Communicating Business Development with the Lean Canvas

Communicating Business Development with the Lean Canvas

Lean is Business Development

Most people are familiar with Lean because of Toyota Manufacturing; this concept of eliminating waste, increasing efficiency and improving profits was revolutionary in the business world.  Move forward in time and Eric Ries made popular the principles of Lean by applying them to starting a business.  This idea around the high failure rates of Startups and making the active decision that if you’re going to fail, to do it quickly and to do it at a low cost.  Don’t build without validating your ideas.  Don’t build without building for your customer.  This idea shouldn’t apply only to startups but is often lost in corporate business development.  It shouldn’t stop when you’re done starting up; nor is Lean only for manufacturing. Saving money, eliminating waste and doing better should be for everyone but how do you make it work for your company?

The goal of Lean

Forbes quotes the Grand Unified Theory of business development description of Business Development:

“Business development is the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships”

This is the end goal of Lean for manufacturing, Lean for Startups and the driving force behind the Lean Canvas. While Lean sounds great in theory, it can be difficult to implement.  The Harvard Business Review talked about the struggle of implementing Lean in  “knowledge work” industries.  

It can be challenging to apply Lean in areas where work is not repetitive — like it is in manufacturing.  In industries with repetitive work, it can be easier to spot the inefficiencies, make some changes, test and try again.  

In knowledge work, however, the tasks are dependent on the workers doing them.  These processes can vary greatly from individual to individual. The tasks become more unpredictable and often result on their own inconsistencies. This often leaves us wondering:

How do you streamline innovation and the development of ideas when each team in your company works so differently?

Beyond Lean Startup: Lean in Healthcare

As a former Registered Nurse, I’ve seen a few hospitals attempt to implement Lean strategies.  Lean Six Sigma is the Lean concept most frequently seen in healthcare — using an emphasis on prevention of problems through process. In fact, every day I came in for a shift, something in the environment was different.  On one day, all the supplies in a room would be moved to all new spots.  The next day, there would be no supplies in the room at all.  The third day? All the items in the room would have spots marked with tape so we would know where the supply cart should sit.  While this is a great example of “testing,” it was often found that these changes happened inconsistently, without communication, and at random.  No one I ever spoke to knew where management was getting their feedback from on what worked or what didn’t.  It was a flop and often made us more inefficient and even frustrated.  While I’d love to give the organization a high-five for their effort, the department was very quickly met with quitting staff.  Employees didn’t feel as if management understood them or included them — compounded by the sensation of inconsistent leadership means trouble brewing.

Lean requires clear communication

Communication is a fundamental element to Lean; your team has to buy in for the ideas to be effective and in order to have repeatable, predictable results.  Your team will have to understand the purpose behind the implementation — giving your team the ‘why’ of doing makes the doing more palatable and less dictated.  

With Leantime, we’ve included a Lean canvas to help validate, test, and manage (communicate) your business development ideas from start to finish.  Monitor and track your innovative ideas and test them with your customers.  The Lean Canvas doesn’t stop at Startups.  The Lean Canvas works as a great product development model and business development model.

Using the Lean Canvas & Simple Canvas in Leantime

Lean Canvas / Research Board in Leantime

Within Leantime, there are currently two versions of this — a simple and the standard version. In the simple, we ask three questions: Who are the Customers, What is the Problem, and What is the Solution?

These concepts tie directly into discovering Product Market(s) fit and by keeping them with your tasks, it becomes a quick way to communicate purpose to the team.

The important thing here is to not limit your approach to products and market. This is a great way to represent even internal implementations and to communicate them.

Using Lean to improve Communication, Business Development and Remote Work

2020-2022 really revamped how we encourage change in the work environment and how we develop our companies. In fact, there are studies supporting the idea that time spent innovating is decreasing (despite productivity increasing). Add into this: studies show that employee engagement is dropping year after year.

Business development should not be limited to just task management by your teams; engaged employees have a good grasp on the why, the how, the what and feel empowered through the implementation.

When you make these things clear and accessible, then you’re not just doing business development on paper but growing and supporting the businesses’ future.


How do you use the Lean Canvas in your business?

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— This is an older article and has been recently updated as of 11/21/2022. Original publication date was March 13th, 2018.

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