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Data Storytelling is Influencing

Last week’s PMO Flashmob was held at Channel 4 in London. We were lucky to have a great space and one which was already decked out in our favourite colour!

In this session, we were joined by Lori Silverman. Lori has become a great friend of PMO Flashmob after keynoting at the PMO Conference back in 2018.

That came on the back of a trip I made to New York to take part in Lori’s Data Storytelling based workshop. Lori is also the co-author of Business Storytelling for Dummies which also formed the basis for a workshop we did before the conference in 2018. If you’re looking for a book that gets into the detail of stories in a business context, it is packed with lots of practical learnings, tips, advice and so on. We couldn’t hope to get into this kind of detail at a PMO Flashmob.

So, back to our evening.

This PMO Flashmob was slightly different because we were in a cinema setting so decided to go for more of a ‘conversation with…’ which allowed us to get into a number of different areas.

Here’s what we covered:

Key Highlights and Takeaways

Here are some of the key highlights from the evening:

1. What is Business Storytelling?

First up, this wasn’t a session about looking at a bunch of data, creating a pretty visualisation and then forming a narrative around it.

That, we found out, is not storytelling.

Storytelling, when done well, is a technique we can use to influence others. Stories are a way to take data and information and create a story to move people to take action and make decisions.

That’s the main takeaway from the evening.

When you understand that this is what lies at the heart of business or data storytelling – you can strap yourself in and get ready for the journey.

? Want to learn more about how to create stories; what makes a good story etc – take a look at the Dummies book.

2. Business Storytelling and the PMO

Why would the PMO want to tell stories? When you start to understand the science behind why stories work so well with people (Lori touches on it in the video session) you can see why the PMO wouldn’t want to dismiss it.

Through the workshop, I attended in NY and the books I’ve read from Lori, I could start to see where stories would have a significant impact on part of the PMO role.

Here’s the overview: These were just some of the more obvious ones after a 10-minute braindump. If stories are about moving people to take action and make decisions, straightaway you can see how project status reports and other executive briefings could be improved.

Same with lessons learnt – why do we do them? So we don’t make the same mistakes twice; so other people can learn from what went before – but it only works if they’ve really taken on board what has been shared – they need to be moved to take action and make decisions based on them.

How about stakeholder communications? Tired, dry, stale? How about the business cases? Both require people to act and do something.

If we focus on the PMO role itself, we often talk about the PMO having a vision; creating a charter – why don’t we think about how stories can be used in this context, when setting up a PMO?

When the PMO is responsible for creating training and workshops – stories are one of the key ways that people remember what they’re being taught about. Onboarding new staff, surely there is a story to tell of where the project got started, where it is today and where it’s heading next.

And what’s really compelling is the PMO can strengthen its internal network just by being an entity that seeks out organisational stories and is more than willing to be the storyteller when passing them on to the right people, at the right time in the right way – the way that makes people take action and make decisions.

Finally, there’s an obvious one which helps us all in our careers. The ability to tell a story about our experiences when it comes to job hunting or promotion. Stories can make a difference in our career management.

3. Data Literacy. . . Of Course!

Why is the PMO finding the whole subject about data and analytics so difficult? Well, it might just have something to do with how literate we are – and also how literate our organisations are.

Data literacy is, “the ability to read, write and communicate data in context, including an understanding of data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques applied — and the ability to describe the use case, application and resulting value.”

Finally, we have something to help us on the journey to making the difficult less so.

? Get started by understanding more about data literacy, this seems like a good place to start – the Data Literacy Project and the online training is free.

4. Who are we?

It turns out that the PMO is most likely a data translator (note the date on that, 2014!).

What is crucial when it comes to data analysis in the PMO is understanding what question it is we’re trying to find answers for.

The questions, ideally, coming from the senior executives, who need the insights in order to take action on them and make decisions.     Since 2014, there has been another step in the road too. Decision Intelligence or Decision Analyst has also been defined: Which brings us back to the original point – about action being taken and decisions made on the right questions being asked.

The PMO has to understand not only the business context of what questions are being asked and why. They have to understand the data and information available before analysis can be carried out. The PMO may not be doing the mechanism of the data analysis –  that is a role for a data analyst. What the PMO is most f
ocused on is ensuring the insights which come from the data analysis feel right, based on the context of the organisation and the projects. The PMO is then in a prime spot to take those insights and ensure actions and decisions get carried out by the right people – and the best way to do this is by sharing insights in story form.

5. Insights and Stories

It’s up to us to educate ourselves about insights. It is the insights that are popping out of the sausage factory that is data analytics – and will we know a chipolata from a banger?

We touched on what insights really are – and what they are not.

And most importantly, how it all hangs together.

We start with a question – what the business needs to know e.g., do we have enough people to deliver all the projects we say we will deliver in 2020?

We then need the data that will help us try to answer the question.

From using different tools and data processes we’ll end up with some insights (hopefully, but not always!)

We will then convey those insights in a way that gets people attention, makes them listen (properly), gets them on the edge of the metaphorical seat – and leads to them taking action on the insights.

Sounds easy? Nah, not at all. If it was, we would all be brilliant PMOs, but we’re ready to put in the work to be brilliant, right?    

The Video Session



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