Hypothesis A3 Canvas

I’m a big fan of using A3 canvas and have used them with my clients for a long time. Over the past couple of years I’ve used hypothesis canvases with great results so this a quick guide to what they are and how to use them. My version is tweaked to a digital delivery bais but you can still use it to capture most ideas. Download it here

Where did A3 come from?

A3 canvas originated like some many good lean practices from Toyota. Originally used to look at manufacturing process and how to improve them using Deming’s PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act). Not to state the obvious but its called A3 after the ISO A3 size paper they were printed on. Since then they have been updated/bastardized for various uses. This is my take on a Hypothesis Canvas.

Why use A3?

Using A3 is great as its very lightweight and easy to implement with little overhead or training. But the structure of the canvas allows powerful ideas to be captured very quickly in low-level detail which then get refined or simply discarded with little effort wasted in contrast to producing slides or documentation. It’s also very visible so it promotes discussion and interaction. Finally, there isn’t any scale on ideas – your idea could be for a brand new product/service costing $m or a simple change to a custom workflow. They all follow the same process; find the problem, think how to solve it, decide what good looks like.

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 19.32.38

How to use it?

Step 1 – Print it out in A3. May seem obvious but have seen people jump straight into digital versions and that misses the interactions and personal learnings that A3 brings to the party.

Step 2 – Now you have it printed out have a go at filling it in! You have 7 sections to populate, each section focusing on a different aspect of your hypothesis. The idea is to start with a few words in each just to get something down on paper. As with any form or writing, the first few words are the hardest to get out – so don’t overthink it too much. After all, there is no such thing as a bad idea!

Step 3 – Read it. Even better read it out loud to yourself. If you don’t understand what you’ve written down then no one else will.

Step 4 – Share it. Take your bit of A3 paper and wander around the office getting feedback on it. Having something tangible you can show people is far better than penning something on email. Any feedback you get just write it on the canvas. These are living documents.

Step 5 – Refine. Now you’ve sounded your idea and got some feedback you can refine as necessary. Maybe you need to get some more detail on the costings or check out some customer research figures. At this stage there is no harm in populating a digital copy of your canvas – just make sure you print it out again afterward. Taking a canvas with multicolored biro and coffee stains to a CEO might not be the best idea.

Step 6 – Do it. You’ve got your idea, refined it a bit, now give it a go. What is the worse that can happen! Remember not to get carried away and stay in scope, your metrics will help you do this.

The headings explained in more detail:

Problem – May seem obvious but seen companies launch $m projects without actually understanding what problem they are trying to address. Write it down, make it clear and share it.

Solution – You don’t provide a full detailed technical solution here, that will come later. Just a ballpark thought on how to solve the problem. Depending on the scale of your hypothesis this could be as broad as ‘produce website for customer to buy our service’

Metrics – This is key. What does ‘good’ look like and how can we measure it? You need to know as early as possible how to tell if things are going how you thought they would.

Who will test it– Often overlooked using other methodologies. Is this something you can test yourself? do you need people from other areas of the business? or do you need to go and recruit some potential customers? Think about this early as no point producing a prototype in a week if it takes 6 weeks to setup customer research sessions.

How will we prove/disprove this – Can you test your hypothesis using a paper prototype or a simple online survey. Or do you need to launch a beta site or get some mock products manufactured? It’s an idea of the magnitude of effort and therefore the timescale before you can get some proper feedback.

Costs – You need to think about how much this is idea is going to cost to test. It doesn’t even have to be in $, it could be as simple as just writing 5 developer days. You are always more likely to sign off on new work if you have thought about the costings – companies don’t have endless budgets.

Revenue/Savings – What benefit is your idea offering the company. Will this increase sales by 10% or create a 50% efficiency allowing you to redistribute half your staff. This is important as you can use this field for prioritizing the work, especially when using WSJF (Weighted Shortest Job First) or any other scale that looks at a cost benefit.

How to track multiple hypothesis canvases

Using hypothesis canvases at scale is where it brings the most benefit. Below is one of my team’s hypothesis board. The ideas came from the entire agile team – not just the BAs. Please don’t assume that is just analyst work as you’ll miss out on a large chunk of creative thinking from other team members.

You can just manage the ideas like you would a normal Kanban board. Depending how you are approaching the work you can assign WIP limits to increase the flow.


How long do they last for?

You don’t want these sticking around for a long time as there is tangible value in the idea unless it’s been proved/disproved. These should be short term bits of work that then feed into your team’s backlogs to deliver the value.

But surely I need more robust documentation?

No, you don’t. Who better to think of ideas than the feature team who works with the systems every day. As long as the ideas have been played back and are understood by the whole team why do you need more documentation – who will that benefit? Documentation offers little value, working software/products live are what delivers value and in turn revenue.

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 19.07.35

If you have any questions or want to share your own experience using A3 let me know in the comments below.

Download A3 Hypothesis Canvas

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