Storytelling in project management: how to captivate and inspire the team
The power of storytelling in project management
Storytelling can also be used to engage stakeholders and give them an insight into the project work without overwhelming them with technical terms. Stakeholders are crucial because the project stands or falls with them. It is particularly important that they are open to the project.
Why stories are beneficial in project management
Storytelling can also promote collaboration, as a story can be told in a way that makes team members feel part of the team, despite having different roles in the project, and realise that they are working together towards the same goal. Different interests can be reconciled through storytelling, by clearly communicating what exactly the goal of the project is. This can also ensure, for example, that the individual members of a newly formed team come together as such.
But as well as the 'what', the 'how' also plays an important role. This is because a good narrative can help to reinforce what is being said and give stakeholders a positive feeling, ideally creating a shared vision that everyone can identify with. This increases the stakeholders' willingness to implement that vision. Telling a story is therefore useful for internal communication with and within the project team, as well as for external communication with clients and other external parties. For this reason, a story strategy should be developed in advance that is fact-based and clearly communicates the project's content in a way that maximises its value.
Listening to the story, the images it creates in the mind and the emotions it evokes can help people retain information for longer and get customers and stakeholders excited about the project. On the other hand, solutions can be found through metaphors, as team members are stimulated to be creative.
Identify and develop compelling stories for your project
When describing the initial situation, create a character that is as sympathetic as possible, with whom the participants can better identify. What are the challenges or obstacles and how do they affect the project? Challenges can concern resources, staff, but also time schedules. Something is not available; a staff member leaves the organisation or the project is delayed - these are all challenges that can be addressed in a story. The description of the initial situation should also highlight the core message of the project and the project goal.
In this context, the arc of suspense should also be mentioned. This serves to captivate the audience by telling the story in an engaging way. The suspense is created by first pointing out the challenges of the project and then working on the solution to the challenges. When telling the story, work towards the climax, i.e. the peak of the suspense. This is where the project goal has been achieved, as all challenges have been overcome. The conclusion, which can be applied to one's own life, is easier to understand because of the preceding story. When dealing with complex topics, metaphors can also be used to present difficult issues in a simple way. In storytelling, it is important to keep the story short and not too complex. Although facts are better remembered through emotion, participants may stray if the story is too complicated, too long or too abstract.
Best practices for storytelling in project meetings and presentations
The reason for the meeting should always be kept in mind. Do you want to inform the stakeholders about the project or do you want to promote cooperation within the team? The structure of storytelling described above should be followed in order to make the story understandable and to actively involve the participants.
It is especially important not to develop fictional stories, but to write stories that deal with real situations. This allows concerns and fears to be shared so that the story is thought-provoking, stays in the memory longer and is comprehensible.
Example of storytelling
As an introduction, you can briefly outline what the project should look like:
The playground should be as diverse and green as possible. There should be enough choice of equipment for children to romp around on and enough seating for parents to supervise and watch their children play.
Different characters develop out of this task.
On the one hand, there is the project manager, who keeps an eye on the goal and the given framework conditions such as the budget, who himself regularly builds parks, playgrounds or the like, i.e., he is a master of his craft. His passion is to use ecological materials instead of simply paving everything over with stones to bring the children closer to nature.
On the other hand, there are the parents with their children who want to have the most beautiful playground possible. The children should be able to romp around, but not be exposed to any danger. They should have fun in a safe environment while the parents can be there.
Then there is the construction management, which takes care of the implementation, i.e. the construction of the playground, the municipality, which finances the construction, the project team and other actors. You could choose the project manager and the parents as the protagonists of your story.
In the planning phase, you could narrate, the project manager has to sit down with the parents to find out what they want and then discuss with the site manager what is feasible. In the design phase, you could go on to narrate, the project team plans the right placement of the play equipment, paths, seating and plants. At this point you could go through your story to see which playground equipment makes sense, which is safe and why, which paths make sense, and which materials are particularly environmentally friendly. In your story, the project leader presents this design to the parents and they give him feedback. During the construction phase, the story continues, the project leader has to monitor the process and make sure that there are no obstacles and so that the plans made earlier work. What obstacles could there be? Address this in your story as well, so that the tension is maintained. Tell the stakeholders how to deal with these challenges and pave the way to the climax: the completion of the project with the inauguration of the playground. Finally, you may want to say a few closing words to the stakeholders.
As many of the listeners are likely to be parents, they can particularly relate to the story and are easier to convince about the project and the importance of working together.