The Lean Canvas for Internal Projects
How can we use the Lean Canvas if the primary goal is not to earn money, but instead to deliver an internal project? In other words, how can we adapt the Lean Canvas for internal projects?
We find that many internal project teams tend to have difficulty at first translating the language of the Lean Canvas into ideas they are familiar with. Concepts such as Channels, Customers and Products are seen as the domain of product development and marketing. Instead project teams typically think in terms of projects, benefits and outcomes (ironically with the end-user often an afterthought).
It’s no wonder these teams frequently struggle to ‘push’ solutions out to employees. Wouldn’t it be great if internal customers eagerly ‘pulled’ new solutions, and implemented them themselves, as they would with a new product or service they purchased in their personal life?
Well fortunately, they can, because with just a few tweaks the Lean Canvas can be adapted to make it easy to use for internal project teams.
In some cases, we’ll rename some of the boxes on the canvas, but simply asking yourself a handful of different questions can make the existing language make more sense.
Many internal project teams trivialise this box and assume they’ll just communicate the value proposition to internal customers via email. Email of course is a valid channel, but in a world where we want our internal customers to LOVE our solution, there’s an option to think more creatively and use alternative approaches, adapted from commercial ventures.
Here are some real examples we’ve seen used that take a steer from the commercial world and use alternative delivery channels to deliver their value proposition:
- Where a commercial venture might use direct mail, an internal project could adapt this and perform desk drops of leaflets and other materials.
- Where a commercial venture (I’m specifically thinking of Apple here) might have a ‘genius bar’, an internal project might have a drop-in clinic in the canteen.
- Where a commercial venture might use seminars, an internal project might run ‘lunch & learn’ sessions.
- Where a commercial venture might run a radio campaign, and internal project could create ‘drivetime’ podcasts.
The Customer Segments box stays as Customer Segments, but but here you’ll be identifying your internal customer segments. Learning to think of employees as customers and the project team as suppliers or vendors is an important mindset shift. Formalising a vendor-customer relationship puts the internal customer at the heart of everything the team does and focusses minds on fulfilling customer wants and needs and secondarily driving ‘buyer’ behaviours such as network and referral behaviours. All core to driving the ‘pull’ behaviour we desire.
Revenue Streams becomes Value Created
We find that often internal project teams skip this box: “we’re not going to charge anyone for it!”. But that entirely misses the point. This box is the Lean Canvas equivalent of the benefits and outcomes statements in a traditional project plan.
For this box, ask yourself, what is the positive impact on the business? Then attempt to quantify that benefit in monetary terms. If you’re not sure, make your best guess at first.
It’s important to get this quantified in monetary terms to enable a cost-benefit validation test to be performed.
When you come to run your hypothesis tests to validate your business model, your assumptions around Value Created will likely be one of the first, if not the first assumption you’ll want to test.
Cost Structure becomes Cost Structure / Budget
Cost Structure may be exactly the same for an internal project vs a externally-facing project. There may still be fixed and variable costs and unit economics at play. But more often than not, for an internal project, you are working to a prescribed budget. If that’s the case, then simply enter the project budget in the box.
Unfair Advantage becomes Buy-In / Support
In a start-up we ask what is the unfair advantage we have that enables us to see off the competition. For an internal project, the question is less about getting an unfair advantage, rather avoiding an unfair disadvantage.
For every innovation project, if the project is genuinely innovative, there will be someone who will feel threatened by your initiative. (We’d actually go so far as to argue that if no-one is threatened by your idea, then you’re probably not being innovative enough!)
Ask yourself these questions:
- Who do you need buy-in and support from?
- Who could block you?
Challenges to innovation projects often come from internal functions (or gatekeepers) such as:
- Legal & Compliance
- IT & InfoSec
And so on.
But apart from the gatekeepers, think more widely. Are there key influencers in the customer segments you should engage?
- Team leaders?
- Subject-matter experts?
- Union reps?
And which jobs might be impacted by our project?
- Might anyone think they could lose their job?
- Might anyone not want to retrain with new skills?
- Might anyone think their internal power-base will be eroded?
As you can see, adapting the Lean Canvas for internal projects is rather straightforward. Not only that, it gives you – the intrapreneur – a powerful way to both communicate with management and plan your innovation project to deliver a new solution that will delight your internal customer.