The Change Canvas

The Change Canvas

Applying the canvas to harness the insights gained during a change program

Profile image of Joao Gama
Mar 06, 2020 • 7 min read

Creating alignment is hard. It’s already difficult to align the points of view of two people, let alone everyone in a team or organization. Each individual wants to know “what’s in it for me” when any change is introduced. But each person gets a different benefit out of any transition, so how do you convey benefit for a group of individuals when each is worried about their personal benefit?

Individuals are not concerned about how to “anchor the change into the corporate culture”, nor are they worried about how to “align everyone in the organization”. They first must understand the impact on themselves before they can even start wondering about how to help others through their adaptation process.

A new method or a process will not alter peoples’ beliefs.

Alignment starts with a conversation around what is important to each individual. Conversations have the power to chip away those strongly-held beliefs, specially when they are individually tailored to address the impact of the transition onto each unique person. 

On the other hand having individual conversations is not scalable, and therefore not feasible on a transformational project. So how do we make space for people to be part of the conversation while addressing entire groups at a time?

The only viable way to do this in organizations is by systematizing conversations. Or to put it simply, we need to make conversations part of the everyday activities. It is through conversations that we turn knowledge (a collection of facts) into insights (conclusions that have meaning). Only insights are actionable, and each individual has their own perspective. To help systematize conversation, we use a canvas to collect the multiple points of view into one map.

Canvasing is a technique that captures a large amount of information into a visible artifact (the canvas). This allows a group of people to conduct a conversation in a structured fashion, moving the dialog step-by-step towards a shared conclusion.

In a group conversation that uses a canvas, a moderator poses an objective and the group works towards populating the visual artifact with their perspectives. Participants voice their own understanding about the subject and a unified view is captured on the canvas. The actual output of the canvas relates to the subject, and can range from various forms such as a table, charts, maps, or any form that fits the function of the conversation. That artifact is then available to be used as reference until the next iteration of the canvas.

Framing conversations

A canvas is a tool to frame conversations. It helps a group of people visualize a shared understanding and it provokes open and honest dialogs around the key elements of the discussion. The canvas itself is called an “information radiator”, meaning it collects data points and organizes it in some visually recognizable fashion. It is a form of documenting and organizing group knowledge so that we can drive shared conclusions.

More specifically, a change canvas is a tool that provokes a conversation with (and gets feedback from) the people affected by a change or transition, opening an honest dialogue necessary for creating urgency. A change canvas should answer these questions to those involved:

  • what change are we making?
  • why are we making this change?
  • who is affected by the change and what will they need to change?
  • how will we measure success?
  • how will we measure progress?
  • what’s our high-level plan?

Make it visible

One of the key strengths of a canvas is that by definition it summarizes (and visualizes) group thinking. It acts as a visual anchor, linking the memories of the meeting to a visual element (the canvas itself). With it an unexpected effects happens: often participants don’t need to read the words on the canvas to remember most of the meeting - they just need to see the layout of the canvas!

Our brain holds vast amounts of information, but it is distributed. By giving it a pin to hold all that knowledge together, we can remember hours of conversation by looking at a single picture. A canvas is an image truly holds a thousand words.

Visibility breeds interaction

As time goes by more information can be added (or subtracted) from the canvas. Ideas are generated and new insights are gained. Having a visible and live knowledge repository allows individuals to interact in how they see fit. Take other people for tours and show them this wall, and encourage people to post questions about everything on this repository. Reviewing the Strategy Canvas with teams provokes the open and honest dialogue necessary for creating urgency for change.

Change Canvases in standup meetings

Stand-up meetings can also benefit from change canvases by either being reminders of the team decisions or by taking the time to identify achievements the team has done. A canvas can serve as a “Change” Sprint Plan where new ways of working are introduced and evaluated on the daily standup meetings. This will show people that management is walking the walk and not installing Agile to fix teams and people. More importantly, the feedback about the Strategy Canvas from staff helps executives understand what’s really going on in the organization.

Team canvases

Sometimes team feel they have no control over their own processes when change is introduced to the organization. A good practice to help teams align to the organization’s purpose for implementing change is facilitating a well-structured conversation that helps teams figure out what’s in it for them.

Team change canvases provide a mechanism for structuring the conversation and documenting the outcomes that teams can use to take ownership of their own change experiments. Teams often have unvoiced concerns and running these sessions with them allows us to get into the front lines to uncover those hidden barriers.

Careful how you present these sessions!

When presented with an activity outside of their comfort zone some team members get immediately suspicious. “Why are we doing this?” is the typical first question, but what it really means is “I fear it will not be safe for me to expose my concerns because I cannot control to whom will this information to sent to”. Many team members have an immediate reaction to being judged or criticized, and will fear doing activities that will expose them.

The team canvas should be for the team and by the team. It is for the team to better understand how the change will affect them and what pitfalls they can avoid. It should be viewed as a conversation, and that the change/coach team is a support group.

Divide and conquer

We have found it best to use team canvasing during two sessions of two hours with each team. These two sessions represent the two major stages in the process: analysis and conclusion. Depending on your organization and team structure you may have to adapt into multiple sessions of one to a few hours long, but breaking things up has always been beneficial.

In the Analysis phase we do brainstorming and affinitization to uncover the major aspects relevant to the team. In the Conclusion phase we collate the information into a visible structure that everyone agrees to. Sometimes teams are faced with a very difficult task, and so we may add an option initial task to visualize. Visualizing helps teams understand why we are even talking about this and motive them to a new reality. The visualization phase helps create a target condition (describing a perfect day when you walk in in 6 months), and how individuals will want to act in the organization in the future.

Spring planning meetings

The creation of change canvases can be tied with the sprint planning/review meetings to create a continuous improvement cycle. For 1-2 hours in the planning meeting the team identifies 2-3 change experiments for the next period and during the review the team evaluates their benefit which identifying which ones they should work on next.

This is a great way to tie change management with agile project management, and to inject change iteratively into the teams. In order to make this systemic in the organization an official change agent (a representative of the change team) should participate on the sprint planning and review meetings. By participating in multiple sprint meetings change agents can see recurring organizational impediments to change. Those issues are then collated and talked about in the change review meetings.

Using a canvas in a change program

In a change program, a canvas can be used to capture the current knowledge of the system - in order to guide intervention (and experiment) prioritization decisions. It is a living document that is updated as group sessions (such as brainstorming, retrospectives, demo, or team meetings) are conducted. As change hypothesis are proven/disproven, and as new understandings of the culture emerge, the canvas is updated.

When decision time comes, a look at the canvas enables a much more informed decision to take place.

There could be one canvas for the overall change program, and one canvas for each change objective (strategic capability). Both canvas need to be filtered for the most relevant information. The program-level filtering is done on a systemic level (issues that relate to all sub-programs) while the capability-focused canvas show only information that relates to that objective.

The positives from Change Canvas workshops

  1. Both the teams and upper management develop a deeper understanding of the change. By getting employees to work on the canvases, they take active roles in what the change means to them. It also helps them retain information about the change.
  2. Individuals go from passive change recipients to active change participants. Rather than saying, “This is a change that’s happening to me,” people changed that to “How can I make this change work for me?” They feel empowered and indicate where they need support.
  3. Cements the structure for a continuous improvement culture. As the workshops provide knowledge and empowerment, systemic impediments are more easily identified. By taking the information provided and combining it with developmental resources, organizations organically develop a strategic change program.


Canvasing is very powerful, specially since it requires no special tools and it is infinitely adaptable.

7 minute read
Revision #10
1702 Words
Created on Dec 12, 2019 21:58,
last edited on Mar 06, 2020 13:01