9 Step Process for Developing Stories

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In this episode of the Project Management Paradise Podcast, we catch up with Gerald Leonard, who previously joined back on Episode 17 and gave us some great insights into developing a company culture that works.

With over 25 years of experience, Gerald is an author, consultant, and trusted advisor to CIOs and PMO executives. In this episode, Gerald shares his nine-step process for developing stories that will improve your projects.

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Excerpts from: “9 step process for developing stories”


I did my undergraduate and a graduate degree in music, went into the ministry for a short while after that as well as playing as a professional musician. I went into IT because I didn’t want to go back on the road as a musician and leave my wife and kids. I realised that the certification route was the best route to go, and in the process, I’ve accomplished the PMP certification, the PFMP, and right now I’m studying for the ACP.

I’ve been doing a lot of agile work lately with some of my clients and loving the learning process, but also helping my clients achieve a culture that works in their environment, leveraging those principles of project, program, and portfolio management with considering the entire landscape and the cultural aspect as well roll things out into the environment.

1: Set the scene

When you’re developing a story, you really do have to set the scene. One of the things I’ve done in my own learning journey is post-masters, and I also joined the National Speakers Association. One of the great blessings of being apart of the National Speakers is once a month we have a meeting. It’s kind of like a network meeting, but we also bring in professional speakers, who all start off their stories by setting the scene and painting a picture.

Anytime we hear a great story, our brain naturally takes the images that are talked about and turns them into visuals in our mind. That’s why we as human beings are so attracted to stories. One of the best ways to set up a story is by setting the scene of what’s going on in that particular time of the story.

For example, you’re trying to create buy-in about the project, and maybe it’s a project that’s helping to deliver a product. Why is that product so important? How did that product come to be? How is that product envisioned and thought about? By setting the scene of why we’re delivering this new solution and product, it helps the listener picture what was going on at the time. Whether it understands the problem that the product is solving or the solution that the product is to deliver, by setting that scene, you really help them get a picture of it and understand the why behind the solution.

2: Set the characters

Who is a part of the scene? In some ways, you have a scene of product service. If you have the president of the company or one of your major clients is having a problem, and then you set the scene up of who that person is, how they’re impacted, what they’re impacted by, then it helps visualise the actual processes and steps.

3: Determine the journey

How did they get to that point? What’s the backstory? What happened in the story to make the character the way they are? What’s helped them to become frustrated with the problem they’re facing or delighted about the solution that they’re planning on getting? What’s the impact that will have on them?

4: Encounter the obstacle

Every good movie you go to, it may start off pleasant and fun, but if there’s no challenge or obstacle, then it becomes a boring movie. In our life, setting the scene and building a story, some of the best stories are the ones where someone has to encounter some problem. Whether the problem is the customer tried solution A, B, C, it didn’t work, that cost them money, they had a vendor that wasted their time, etc. Now, we’re going to show them how to overcome that problem.

5: How do you overcome the problem?

For instance, in one of my projects, I had a client who wanted to implement an enterprise project solution. About five years ago they brought in a vendor to help them. The vendor was very smart, and they knew the solution, but the challenge that they face was, they were trying to roll out multiple parts of the solution all at once to the client. The client is in a firm where they are used to older technology. A lot of their in-users weren’t used to being on the cutting edge of technology, and the solution they were using wasn’t meeting all their needs, they had been using for the last ten years. It was ingrained in their environment.

That particular vendor tried to switch the solution and products to have the client, and their in-users use the new solution right away. Well, that didn’t work. As you know, from a culture standpoint, when you try to make too much change at one time, people are going to push back. They’re not going to accept.

We understood what that obstacle was and instead of trying to roll it out all at once, we rolled it out in increments. The first thing we did was put in a lot of the back-end processes that the customers and in-users didn’t see; they just saw the effects of a more stable system and better data. Then when we turned on the solution for them to start interfacing with the new software, we gave them limited things to do, so they could get used to seeing it, working with it, and it was very simple.

6: Resolve the story.

In the aforementioned situation, the customer encountered the problem by having software that was being rolled out that was way too much software, capabilities, and features at once. They overcame it by rolling out the solution in small increments. By doing that you show that the customer was able to absorb and digest the changes, and get used to the new software and capabilities without feeling the fear of all the changes happening at once.

7: Make the point.

The point of that story is don’t try to boil the ocean. What you want to do is roll out software in small chunks that the customer can digest and that people can accept. You have to do it in small increments, not one big swoop.

8: Ask questions.

When you roll out software, what’s your approach? How have you helped your customers with X? Or if it’s a software change that you’re trying to get people to buy into, what are some of the reasons we want our customers to change? You want to get people to think, ‘Okay, now I’ve heard this story and all its components, how do we now address those things in our own way?’ We then repeat the points we’re trying to drive home and help them understand the process.

9: Understand the process

Repeat the main points of the story to drive it home. This way people walk away with that image in their head, a way to think about the process or challenge they’re trying to overcome and make them own it. It’s a way to get it into their heads, into their hearts, and making a point of giving them action items to make changes in their own lives.

Show Notes

Visit principlesofexecution.com to learn more about Gerald Leonard.

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