certain activities function well as precursors to the Continuity Canvas. Shout out to their various creators: thank you.
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