The Challenge Canvas

This is a blog post about our Challenge Canvas and why it is useful to use it when you start an innovative project.

Why a Challenge Canvas?

TLDR: because it is quite difficult to formulate your challenges properly when you start an innovative project.

Our mission is to make life easier for our customers (the citizens of our country) by using innovative ways of working and applying the latest technology. Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile techniques are used to find solutions for the challenges our customers experience.

In the two years that we have existed, and with quite some experience gained in the meantime, we discover that coming up with good, innovative solutions to a problem is not at all the most difficult part of our work ... The main challenge lies mainly in the very precise and workable definition of the problem that requires a solution. A good problem definition is clear and specific, offers solutions for an actual experienced problem, of which it is likely that it can be solved in an innovative way.

Whoever asks managers (or other customers) to deliver problems that need to be solved, will usually receive an answer along the lines of:

Solve [overdue problem with low urgency],
with [the latest technology trend].

Or, in an example:

“Can you solve the large amount of mistakes that people make when they fill in form Y to sign up for Z by using AI?

Well, as an innovator you want to get excited about that ... The question is whether that is justified !? Let's take a good look at it, and find out why we at least think that a good Challenge should not be formulated in this way.

"Can you make the large amount of mistakes that people make ..."

Normally an improvement project starts with the question, "By what percentage do you want to reduce making mistakes?" Innovators know that this is a stupid question. - NO mistakes - here is of course the big hairy goal (BHAG - big hairy audacious goal). The question to be asked here is "Why?" Why do we want to reduce the number of errors? Do we do that to improve the customer experience? To prevent work having to be restarted? To reduce costs? Or just because the boss asked for it ...?

As you can see, asking the why question can make it much clearer what exactly it started. If, as in this case, it is "reducing the number of times work has to be renewed and saving costs", the new Challenge becomes: "Can the number of times that work has to be renewed and the level of costs in the registration process for Z are reduced by using AI? ". Addressed in this way, innovation becomes much easier and there is much more room for researching various possible solutions. This makes the improvement goal much clearer, more measurable and easier to define.

If we look again at the example above, something else is noticeable, namely that the question is formulated closed (only to be answered with "yes" or "no"): "Could you do this or that ...?". The big challenge is to formulate your questions in such a way that you are challenged to NOT immediately start thinking in terms of solutions. Challenges become much clearer when they are formulated as an open question, and the best way to do that is by simply asking: "How can we ...?".

"... if they fill in form Y to sign up for Z ..."

This, of course, seems harmless, but in fact it is not. In this way it is assumed that form Y must be part of the solution. This implicitly implies a certain design choice, even before the innovation process starts. You don't want to deprive yourself of the opportunity to walk all kinds of other great innovative ways, do you? Why should it be obvious that form Y is used to sign up for Z? It could also be solved with Alexa or Google Voice ...

"... solving by using AI"

No, now we have really started innovating ...! "Why this is an innovative project?" "Well, we use AI anyway?" ... As if a plate of spaghetti with a layer of sweet icing over it is a cake ... ?! Why? Well, it's glazed or not ...?

Here too, asking the why question is essential. Why would they like to use AI?
The most likely answer to this question is that it is seen as a good way to master the application of the new technique. If so, the fact that people want to learn something about it should be an explicit part of the project: As organization X, we want to investigate, for process Y, whether technology Z is a suitable instrument for this and whether we should invest in it.
Now that it has become clear that defining a truly innovative Challenge is a little less simple than it might seem at first sight, we would like to introduce our way of working with the Challenge Canvas:

The Challenge Canvas

We soon realized that we needed a tool to make our knowledge and experience applicable to the projects we are working on right from the start of a project. Based on it Business Model Canvas Alex Ostenwalder therefore designed the Challenge Canvas by us. It became a practical canvas, with which we force ourselves to formulate the right questions and challenges of a project from day one. This is how we use it:

The problem

Here the problem is entered that we want to solve. Clarifying the problem happens in conversation with the team, with the customer and with the users. The method that works best for us is to keep asking questions about why? By doing that consistently, the core of the problem to be solved will become increasingly clear and ultimately fully unfold.

Target audiences)

When formulating a problem, it is fairly crucial to keep in mind before you do it; your target group. It may also happen that you are dealing with more than one target group, or that the target group is (part of) the problem. Because at Novum we always work from a human-centered design approach, input on the target group is essential at the start of ours innovation funnel. How else should we get a feel for the person we all do it for ...

The intended effect

To be able to find good solutions, it is necessary to formulate the desired and measurable effects of those solutions. It is important to realize that an effect is not necessarily the same as an outcome. For example, reducing the number of errors in a registration procedure could be called a solution, while improving the customer experience is the desired effect of the innovation process.

ZERO scenario

Anyone who is able to identify a desired effect in the future must first of all be able to describe the current situation and outline what the consequences will be in the future if nothing is done about the problem. We call this the ZERO scenario. It is important to describe this because it provides the opportunity to measure the success and attractiveness of the project afterwards. You do not want to have to look for this data afterwards. For example: When describing the current customer satisfaction score and the trend that it is expected to follow, it is advisable to also include the effects of other projects in your organization that affect this score.


Here is a list of Partners who may (should) be involved in the project. Such a list can consist of academics, business partners, start-ups and / or government institutions. The preparation of this list is important because it can easily happen that innovation teams lose themselves in their own projects, while forgetting the help and co-creation partners.

Existing sources and lessons

As it is quite unlikely that you, as a team, are the first to ever tackle a particular problem, compiling a list of previous research into, and experiences of, others with the same subject should not be forgotten. It is always worthwhile to first ask around what has already been done and achieved before the project starts. Knowing what knowledge is already there makes it easier to see what is missing and a flying start can be made.

Roles and behavior

We believe that the success of an innovation project depends on the quality of the team working on it. Because the composition and behavior of the team can have a major impact on the result, we attach great importance to clearly describing the roles that are needed in the team to make the project a success. A shared vision about how the team wants to behave and communicate in order to be successful cannot be missed here either.


No major plans need to be written down in this part of the canvas. Here is a list of the innovation methodologies that will be used for problem solving, in the order that you want to do it.

The pitch

In the eye of the canvas comes a catchy pitch. Preferably in one sentence, and starting with "How can we ..."

The Challenge Canvas in practice?

It is clear that we believe that the canvas should be used at the start of every new project. In addition, it is also a great tool to keep track of changes and updates if they occur during the project in a way that substantially changes the scope or intention of the project. At Novum we are usually not too concerned if the canvas cannot be filled in completely at the start of the project. Then we simply use it to remind us along the way that some parts of the project have not been sufficiently defined and that attention and research must be paid to it later in the project.

The canvas can be downloaded as a PDF via the link below and can be used freely and adapted by anyone who wants to. We appreciate if you then share your experience with us, so that we can continue to improve the canvas for use in the future.

Let us know how you use it!

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