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How to use stories in your projects

As I have written before, stories create engagement in projects. However, knowing this fact is not the same as being able to apply it on your projects. Northeastern University’s Master’s in Project Management program provided concrete examples of how stories can be used in your project communications plan at this month’s PMI Global Congress EMEA. Here is what he had to share.
Stories can be used to connect and convince
Projects are managed by teams. To make them work effectively together, you must bring everyone to the table to achieve a common goal. Jo spoke about three ways stories can be used to connect with your colleagues and convince them to work with you.
1. Analogous stories
Look back at other projects and draw parallels early in the project. Talk about past successes and discuss how your project will look like them.
Dr Jo Griffin and I at the PMI Global Congress EMEA 2015. Three-point stories
To give people an optimistic, most likely, and least likely view of the possibilities for the project, use the language of story. “Based on your wishes, this is the best, the worst, and the most likely outcome.” This makes people accountable and allows them to make choices. However, it also limits their options to the ones you are confident you can deliver. Jo said that this is especially useful when you are talking negative news. They have the option to choose the best path forward.
3. Top stories
Talk about the bigger picture. This can help you avoid details that you don’t understand. Jo asked Jo, “What’s your 120-second update?” If your sponsor claims they can’t or won’t be able to read the report, can you quickly update them at a level that is meaningful?
4. Stories from the bottom up
“John said …” You can use the details to create a narrative about project events. You must be careful to not violate any ethical rules. It is easy to get into details that aren’t necessary for the situation, which can lead to gossip and awkwardness.
These are all in the same terminology that is used for estimating.
Use stories to report data
What does CPI, SPI and EAC mean to your senior managers? Even if they do, they are more likely to recall the story that goes with them than the fact that you currently have a CPI of 1.
Talk about your data points and how they got there. Also, talk about what you are doing differently now.
Jo explained that “we can frame and present different details in order to make it more relevant.” Jo added that this doesn’t necessarily mean that different people will get different versions of the story. Don’t create a happy ending for your sponsor if there isn’t one.
Stories can be used to build trust and confidence
Tell others about your successes! This will give them the data they need to trust you in a format that is easy to understand.
It’s also about ensuring that the stories “tell themselves.” Your team should feel confident about sharing their achievements and know what to say. Jo stated that the stories we tell ourselves are just as important as those we tell others. They inspire confidence for success.
You can also try these storytelling techniques
Jo spoke about storytelling techniques you can use at your job.
Foreshadowing is a technique that you’ll find in stories that work well on projects. Don’t Wake the Beastie is my current favourite bedtime story. I can tell you that the Beastie will eventually wake up in Don’t Wake the Beastie. There are clues and hints that will help you predict what’s going to happen. You can also drop hints on your project: this will make it less likely that the outcome of any given action will surprise you, as your senior managers have been prepared.