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Storytelling in IT

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Storytelling in IT

This post explores the possible links and usage of the noble art of storytelling in IT.

· Agile Zone ·
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"Great minds think alike, and fools seldom differ" implies that consensus is often the result of a coincidence or luck. If you look at the success rate of presentations, you might actually think that this is shear luck. So, why is it you recall the exact words of a movie or a bedtime story book and not a single word from your last meeting?

Well, as Ben Kenobi tells us: "In my experience, there is no such thing as luck." 

There is a method to this madness. Outside IT, people have been practicing the art of storytelling for centuries with good results to convey their message.

This post explores the possible links and usage of this noble art in IT.

User Stories: developing the story, creating your scenes

Instead of writing long specifications, Agile developers describe the functionality they develop as User Stories.

They are usually expressed as: "As a role, I want goal/desire so that benefit."

Instead of traditional Use Cases and other requirements methods, User Stories are used during the requirements discussion with the customer. And since they should be conducted in a language that the business understands, it works better than dry technical documents. 

Personas: defining your characters and giving them a context

While writing these user stories, finding a good understanding of the roles or actors is crucial. Graphical and UX designers use the concept of Personas: A persona, first introduced by Alan Cooper, defines an archetypical user of a system, an example of the kind of person who would interact with it. The idea is that if you want to design effective software, then it needs to be designed for a specific person. Personas represent fictitious people that are based on your knowledge of real users.

Story Mapping: make the stories consistent

Now that you have all your smaller stories and your personas, the next step is to make them consistent. A technique used for that is called User Story mapping introduced by Jeff Patton. It expresses the overall story, aka the global picture that you want to convey.

"The user story map provides a useful tool for the entire team to understand the big picture – to see the entire breadth of the system and its diverse set of users and uses."

Storytelling in Business or IT in general

On the Wikipedia page about Storytelling there is at the bottom a description on using storytelling in a Business context:

"For businesses, communicating by using fiction storytelling techniques can be a more compelling and effective route than using only dry facts."

Within IT, we are used to dealing with facts, but not everybody within the IT industry is used to them. We have non-IT savvy managers, users, and business owners. Have you ever been in a meeting where someone was proud that they just gave you the mere facts, but then (of course) you couldn't remember it afterwards? This is also described in the book Death by Meeting.

There is nothing special about IT; we can apply storytelling to sell a new idea to our boss, our clients, our users, or our colleagues. Or make use of it to promote our products/services.

Here are some of the characteristics of a good story that you can start employing today:

  • Simple and Specific: too general and your audience will fall a sleep; keep it simple and to the point
  • Connection and Resonance: make it ring a bell with your audience; connect with their interests
  • Plot and Context: don't give it away all at once, and place things within the right context
Topics:
agile ,storytelling ,conversation ,customers ,user stories ,communication

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