Business Design Tools

Sailboat Canvas

This canvas was inspired by a tool described in Alex Osterwalder’s Value Proposition Design book. We’ve had amazing success deploying this to teams in order to develop a strong foundation for strategic planning. It’s a really simple and versatile tool which allows you to clearly display the forces that are acting on you, your team, or organization. So you know what direction you are heading, right? Well, what’s helping you get there and what’s holding you back? It’s that simple! Yet, so powerful when used as a team alignment tool.

This version designed by Matt Kelly and licensed to Do Tank Do LLC.


What is helping to push you forward? What are the positive forces that you would want to amplify and leverage in your strategy?


What is holding you back? What are the obstacles that stand in your way? What must you navigate and overcome going forward?

5 Effective ways to use the tool

Personal self reflection

Call the boat the “<INSERT YOUR NAME>”. In your own time and space, use this canvas to think about you own personal situation. What are you currently looking to achieve? What are the things that are driving you to success? What’s holding you back? When reflecting, challenge yourself with these questions; Is your direction clear enough? Does it excite you? What enablers can be amplified? What else could help enable your vision? What’s the number 1 blocker that is slow you down? What options do you have to remove it? If you were going to change 3 things to you current situation what would they be?

Your team

Call the boat the “<INSERT YOUR NAME>”. Like most of the business design tools, you maximize the value when using them as part of a team sport. It’s simply an amazing tool for teams to conduct a quick “current state” exercise to help identify hidden challenges or provide the climate that enables conversations about known challenges. Consider the “so what?” question when doing this exercise as a team. Make sure that there is general alignment on the current state and where possible agree as a team the top 3 areas that should be worked on to help the team achieve its vision.

Your Business

Call the boat the “<INSERT YOUR BUSINESS NAME>”. You can see where this is going, right? You can essentially call the boat anything you like as long as it’s something you care about that has a purpose and it’s on a journey to realize its vision. For example doing this at the business level within workshops that have multiple teams is a great way to extract different points of view from across the business. It’s also interesting to see where solid alignment exists and where it doesn’t.


Call the boat the “<INSERT PARTNERSHIP NAME>”. This can be a powerful way to either assess of design partnerships with the actual people involved in the partnership. What better way to assess and/or design than co-create it together. Instant buy-in.

Service or Program

Call the boat the “<INSERT SERVICE OR PROGRAM>”. This could provide a way to slice across parts of the business when focused on a product or service. Let’s assess the current state of a product/service with everyone that’s involved, from R&D, support, sales, marketing, operations, finance etc to really understand what is working and what is not if we seek to turbo charge the performance. This provides a good foundation for value proposition design as well as business model innovation.

Top Tips

Name the boat

It seems simple, but putting a name to the boat gives it personality and a sense of purpose. Make sure the FIRST thing you do it agree on the name of the boat and then the purpose it has.

Extend the metaphor

The theme of a “sailboat” lends itself to so many metaphors. What are the lighthouses that are keeping your idea from smashing on the rocks? What is the main heavy anchor that’s stopping you from moving? Are there sharks in the water? Warm currents to play towards etc. There is enough whitespace on the canvas to play with this in a fun but serious way.

Select your top 2s

Because of it’s simplicity, this canvas can get full fast. Once you’ve filled it up with thoughts, go through them all again and pick the top 2 enablers and the top 2 blockers. Focus your efforts on those and you’ll soon find you’re making waves.

The deeper the anchor, the greater the drag

A good visualization for blockers is to have “anchors” at various depths. The deeper the anchor, the more impact it’s having on the subject and the higher a priority it should be.

Good to warm up

This can be a quick exercise. It’s fun and easy to explain, so it makes a great warm-up activity to break the ice at a team meeting or event. 

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