Tuesday, 18 August 2015

On storytelling and stories

Stories & Storytelling_1956 by Sterling College (flickr)
In a lot of software projects the tools - such as prioritisation, backlog grooming, MVP - and artefacts that they produce - such as job stories, roadmaps, personas - are useful but ultimately I believe that they are about allowing a community of people to tell a story. 

When "going up" to people at budget sign off level they are generally short of time, so the stories need to be the point and tightly foccused on giving a sense of what has happened and what will happened, including topics such as:
  • What are you doing? 
  • Which business goal does this achieve? 
  • What is the value? (e.g. either cost saving/revenue protection or increase in revenue)
In my experience when going into detail level with implementers they like to hear the answers to these questions: 

  • Why is it needed? 
  • How does this fit into bigger picture? and
  • What will we be doing next?

I have tried experimenting with storytelling in roadmapping before. This seemed like a neat way of expressing at each milestone the context of what could be developed and how the different stakeholders/cast members behaviour had changed ... and indeed how the project team were involved. That project is no longer running and I am using a more traditional roadmap at the moment, but  I may revisit this idea in the future, as I think the format is a natural and relatable way of communicating a vision.

One thing I did notice was a difficulty in creating those stories and which facts to include? What should be left out to prevent a 100 page prose version of a progress spreadsheet? More recently I have found the following that goes some way to describe this problem:
"The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger's slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean" What is History? by E.H. Carr

I love that quote on historians and history, and it sums up an important part of storytelling for me. What's the Sea Bass and what are the sprats? that's to say what out of all the facts available are the interesting ones? 


To help improve my skills in presenting these facts and being more "persuasive" I recently went on Storytelling workshop lead by Tobias Mayer. To use E.H. Carr's metaphor this explored a great framework and process to find the fish and catch them. The other, more unexpected, lesson was around "persuasion", it turned out that the meaning of this word I really wanted was "authenticity" and "connection" - in both the scenarios I described with budget holders or implementers these are key facets in communicating ideas according to your audience.


Looking on Twitter these two quotes show what could happen when you make an authentic connection ...


This takes what I have seen about stories being good communication tools to another level, can stories drive behaviour and then build culture long after they are told?
 

Further reading