An Idea Canvas to Help Manage Your Innovation Funnel


Author Eric Braun at a 2019 InnoLead gathering at MIT.

The fuel of an innovation pipeline is ideas. Most organizations have one or more ways of collecting ideas, which then feed into a “prioritization funnel.” That’s simply another way of saying a big list of ideas is filtered down to a smaller, more manageable list.

It’s a simple concept, but a prioritization process can be highly complex, especially when the organization is very large and matrixed or when the idea pool is very large and representative of multiple areas. 

Without a good prioritization process, it’s very hard for an innovation effort to achieve any kind of successful outcomes. That’s why I created this Idea Canvas, based on my experience as an entrepreneur, corporate innovation professional in retail and software companies, “Shark Tank” judge, and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship.

Who Owns the Idea? 

Some organizations consider the person who submits an idea as the owner. This can be challenging, because they may not have time to own it, or they may not know what it means to own it. Owning an idea means acting like a product manager for the idea. I prefer that someone from the innovation team act as the owner of each idea. That product manager should iteratively learn with the subject matter experts, including the person who submitted the idea. 

Prioritization of Ideas 

How do you determine the priority of an idea? Ideally, you want that to be based on the value of the idea, so the prioritization process needs to include the right information to be able to effectively evaluate the pool of ideas.

Iterative Experimentation 

A recent poll I took on LinkedIn shows the far majority of people voting for “Iterative Experimentation” as the best foundation for innovation. If that’s the case, evaluating and prioritizing ideas should be based on some sort of scientific data and process. That’s the information that belongs on your idea canvas. 

A Corporate Idea Canvas 

I keep startup tools in mind when I’m working on corporate innovation. The culture of a startup is similar in many ways to the culture of an innovation team within an ambidextrous organization. Even if ambidexterity is not the full culture, innovation initiatives can benefit from utilizing the tools of startups, tools like the Business Model Canvas from Alexander Osterwalder. 

To assist me and my teams, I’ve adapted the Osterwalder canvas to better fit our needs in the corporate world. With input from some of my team members of the past, I’ve modified the template to allow us to follow a high-level scientific process when evaluating ideas and then use the criteria from the Idea Canvas when testing or validating that idea. We use the canvas as a control sheet of what we thought before experimentation, so we can confirm it or change it and pivot. The template is available at the end of this article, in case it can help you and your organization as well. There are a few important guidelines for using the canvas: 

  1. Keep the information short, simple and concise. Do not shrink the font size to cram in too much info. Rather, rethink and reword your statements for simplicity and clarity.
  2. Fill out the complete canvas for better comparisons across ideas. 
  3. Be consistent in how you fill out the canvases, so your decisions are more consistent.

You can download the Idea Canvas in PowerPoint form at the bottom of this page. More InnoLead resources like this can be found in our Template & Document library.

Here are the components of the canvas, after Idea Name and Status: 

1. Problem Statement 

If you’re not solving a real problem for people or helping them achieve a desired gain, your idea might not get the traction you desire. People respond better to ideas that will help them. Be sure you clearly outline the problem you are solving (or desired gain you are offering), but don’t talk about the solution here. This will keep you on track.

2. Elevator Pitch 

This is the short one-to-two sentences that state how you help people, and how you solve the problem above. It should be able to be delivered in 20 seconds or less in order to keep the team focused on what really matters. 

3. Value Proposition / Return on Investment

The Value Proposition should follow the Business Model Canvas approach to connecting the alignment of your solution with the customer’s jobs-to-be-done. It’s a great idea to do this exercise with each idea you think has legs and then apply the high level quantifiable value here on the canvas. If the solution should shorten the time to do an important task, that’s good, but if you think it can shorten the time by 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent – that’s great! Quantifiable values are measurable and help you vet your idea. If you can translate the value into dollars, that’s a bonus. Then, put the high-level ROI here, too. 

4. Hypotheses 

Once you move forward with experimentation of the idea, you need to know what to test. Put at least 1 key measurable hypothesis here, so when you test, you know if you’re done and if there’s success. 

5. Critical Success Factors 

CSFs should correspond to the hypotheses. As you test and measure, you know if there’s success based on this. For example, 30 percent time savings might be good, but you might need 50 percent time savings in order to cost justify implementing the idea.

6. Scenario / Workflow 

This section should outline a high-level use case scenario or workflow process that the solution fits into. This will help you identify how to test the idea, and it will help you compare ideas that are related to similar use cases or processes. 

7. Benefits Categories 

This quick check box allows you to compare value across ideas and think about why anyone might be interested in the solution. 

8. Beachhead Market Characteristics 

For any idea, it’s important to think about the first, small, manageable implementation of the idea or solution. Thinking big is good but not for your first step. Define the beachhead market in a way that everyone in your company easily knows what it is. It might be geographically located or not. 

9. Studio Team Lead & Key Contacts 

Put the key contacts here. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories of how this might have helped you. Post a comment below, or connect on LinkedIn to start a conversation. Thanks!


Eric Braun has been leading corporate innovation and startup teams for more than 25 years. Most recently, he led a retail innovation team at Retail Business Services working across the continuum, from discovery and exploration through delivery and scale-up. Prior to his role at RBS, he created and led a FinTech innovation team at the software company Intralinks, where his team experimented with AI and data science techniques for improving and extending the company’s product offerings. Braun is currently consulting on team creation and transformation, innovation strategy, positioning for growth, and customer development.  

(Featured image by Luke Michael on Unsplash.)

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