Canvases and Conversations: Clarify The Context For Discovery

This is part two of the four part series on Canvases and Conversations. in Part One — Key Ingredients To A Shared Vision, we talked about the importance of conversations in realizing a common understanding when completing various canvases.

The three major phases reaching that shared vision are:

  1. Clarify the Context for Discovery
  2. Define the Business or Solution Canvas
  3. Outline the Strategy and Value Proposition

In this instalment we will outline the approach to be taken in clarifying the business problem and defining the outcomes to be realized.

When the business identifies a problem or opportunity to be addressed, the first activity is to clarify the scope of planning initiative to be undertaken. Through facilitated conversation with the sponsor identify:

  • What area of the business is to be considered with the scope to be studied?
  • What general business objectives are to be realized within the business context.
  • What general business drivers have triggered the need for the change or are seen as effecting the future of the businesses?
  • What are desired outcomes to be realized from the enhanced operation?
  • What are the outputs expected from the planning work to help guide the business to realized the sought after outcomes.

With the scope of the study clarified, an “Initiative Outline” can be prepared that defines a series of workshops and material reviews which will guide leadership through a process to clearly described “what” is needed (discussed in part 3) and “how” to get there (discussed in part 4). The “Initiative Outline” and its development process will be presented in a future post.

Within the framework of the “Initiative Outline”, work with the leadership team to confirm and clarify:

  • What is the ultimate outcome that is being sought by the clients of the business? This was drafted within the “Initiative Outline” created with the sponsor and is confirmed here with the full leadership team.
  • A shared understanding of the intermediate outcomes required to allow the client to realize their ultimate outcome. These may be changes in knowledge, skills, processes, behaviours, to lead to the desired results.
  • What outputs will be required from the business / solution in order to reach the intermediate outcomes?
  • What functions will need to exist within the business / solution to create the needed outputs?

Throughout this facilitated process, the details presented are “talked through” to ensure that the correct linkages exist between functions, outputs, outcomes, and clients.

So what are outcomes versus outputs? Outputs are what we produce (e.g. a secure home) so that the family can realize the intermediate outcome (e.g. protection from the elements) so eventually all family members can realize the ultimate outcome (e.g. thrive, survive and contribute to society). If contribution to society is the ultimate desired outcome, a safe environment to live is one of the intermediate outcomes needed and the house is an output needed to support that. In most cases it will take multiple outputs to produce an intermediate outcome, and multiple intermediate outcomes to produce the results chain needed to realize an ultimate outcome. Through the results chain discussion (to be elaborated in a future post) the group identifies the metrics and targets to measure the progress towards outcomes.

As this facilitated conversation unfolds, there is a continual dialogue to ensure all participants have the same understanding of the outcomes, required outputs, business processes , and refining the definition of the planning initiative to ensure adequate scope of discussion.

This context work confirms the businesses’ “why”. In Part 3 Define the Business or Solution Canvas we will outline “what” needs to be done and then in Part 4 Outline the Strategy and Value Proposition” clarify “how” the business can reach the future vision and understanding of what must be done.

By John Rogers, Business Planning Guide,

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