Story telling in a business context
I have recently had the opportunity to attend a few conferences in the Agile thought leadership space and now I find myself with quite a backlog of blogging. This helps serve two purposes, firstly it helps me share some of the learnings I picked up and secondly it helps me in consolidating that understanding.
So I kick off with one of the sessions that I attended at the Berlin Scrum Alliance Gathering. Oana Juncu’s session was very distinct from the others so stands alone. Her subject was Story Telling. The point was simply that people remember stories, stories are an accessible exploration of a concept which is non threatening due to their third person delivery.
However transferring this deliberately into a business context… to start, I was a little skeptical and I couldn’t get past the credibility element, if I made up a story to support my argument, then isn’t that like falsifying evidence? All smells a little too “Dodgy dossier”…
About a week later I caught myself referring to a totally unsubstantiated anecdote that supported whatever point I was making at the time, and I preceded it with the little phrase, “it is like that story where…” and I immediately thought back to this session and reflected that she might be onto something. The benefit of that little prefix is that now from this point you are on much safer ground, your audience is aware that the story will support your point (no duplicity) and may not actually be true but the retention and non-instructive learning benefits of the story approach are enabled.
So to the content of the workshop, first of all we deconstructed stories to understand what makes them work, the same approach could be taken to help write a novel I suspect.
So as an example if the problem is that there is a team with too much work to be delivered in a given time, then you could say:
“Yes it is a bit like that story about the fashion designer that moved house and couldn’t fit all her clothes in her new funky built in wardrobes. The first four boxes of shirts and blouses were fine but then it was clear that the rest wouldn’t fit. Obviously not unpacking the last few boxes wasn’t an option because that would have left her without any underwear, and she wasn’t that kind of girl. Eventually she resigned her self to unpacking every box and she then selected stuff from each that was suitable for the current time of year. That went in the wardrobe, the rest went in the loft”
This is credible, non threatening with enough spice to make it interesting enough to want to get to the end and short enough to be able to get though it without losing your audience of be interrupted.
The point that the user needs to break up the stories to understand what is needed NOW and deliver that first, is so
This sounds a bit contrived but the more I have thought about this, the more I have reflected that I have actually done this in the past, invented little tales to support my piece, but I have done it on the fly. This is a more organised approach to support your coaching and change management. So next time you find yourself with an intractable audience, try starting, “It is like that story where…”
Credit to Oana Juncu; @ojuncu
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[…] recently read Phil Thompson’s great post around the value of story telling ‘Story telling in a business context’. Reading it called to mind my favorite DevOps leadership story, but in a cautionary note Phil […]
Thanks Phil, this is very useful. Another version of this technique is a “play” where you act out your scenario with people playing various roles in your product. For example (with two volunteer actors):
John the customer wants to buy a new car. You want to understand their experience interacting with the salesperson and the software system you’ve created to specify the cars options. You could use paper “screens” like props to walk through the experience. How easy is it for the salesperson to access the information? How quickly can they find it? Are the most important things first?
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