Once upon a time, humans evolved – and with them the art of storytelling. Stories have a unique power: They fascinate, they educate, they scare and they dare. A good story will make you laugh or bring you to tears. Stories appear on our screens, they follow us into our dreams. And they will boost your next project.
How to use Storytelling in Project Management
The art of storytelling is as old as humankind; the ability to tell a story might even be what sets us apart from other species’. For thousands of years, storytellers have captured their audience with a simple formula: The hero’s journey, also called the monomyth. The traditional hero’s journey, as described by the linguist Joseph Campbell, is a story in three acts: Departure, Initiation and Return. Someone (= the future hero) gets tempted into some kind of adventure and departs into the unknown; after departure, his (or her) strengths will be tried and tested; after successfully undergoing these tests and trials, he returns as a hero: a man (or woman) changed for the better.
Storytelling and Project Management
Very well, you might think. But what does the hero’s journey have to do with my business project? Everything, as you’ll see.
The Project’s Journey
Let’s look at your project as a journey: from turning first spark of ideas into a full-blown project, you and your mates will face mostly unforeseen challenges. To conquer them, you will change and adapt your concept – until you return with the required results.
Good project managers initiate the hero’s, sorry, the project’s departure with a kick-off meeting, and celebrate the go-live with a lot of fanfare. Over the course of your project, you and your team will learn. You will fail. And you will fight – until you win. After that, all of you will have to return to business as usual; but you’ll be heroically transformed by experience and learning.
Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?
The Power of Storytelling
That’s the beauty of storytelling: It’s not just more fun to listen to than reading a roadmap or talking statistics – the power of storytelling runs deeper. Stories engage on a very personal and emotional level. Turning your project into a story will result in engaging discussions, and it will help you and your team to talk about things as they really are. Why?
Stories can be deep, but they are never abstract: They tell of a specific person and specific things, not of numbers and timelines. Instead of merely assigning task x to person Y, people and tasks become part of a larger narrative through storytelling. Every single task do is part of the whole, and each person’s doing has an effect to the outcome.
Successful Project Management: A Story In Three Acts
I. The Hero’s Departing – Your Project’s Kick-Off
In the departing phase, you have to lose your fear of the unknown – also known as “write a concept”. Use your imagination and write your story with all details and characters in place. Try and identify the villains, the heroes and the supporters. Maybe the CFO is your project’s opposing force, is money worries preventing your team from realizing their heroic vision? Laying it out like a story might help you to find ways to playfully conquer him. Plus, you can use your newly found storytelling skills to turn your project’s adversaries into fervent supporters.
II. Initiation – Tests and Trials
During initiation, things will get exciting. They will work out the wrong way, or not at all. Tasks take much longer than anticipated, people perform differently from what you expected: Surprises are part of the deal. Add a cliffhanger or two, and your story’s hero is being tested again and again. But you know what? Hero’s journeys tend to end well. Get ready to fight: Endure your trials, adapt to challenges and grow from failures, and your project will succeed.
III. Return – Wrapping It Up
Once you’re there, the trials have ended – but not the work. Just as the hero has to handle his return to normal life, you have to wrap up the project. You can’t just abandon a website, a product or whatever you’ve been working on. No. Just like a hero, you have to make sure it lives on in a changing environment. Project documentation, organized accounts and a long-term maintenance strategy: all of these elements are important part of success at that last stage of your project’s journey.
Then, and only then, the time has come to work (and live) happily ever after. At least until the next adventure calls.