A person speaking from a stage

Some forms of storytelling are more formal than others

Storytelling is a tool with many applications.  Generating a high-level narrative project is useful for any project to help get people on the same page and keep them there over the life of the endeavor (or at least until the story changes). Establish the big picture before diving headlong into defining what will be delivered.  A simple storytelling process is shown below:

Pre-session Plan:

  • Establish the goal of the storytelling session. The goal establishes who should be involved in the session and the seed questions that will be used to elicit the story.
  • Plan and book the logistics for the session. The story session typically takes three to four hours with a couple of breaks.  Along with the room have a supply of the ubiquitous sticky notes, a couple of flip charts and food if the session cuts across lunch.   
  • Identify participants and set a workshop date.  The story session is not an ad hoc meeting between a random group of participants.
  • Assign pre-work to set the context and to gather information so that the session is not focused on educating participants. When introducing a new group to generating a big picture narrative, I always have them review story structures and story uses before the session.
  • Develop a set of framing questions or scenario for the team to generate a reaction to guide the session.  Consider using the three amigo technique to generate the question set. 

Storytelling Session:

  • Provide the participants with an overview of the storytelling process, storytelling formats and the goal of the session.
  • Teams using this technique for the first time often need a quick activity to help them understand the process and the ultimate goal of the session.
  • Break the group into sub-teams and have the sub-teams generate a story.  Use the seed questions to generate the story. The sub-teams should be cross-functional. Time box this portion of the session to one hour.
  • Have each team debrief the group with their stories. As a full team re-craft the story based on all of the sub-team perspectives.  The story session is typically an iterative process of which exposes and reacts to gaps which form a consensus.  
  • Test the story. Before declaring victory test the story to make sure you have accomplished the goal. First, transpose the components of the story into a template of the Hero’s Journey/Monomyth or Jeff Anderson’s Lean Change Canvas.  Both frameworks re-focus the team to think about the story both terms of the journey and the outcome.  Note: I will discuss Jeff’s Lean Change Canvas on the podcast in the near future. After identifying and fixing any gaps, compare the story to the session goal established in step 1.a to determine whether the story satisfies the goal.  Repeat this step as needed.    
  • Communicate the consensus narrative to the organization and the whole team.  Use the narrative as a tool for budget and then as an input into a standard grooming process to identify features, epics, user stories, and the effort’s minimum viable product. 

A storytelling process is only as good as the starting point.  Establishing the goal of the session and then generating seed questions/scenarios for guiding the session are absolutely critical.  The prework for the session establishes the boundaries for the story.  The seed questions will provide the teams writing and reviewing stories with context so they can get to a common theme quickly.

Next: Ideas for structuring seed questions next.