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Stories are essential for projects

Stories are essential for projects

“I am a bird. As green as possible.” Is there any room on the broom to accommodate a bird like mine?
Jack says “Yes”.
And, “Yes, said the witch,” I read, and the bird flutters on. The witch taps the broomstick, …”
Jack says “Whoosh!”
“They were gone,” I say, and he turns the page.
He recalls the story. He can recall the story’s pattern, words, repetition and cadence. Because stories are like that. The best stories stay with you. They make it easier to remember.
This is what Dr Joseph (Jo) Griffin discussed at the PMI EMEA Global Congress, London, earlier this month. He began his talk by stating four reasons why managers should be skilled at storytelling at work.
They engage us in ways that data alone cannot.
They remember how they frame the data.
They provide context and highlight relevancy.
They persuade (although he stated that this point is not sufficient: stories must have the other elements before they can be persuasive).
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
1. We are biologically programmed to tell stories.
Jo spoke about how our brains are wired for creating stories automatically. We are creative creatures. We can imagine other people’s lives and think in stories. This is true for the workplace as well: your team responds to project data in story-driven fashion.
Jo stated that the storytelling mind will tell truths when it can, and create lies when it cannot. “So, are you going to be creating that narrative or fighting against it [stakeholders]?
This means that if you don’t give all the details of your project in project status reports or other communication channels, your team or other stakeholders will fill in those gaps for you. They often create a dramatic narrative that is more dramatic than what’s actually happening in real life.
2. Stories are unforgettable
Frame your messages as stories if you want your team members to remember what you have said. Consider how your project benefits will impact customers’ lives or how others will benefit from what you are delivering.
Jennifer Aaker, Stanford Graduate School of Business, has demonstrated that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts. Combining stories and data creates a unique environment for remembering.
Jo also touched on the ethical issues of this. She pointed out that you can’t be seen manipulative and you should keep that in mind as you create the messages that you want to convey.
3. Stories provide context
What does a SPI of 0.8 say about your project? Project managers will understand that this is not a sign that your project has fallen behind. It’s the Schedule Performance Index. It’s not enough to tell you why, there’s more. The data provide the facts and measurable evidence, but the narrative provides context.
The SPI story explains the mitigating factors, and gives you the opportunity to fill in the gaps. It will still state that your project is behind schedule. You won’t change the facts. It will give the ‘why’ of your project, the part that your sponsor really needs to understand.
Stories are surprisingly similar to workplace reports. Jo pointed out many similarities, which I have listed in the table below.
4. Stories are what bind us together
Jo stated that college friends often use two words to describe each other when they get together. These words have the effect of excluding any person who isn’t part the friendship group at that time.
“Remember when…”
He explained that stories are a fundamental communication medium that provides meaning and allows us to pass on that meaning. This is done through stories that help us define our family’s values, and who we are as people. This is done through Room on the Broom. We are a family that values literature and triumphing over dragons together.
Stories can create bonds

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