Here at Rydoo, we’re always looking for great implementation tips and one of the best we have come across is the importance of storytelling.
Storytelling might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to project management but humans have a natural affinity with stories.
Think back to the last really good business presentation you heard and we’d bet that it included a personal story element.
And if you are a devotee of TED talks then you’ll know that the most relatable, understandable, and longest-lasting lessons all come in the form of a story.
What do we mean by business storytelling?
When we say storytelling you may get a flashback to first-school with kids sitting around cross-legged whilst the teacher reads a fairytale but that’s not what we mean at all!
We’re thinking more about a description of events that build into a narrative. These can be past events about a similar project or a story about how things will be better if you take a specific course of action.
There are lots of ways that stories can be delivered, including;
- Written stories (blogs, books, leaflets)
- Spoken stories (speeches, meetings, group calls
- Audio stories (podcasts, webinars)
- Digital stories (videos, animations, games)
The important point is that the story needs to be compelling, relevant to the project, and either true or at least believable where future predictions are concerned.
What we are trying to do is to involve people, to bring them along on a journey with us, and not confuse them with a mountain of data. Telling stories, not numbers is the aim here.
And when you come to build your story, remember Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Six Honest Serving Men’; the questions What, Why, When, How, Where, and Who.
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6 advantages of business storytelling
There are some really big benefits of business storytelling, especially when it comes to projects and IT implementation.
Reducing change resistance
People naturally fear the unknown and storytelling can help massively with change resistance.
Kicking off a project using a simple story based on an issue/solution/effects structure can show people the beneficial effects of a change and why the company needs to do it.
Stories can add richness where a traditional kickoff meeting might struggle to break through and they help to bind a project team together in pursuit of a common goal.
Simplifying complex concepts
Sometimes, especially with large projects the concepts involved can be overwhelming.
They can be too big, too abstract or not relate to humans at all.
A narrative approach can help to switch complexity for simplicity by showing people the benefits, features and effects of a project.
Telling a great story about how things will be or why you are doing something can help people to understand how they fit into a particular implementation.
Promoting a collegiate approach
If people all have a shared narrative then they are much more likely to work collaboratively.
Imagine for instance a healthcare project kick-off meeting where the manager tells the story of why they got into the sector and how they feel a new tool will help the company achieve its goals.
Building empathy within the team means that misunderstandings and disagreements are less likely and fosters an environment where people feel able to ask for (and offer) help.
This is especially important where a project manager is new to a team or a company.
The leader needs to quickly establish their credibility among the troops so that their approach is adopted and their words are listened to and acted upon.
A story about a previous project, the difficulties involved, how they were overcome and the positive benefits that resulted is a great way to show credibility.
We’re not advocating a presentation that lists educational qualifications or sounds like a spoken CV here and credibility building stories can still be humorous.
What is important is that people who don’t know you can understand that you’ve done projects before and you know how they work.
And there're more...
Have you ever noticed that some people instantly take a negative view unless they are shown that something is positive?
It’s a human trait that isn’t massively helpful to people who are just trying to do their best for their business by implementing a new tool.
So this means that a project manager needs to be aware that they need to be on the front foot when it comes to influencing opinion and this is where storytelling comes in.
We’re not talking here about presenting a false picture, simply telling a story that shows how successful the project has been and how the tool has improved people’s lives.
Now, this may seem a bit like corporate politics (which we hate), but it’s not.
Influencing opinion is simply making sure that when you have another tool you want to adopt, those in positions of power are able to remember a time when you produced real and lasting benefits for the business.
And it’s about presenting the benefits of a change to the end-users.
Enhancing knowledge sharing
There is good evidence that storytelling increases knowledge sharing. People understand the issues involved and the lessons learned much better if they are presented in the form of a narrative rather than a dry, 25-page PowerPoint presentation!
This is important because one of the biggest benefits of any IT project is that the organisation learns how to ‘do projects’.
Transferring this knowledge through a lessons learned narrative then embeds this understanding within the business, meaning that future projects, whether they are formal or informal are much more likely to be successful.
Don’t underestimate the importance of storytelling
We find that technical staff can often rely very heavily on data and technical descriptions and at the same time underestimate the importance of storytelling.
The problem is that in many people’s minds storytelling is a somewhat woolly occupation that doesn’t provide noticeable benefits.
However, you only need to use the technique once to see the increase in engagement and understanding that it produces. Your audience is much more likely to take in your key points and they are much more likely to view a project as positive.
Once you see that business storytelling improves how people receive your message you’ll never go back!