Wasn’t Rumpelstiltskin a horrible little character? An ugly, bad-tempered little goblin who threatens to take the queen’s first-born child unless she can guess his name. I bet you also have a childhood story that you’ve probably not heard for a while but you remember the plot, the character, the conflict, how it made you feel and perhaps the moral of the tale?
Stories get remembered; evoke emotion; let our imaginations run wild; educate us; make us take action and very often change us in some way.
Stories have a physiological effect on us – triggering the hormones that help us focus (cortisol) and empathise (oxytocin); the human brain is just predisposed to think in terms of stories, “stories are how the brain creates meaning”.
Stories in Business
Business Storytelling is a relatively new area of communication management in business. Sure there have always been stories in areas like marketing and branding a product or business and we often hear people “asking what the story is” behind a new company directive or report they’ve received.
Business Storytelling goes beyond that.
Business stories can still feature the Cinderella plot line, the rags-to-riches, overcoming adversity theme, however will that work for project data, probably not.
With business storytelling what’s especially interesting to the PMO audience is how we can use stories to transform the data and information we regularly collect and disseminate into rich, captivating insights and messages that make people take action.
The definition of story in business storytelling is:
A story provides packets of sensory language presented in a particular way that allows the listener to quickly and easily internalise the material, comprehend it and create meaning from it
Business storytelling includes learning how to determine the theme of your story; the key insight or message; the different layers of meaning; clarifying a conflict; unfolding a plot, laying out a story arc; creating action statements and so on.
All learnable, and I must admit, a compelling skillset to have if you’re in the business of using data.
PMO and Storytelling
Take a moment to think about all the communication activities your PMO does each day, week and month.
What’s the point of it?
To give people the right information to make decisions? Does your dashboard report do that today?
Do you show the RAG status in a pretty report and provide a compelling narrative that highlights the potential scenarios of what will happen if the Reds aren’t fix this week? Or perhaps the dashboard report is painting a different picture, a new or different insight that hasn’t been obvious before.
What about some of these areas of PMO communication activities:
- Portfolio prioritisation – what happens with the various options of prioritisation, what’s good, bad?
- Month end report – what’s the immediate action to be taken, and recommendations for next month? What happens if we ignore or give a lower priority to some of the issues?
- Risk management report – again, what-ifs and why people should be acting now?
- Lessons learnt reports – if we carrying on ignoring this lesson, what does it mean for the business? What happens if we change a process to overcome a failure lesson?
- Status reports – what do you want the reader to do?
- Financial reports – what happens if we carry on at this current run rate?
- Training, mentoring, coaching others – what makes new learning stick? Need project managers to do something new? How?
- Introducing a new PMO service? Why is it needed, what will happen if we don’t?
- Showing the value of the PMO – what people want to hear and how to give it to them?
- Gaining approval for a new headcount – making the case that gets the sign off
These are just a few areas that spring to my mind about how the PMO communicates with the business; stakeholders, team members.
Yet, do we communicate in a way that makes what we say or write or share visualisations of data actually have the impact we’re really looking for? Do our stakeholders take action based on the data we’re sharing – those facts and figures that show that action needs to be taken before adverse effects take place?
Do we communicate in the language that our senior stakholders want to hear, or are we turning off our audience with project management terminology?
Are we brave enough to use all our cumulative experience from data analysis and information gathering of projects over the years to go beyond just presenting the data and to provide actionable insights, what-if analysis, recommendations – something which really speeds up and enables precision in decision-making. Imagine how valuable the PMO would be then.
The Missing Piece of the Jigsaw
When I was thinking about the programme for this year’s PMO Conference I knew that there had to be something slightly left of centre – something different and compelling.
I got thinking about Business Storytelling because I think it is a missing piece of the jigsaw when it comes to one of the largest jobs a PMO carries out. The PMO is there to support the business – and one of the main ways it does that is enable decision-making based on what’s going on at any given time.
It does this by taking the facts – the data – and producing the information that helps us to make sense of that data.
Yet information only informs, PMOs are only going so far to really help decisions get made.
We need people to sit up, pay attention, use our knowledge and experience to guide our stakeholders to where action needs to be taken now.
And that’s where story comes in.
Data to information to actionable insights through stories.
That’s how we get the reports we create to really mean something to the people who need to take action.
Making it Happen
To tell compelling stories about the data we produce is a skill that can be learnt. And should be learnt if you want to take your PMO and your role to the next level.
I jumped at the chance to meet Lori Silverman, one of our keynote speakers at the conference this year, in New York late last year and attend her workshop which was primarily focused at project management professionals.
I’ve brought the workshop to the UK and here’s your chance to take up your place at the only PMO Storytelling event I think will ever exist – how cool is that!
Find out more about the two day class here.
What’s more, you can take part in the two-day class on the 11th and 12th June and receive a £100 discount on a PMO Conference ticket too.