Serene picture of a river.

Like a river, stories have many integrated ingredients.

Stories in the business environment are typically more constrained than the storylines on a telenovela.  However, all effective stories have a six basic elements that are required to clearly and effectively communicate in the business environment.  

  1. State who the story is about.  Personalize the story; personalization helps listeners or readers to put themselves into the story and helps them to be emotionally involved.
  2. Describe what is being done (or what will be done, if future-telling).  The “what has”, “what is” or “what will” components tell the consumer of the story about the action. When the elements that describe what has, is or will be done are connected they form a simplified plot for the story.
  3. Identify the timeframe, the when, of the story. Time provides the story with a sense of flow.  I read a lot of avant-garde science fiction in which time is so mixed up so that someone can be their own grandfather.  However, no one wants to sort through paradoxes to understand a piece of work. Time, such as calendar dates, provides a basis to understand when the actions have, are or will happen.
  4. Define why the actions in the story are occurring. The “why” of the story provides the basis for action.  In a business environment, “why” is often couched in terms of sales improvements, cost reductions, and/or obtaining or maintaining compliance. “Why” influences what gets done and how it gets done. In Agile efforts, “why” a piece of work is being done provides teams with a decision tool that can be used to evaluate requests for changes or to prioritize changes that crop up on day-to-day.  The description of why a piece work will be done is the big picture to help guide Agile teams.
  5. Explain how the actions in the story are being taken. The description of how a piece of work is being (or going to be) pursued is much akin to the reporting of a sporting event. Sporting events typically have a person who describes the play-by-play action as it occurs in a bare-bones manner. In a business story, this might be the steps being taken to complete a piece of work. In addition sporting events employ a person that provides color commentary about the action. Both are necessary components of business stories, albeit too much exposition can obscure the message of the story.  I have seen numerous status reports (a type of business story) that were written in so much detail that it took a ton of effort to find the message that things were not going well. Remember never to bury the lede.
  6. Provide verifiable quantitative evidence of assertions and performance. Today’s business environment is often purported to be data-driven (note: experience suggests that emotion and cognitive bias often substitute for weak data). Evidence, otherwise known as proof, should support the actions being taken and those actions were (or will be needed).

All good stories include six basic elements.  These elements will be sequenced and addressed differently by every storyteller based on the context that the story is crafted to address.

Current Storytelling Thread:

  1. Six Elements of Business Stories (current)
  2. Elements of Style (or How To Address Story Elements)