Maximise your return on investment with the software development planning canvas

Famous philosopher, writer and inventor, Benjamin Franklin once said: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” This statement is especially true when leading a software development project where you have to juggle various aspects of the software development process. We have adapted principles from The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen to preempt and mitigate some of the risks (value risk, usability risk, technical feasibility risk, and business viability risk) of software development as early as possible. The software development planning canvas is a great starting point to validate what is the right product to build before spending time and resources on building the wrong product. You should, however, be mindful of the fact that with software development you should rarely plan too far ahead as your development plan is bound to change. 

The software development planning canvas is a way of visualising the plan for your software product to focus on where there is an opportunity in the market and match your value proposition to where there is opportunity. The canvas is divided into four sections, each building up to features to deliver a value proposition that fulfils the need of your target market. Each section of the canvas should be filled out to get the big picture of what to focus on with your software product. Our tried and tested approach is to gather in small teams consisting of all key stakeholders and spend enough time working through and exploring the questions and answers in this canvas. Let’s look at the four components of the planning canvas:

1. Target customers

Describing your target customers in terms of demographic, psychographic, behavioural and any other relevant detail is the foundation for your software to be successful. Not having a lot of detail at hand is a clear indication that you need to get out there and speak to target customers. You need a clear and concrete idea of whom your product will serve. Having this information handy also serves to align your team. Keep in mind whether your target customers are consumers, businesses or your own employees and ensure you understand all important stakeholders.

2. Underserved needs

Finding underserved needs entails asking what the needs of your target customers are and ensuring these needs are both important and are not satisfied currently. You need to know so much detail about these needs that you start feeling as if you have the need yourself.

3. Value proposition 

Your value proposition should articulate what needs your product will address and how it will be significantly better than alternatives. A big part of your value proposition is to be clear about what you will not do, in other words, what you will say “no” to. As Olsen explains: “It can be difficult for some people to say, “No, our product won’t solve that problem”—but that is the essence of strategy. It is important to base these decisions on the underserved needs of your target customers.

4. Features 

Your first feature set should not be delivering on your entire value proposition. Remember that you want to get something in the hands of your target customers as quickly as possible so that you validate your assumptions. Having said that, you are now in the solution space. You need to ensure that everything you do from here on is still connected to the problem space while still thinking divergently before converging on the feature set for your first version of the product.

We encourage you to use the software development planning canvas before you enter into app development or software product development. It’s the ideal tool to reduce the risk of building the wrong product. Once you’ve completed the canvas, we would gladly assist with the process of developing a concept design that outlines the technological, functional, and aesthetic form of the end product. 

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