TXI's approach to generating and evaluating product concepts
You’ve got a problem.
Maybe you've identified a pressing business need, a thorny customer issue, a complex technical challenge, or a valuable market opportunity. The point is, you have a problem worth addressing but don't yet have a crisp vision for the solution.
In our experience, the best place to get started involves assembling your personal advisory team — representing a diverse range of skills, expertise and backgrounds — to explore potential solutions from distinct angles. Try to find folks with relevant experience so that you can gather a nuanced understanding of the potential paths forward.
We recommend a small, targeted team that brings together:
Customer knowledge to provide visibility into potential desirability of possible solutions
Technical acumen to provide visibility into potential feasibility of possible solutions
Business context to provide visibility into potential viability of possible solutions
Competitor insight to provide visibility into potential utility of possible solutions
Shift focus from pain to possibility
Once you’ve assembled your collaborators, we find it’s useful to approach the problem you’re addressing as an opportunity for improvement. That might feel like a subtle distinction but it’s an important one. Reframing in this way enables you and your team to focus not just on alleviating a pain point (which is certainly a short-term priority) but also on the longer-term, bigger-picture benefits you can create for your customer and organization.
Successful reframes are open-ended, propel curiosity, and drive ideation. Reframes provide just enough direction to align on an outcome without being prescriptive about how we get there. And they open the door to exploration and innovation.
Pressure test your reframe by checking for the following elements:
Clarity: Do you have a simple and concise expression of the opportunity?
Customer focus: Have you identified who benefits from the change?
Positive skew: Are you working toward something aspirational?
Attainability: Is there a way to accomplish and measure the result?
Openness: Is there room for creativity in our potential path forward?
When you can answer yes to most (and ideally all) of the questions above, it’s time to get started.
Build alignment with a Product Concept Canvas
When exploring an opportunity, we strive to arrive at a shared understanding of the best path forward. In other words, our focus in the earliest stages of creating a new product, service, or offering is to generate alignment. We want to convey clearly and concisely what the idea is all about and how we plan to bring it to life.
We’ve found that a Product Concept Canvas is an invaluable resource for building exactly that sort of alignment. Our teams and our clients use the Canvas as a catalyst to help think about product concepts holistically and as a template to pull the foundational components together into a simple view.
What's more, the process of populating a Product Concept Canvas with your team sparks important conversations and forces some difficult trade-offs. And the resulting artifact (a thoughtfully populated template) enables you to have informed conversations with organizational leaders and decision makers about how your concept gets you closer to target outcomes.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Product Concept Canvas:
To give credit where it’s due, TXI’s Product Concept Canvas is inspired by Strategyzer AG’s Business Model Canvas. We think their original canvas is a great tool and we’re big fans of their framework overall. The adaptations we’ve made are informed by our own preferences and sensibilities for the best ways to conceive and advance digital product concepts.
In the same spirit that drove our remix of Stategyzer AG’s original, we invite you to adopt and adapt this document in the ways that best suit your purposes.
Get to know the component parts
When it comes to all aspects of the Product Concept Canvas, the goal is to convey the gist of things, not the details. While the details are certainly important, they’re most important later: after you’ve landed on a concept you’re excited about, after you’ve built organizational buy-in about what you’re going to do and why, after you’ve gotten the green light to move forward.
As to the specifics of the Canvas, here’s what’s involved in each section along with a few tips for how best to approach populating them:
When crafting a product vision, focus on articulating the product purpose, the specific customer need you’re addressing, your target audience, the business goal you're advancing, and the intended outcome you’re pursuing.
Get as narrowly defined and specific as you can. Focus on the common tasks, challenges, and “jobs” you can orient around enabling, solving, and streamlining. Look for ways of tapping into the motivations driving the behaviors of your core customer.
Strong value propositions strike a chord because they’re meaningful (they deliver something that matters); they’re different (they stand out from the crowd); and they’re targeted (they appeal to someone very specific, not everyone).
Focus on what you’re able to do that’s new, different, or fundamentally better. Surface the unique ways your product can meet customer needs, relieve pain, deliver on unexplored needs and / or out-deliver on existing needs.
Customer Acquisition Plan
Your concept is only viable if people are willing to use it. Outline the ways you’ll build awareness and engagement among your core customer segment. It’s fine if your short-term plan is to cross-sell existing customers, but do give thought to where new customers will come from.
There’s no benefit to pretending your concept is risk-free. Instead, lean into the process of identifying risks and then pair them with mitigation strategies. It’ll help everyone build confidence in your approach if you’re eyes-wide-open about what you’re up against.
Similarly, create an inventory of the things you believe to be true (or that need to be true) for your concept to become a successful reality. Validating the assumptions you outline here also becomes a key part of the work that follows, turning assumptions into proven facts.
Key Performance Indicators
Identifying success indicators at the very beginning of your journey is the best way to build guardrails and know when to pivot. Do your future self a favor and state what metrics you’re looking for in order to make date-informed decisions. Wherever possible, include leading indicators (things such as measures of awareness, consideration, initial adoption, etc.) as well as trailing indicators (conversion, engagement, renewal, etc.).
Take your best shot at quantifying what it’ll take to bring this concept into the world. Highlight both financial investments and operational investments. At this point, ballpark estimates are often sufficient. You’re not creating a budget or a staffing plan, you’re highlighting whether the investment is days vs. quarters, thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Revenue / Cost Savings
You can keep the revenue and / or cost savings you create fairly directional as well. At this stage it’s typically not feasible to build a solid, defensible business case. Instead, lay out what’s practical to expect (conservative) as well as what’s possible (a bit more optimistic). We tend to look closely at the ratio of ballpark investment to conservatively estimated revenue / savings.
Now that you’ve built out your Canvas you have (at least) two big things left to accomplish:
1. Getting approval to move forward with your concept
Depending on your organization, approval could involve a formal process, an informal hallway conversation, or something in between. Regardless, the document you’ve produced was structured intentionally to make this process as smooth as possible. You’ve got this!
2. Evaluating and validating your concept
It’s highly likely that several of the components in your Canvas are based on best guesses, beliefs, and incomplete information. That’s normal! But before jumping straight into realizing your concept, you’ll first want to stress-test the components you don’t have evidence to support.
The vectors to consider include:
Desirability (value proposition, customer acquisition tactics)
Utility (differentiators, key features)
Feasibility (technical effort / lift associated with core product)
Viability (business model, investment needed)
Safety (unintended consequences, product abuse potential)
Deciding on exactly which methods and tactics to leverage and how best to gather useful validation in light-weight ways is a meaty enough topic for a blog post of its own.
Curious about how your biggest challenges might point to your greatest opportunities? Let’s start a conversation.
Published by Patrick DiMichele , Gayle Silverman