Project Management and Story Telling

I friend of mine, who is also a project manager, has a knack for taking the most boring topic and turning it into an interesting story. Want to be riveted by the importance of Python programming in the mid-90’s? Get ready for a 20 minute history lesson plus some predictions for the future. Want to know more about scrum? You’ll be glued to every word as he tells stories of its early beginnings and how its processes have saved many a project.

But what I’ve found he’s best at, and what I’ve taken note to better myself, is the story he creates about the project he’s managing. Even a simple update to the ERP platform is spun as an enhancement that will enhance user experience and drive efficiencies, thus saving the company time and money. He’s able to create a story based on the audience he’s interacting with. From C-level to junior developers, he can talk to them all. When his project has issues or needs something, more often than not he gets it because he’s able to clearly articulate what’s needed and impacts of not getting it.

If you think of a good story, there’s a beginning, middle and end. Sound familiar? Every project has a beginning, middle and end, too. Therefore, every project is a story.

As the project manager, you will need to write the story with input from others. Those can be your team members, stakeholders, or other influencers you interact with. As the story is written, you must then tell it in a way that gets noticed, but also is customized to the audience you’re telling it to.

Let’s take a conversation requesting a specific resource. This is one many of us have had in our career. Instead of saying, “I need this person to finish up the login functionality”, why not say “We are creating a user-friendly login process that enhances the customer experience. The team has already developed much of the functionality, but we need this person’s expertise to tie it all together and make it great.”

Sounds kind of kiss-ass, but at the same time creates a story for why someone is needed.

Also, weave your people into the story. At status meetings, call out the great things team members do. Give them the praise and credit they deserve. Every great story has characters, and your project does too (some projects have more characters than others)!

As the project progresses, the story will continue to evolve. Change requests can add, subtract or modify the initially agreed to scope. Team members, stakeholders and influencers will come and go, changing the characters in the story. Other changes can come about, modifying your story.

But how does the story end? Usually, the final chapter is implementation and organizational change management (and hopefully not abruptly terminated). This is where you tie it all together. The characters deliver. The output is put to use. Lessons learned are documented. The ending is happy (or at least somewhat happy). And like that, the story is over.

Managing a project is like telling a story. Be the story teller with the ability to engage a diverse crowd, highlight your characters and updates the narrative as the project continues to evolve. And, with proper planning and sometimes sheer determination, you’ll be able to deliver a happy ending!

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