The “Project Canvas” goes back to the “Business Model Canvas” of Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. From a methodological perspective, every “canvas” is based on two concepts that go back even further: “visual templates” and “management frameworks.” Architects and designers had already begun in the middle of the last century to prepare “pattern cards” and “tracing paper” to visualize the demands of their customers. Since the 1990s, accompanying processes visually (visual facilitation) was also well-known in Europe. Breaking down a complex context into its components and assigning the corresponding contents to such bins is exactly what graphic templates and management frameworks have in common.
A “Project Canvas” does nothing else: it parses a complex context – namely a project – into its fundamental constituents. Nonetheless, it is only by connecting the framework with a visual process that a novel tool emerges.
So the Project Canvas is a visual tool for customer-oriented project design. It illustrates all the themes which must be considered before a challenging project. The instrument facilitates dialogue between project customers and project makers. It is especially helpful for interdisciplinary groups that want to win a common understanding of a challenging project.
When people ask us, “why actually use the Project Canvas?” our answer is, “it serves above all as an invitation to talk.”And that's true. More than anything else, the Project Canvas is an aid, some even say it's “an excuse,” to break out of the daily routine and have better conversations.
The Project Canvas allows us to interact differently than we are used to with colleagues, customers, and supervisors, and it allows us to ask questions that all too often remain unasked.
Nonetheless Project Canvas is no “cookbook“; it gives no strict instructions. It is only lightly structured and offers every team enough room to find its own way. This is an ingredient of the “magic“: if people use the Project Canvas, they enquire, discover, and develop a common understanding of their upcoming project.
In order to facilitate the exchange of opinions and information in a diverse group of people, the Project Canvas must be based on a common understanding of projects, one that crosses boundaries of discipline and experience. The metaphor of the “Project Journey” achieves this.
The Project Canvas is as simple as possible to build up. It contains the bare necessities, namely the most important building blocks of a project and their connections.
Open questions facilitate the dialogue between project actors. The questions were tested and improved in hundreds of projects. True to the motto “as much as necessary, as little as possible,” the 42 questions are suitable for designing every project.
In order to further a dialogue that crosses boundaries of expertise and experience, the terms and formulations used in the canvas must be “common to all” in the best sense. Thus we carried out tests with hundreds of people from different backgrounds and winnowed out ambiguous terms or those that required explanations.
Despite the simple structure and the natural language, the Project Canvas is arranged so that it is in line with the standards of project management. With the Project Canvas, therefore, the results achieved can be directly integrated into subsequent project documents such as Project Charter or the like.
An increasing number of projects are being carried out using agile or combining agile and traditional practices. The Project Canvas is in its design, language, and structure open and combinable with all these approaches. It can be used in agile scenarios as well as in phase-oriented process models.
The Project Canvas is an invitation to a conversation. To help this conversation be especially fruitful, we have developed and tested various dialogue formats. They move beyond filling in forms and are suitable for various scenarios.
We welcome every single member of this family. Every “Project Canvas” – however it is designed and thought through – is at least one thing: an invitation to talk. And with that, it is a chance to design projects better!