Why scoping helps move innovation projects forward

The scoping canvas is the best tool to help teams come up with a project briefing before beginning an innovation program.
Scoping canvas

No scope, no hope

We use a scoping canvas at the beginning of an innovation project in order to get on the same page — literally — about how broad or narrow a project is going to be and align these aims with the organizational goals. Scoping a project can either be used in situations wherein innovation managers have to pitch to higher management to get approval for an innovation process, or for teams to scope the playing field before embarking on a project. In this blog post, we look at how it’s used by innovation teams to figure out the knowns, the unknowns, and what they hope to discover.

Defining the size of the project and the specific demographics of the customer base will not only clearly set the direction the project is headed in, but also create a more realistic project outcome. The scoping tool prevents you from diving in head first with lofty goals that are out of reach, saving you time and money in the long run. During the scoping canvas exercise, we usually have the sponsor and core team there to make sure that everyone agrees on the task and that the project is on the right track.

Golden Rule #1 — The broader the challenge, the harder it is to come up with something very specific at the end of the road.

The purpose of scoping a project is ultimately to agree on the strategic intent of the project. Give all interested parties an overview of all the critical aspects of a project before it kicks off. Help them highlight and spot some of the problems they might face.

How it works

When our innovation consultants begin work with teams, we assign the scoping canvas as homework to fill out. The first thing to look at is the challenge you are undertaking. This can be in the form of a How Might We statement, a scope statement, or a specific strategic company directive that has been handed down to you. Then, it’s important to figure out why you are embarking on this particular challenge over another one, and why now specifically. The third step is to look at the target market you want to address, and figure out if it is too small/large for what you are attempting to tackle.

Problems we face

The clearer the scope, the higher the chances the program will be successful. It also means that resources will be used more efficiently. For example, if a company says: “We want to address Millennials”, we need to go back to the drawing board and help stakeholders understand that this generation is a very big group with diverse consumer behaviors.

Golden rule #2 — If you are trying to serve everyone, you will end up serving no one.

Managing expectations

This is a tough thing to get across. Often the perception is that limiting expectations is lowering the bar, but it’s not about lowering expectations, but rather about managing them. Make the target group smaller to achieve a better outcome.

Once you’ve understood this point, we first need to find out whether you have done any segmentation exercises to research the different Millennial subgroups such as the nest leavers — those who have just left home to pursue work or study — or the digital natives — those who are extremely adaptive when it comes to digital solutions. Knowing that Millennials can be segmented into different groups, the next question is “who are the people you want to serve first?” You also want to explore your early ideas about customer problems and pains, as well as determine what success will look like at the end of the road.

Problems we face

Because teams have a tendency to come back to us with very broad scoping canvases, we have to challenge them to make it more specific. Sometimes a company hasn’t done any segmentation research on a specific group so it’s hard to narrow down the group to any smaller than a vague category. This means that the scoping canvas will be centered around researching the group you want to serve, and spending more time on the empathy and define phases of the research stage.

Assessing the stakeholder challenge

How necessary is it to address this challenge? How urgent is it? Oftentimes, teams think they’re striving to make gains in the market share, but after asking them a couple of questions, it becomes apparent that their challenge is actually more about brand repositioning and re-building trust with the customer. So that’s when we, as innovation consultants, challenge them. Sure, more trust will lead to more customers in the long-term, but actually in the short-term what the company actually wants to see is how they can generate more trust and loyalty among the segment group. That’s where the challenge should start.

Looking at the current situation: the work of teams

The scoping canvas asks you to look at the state of things as they are now, meaning compiling the research you’ve done on your customer segment to date and determining your jumping off point: what you already know to be true, such as existing customer problems or pains that you are aware of. Moving on from that, you then want to look at any early assumptions you have about your customer to have a sense of what you will need to test and validate later on. This is where you write down your hunch about how your customers view things.

At this point, it is a good idea to consider any questions you might have about what you don’t know and that you want to explore as you go forward. Putting them down on paper at this early stage means recognizing your blind spots and, ultimately, fewer surprises and hold ups later on. There is also a section of the scoping canvas where you examine what sort of related initiatives and information there is available that pre-dates the project. Use this data as a resource to build upon so that you’re not starting from scratch.

Setting a tangible goal

Establish a measurable way to define your success. This might sound obvious, but for the overachievers and perfectionists who have to answer to their supervisors, this stage is important to get down in writing so that team members — and sponsors — can agree on the finish line. Knowing when they’ve reached their goal, or when it’s time to quit and move on to the next project, is an essential driver for motivation. It is also a clear indicator of progress along the way so that teams feel they’re working towards a common vision.

(Borrowed) Golden Rule #3 Rome wasn't built in a day

We’ve seen scoping canvases filled out in such a way that it is clear that teams want to do everything in a short period of time. They sometimes realize they are trying to tackle as many as seven challenges at once. Teams can often begin a project by biting off more than they can chew, forgetting that it’s a two-month project with a small team of people who can devote only two days a week to the challenge at hand.

Scoping canvas

The ultimate 1-page template to help your team align on the scope of your innovation project.

Final Tips:

  • The reason we do the scoping canvas and ask the sponsor to sign off on it is so that the scope won’t change. We have worked on projects where the scope started to change and teams became demotivated because what they had been working on suddenly became no longer important.
  • It can sometimes take a few attempts at filling out the scoping canvas before everyone’s on board and you’re ready to begin. If everyone is completely aligned on the mission, it should take about an hour to fill out.


I’m Yin Lei Zhang, Design Strategist @ Board of Innovation. Spreading innovation culture is in our DNA – if you liked the read, contribute to our mission by sharing this article.

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