The Business Model Canvas was introduced with the book Business Model Generation in 2010. I highly recommend the book.
Using the Business Model Canvas or a similar approach is a great way to begin to thing through an idea through focussing on one of the most important aspects of validating the idea – the business model. The original canvas has made a significant contribution in giving entrepreneurs a way to think about the business they want to create and explain it to others. The approach is much faster than the traditional business plan first approach and in my opinion should always be completed before any work on a formal plan takes place. It some cases, a formal plan might not even be required.
Recently, Ash Maurya has created a derivative of the original canvas called the Lean Canvas. He also has published the book Running Lean which is another excellent book for entrepreneurs or those involved in creating new businesses and products in established companies.
Both of these approaches are very valuable and should be a first step in most new business planning. Especially now with the new video support series from Kauffman.