Feb 4, 2013

Tell a Good Story, Create Lasting Change

Posted by Dan Vinson in Culture & Change Management, Project & Program Management | 1 Comment

A project in the planning stages is somewhat analogous to a fairy tale: so far, it exists only in our imaginations.

How are project managers perceived in your organization?  Cop, organizer, pest--or perhaps the person to blame when things go other than expected or desired?  It's easy to understand why people view Project Managers in these ways; they are the face of an event that is expected to bring about change.  And change is not often welcomed by a large percentage of those most affected by it.  Even brilliant project plans, detailed schedules, risk planning, and all the other technical elements of project or program management can be stymied by the tide of resistance that murmurs around the water-cooler:  “Been there, done that… It will never work… A new initiative, same as last week’s, just a different name…” and so on.

What aspects of project management are missing when the tide of resistance begins to flow?  I believe the most important part of the role of Project Manager is Change Agent.  These expressions of doubt and skepticism are really substitutes for fear of the unknown and a dislike of uncertainty.  Helping people to move past these feelings cannot be achieved with Gantt Charts and performance reports.  Instead, everyone affected by the project must be included in the planning process. We must provide a means for people to bridge the gap between what is known to them and what new experiences lay ahead as the project unfolds. 

 When I propose as a "magic bullet" using the approach of a storyteller, creating vivid analogies and scenarios, you may think this is a gimmick. But remember that a project in the planning stages is somewhat analogous to a fairy tale: so far, it exists only in our imaginations! So we must use the power of language to get others' imaginations engaged in the "story" of the project as it unfolds.

For example, if a project sponsor doesn’t understand why the resources that he has made available are not enough to get the job done, the project manager can present columns of figures that he or she thinks are self-explanatory. But a better approach may be the analogy:  "We can get the project done, but it is like attempting to dig a 10 foot hole with a table spoon."

Using analogies and stories that are easy to understand, relatable, and can be quickly transitioned into how the analogy applies to the issue at hand is a method that I have used in many projects, and a strategy that has been widely discussed in recent years.  As the analogy or story is shared, it provides context for the change that the person can use to reduce the anxiety felt from the change and provides the person with more confidence in their ability to control the change, rather than feeling controlled by it. 

Addressing the change management element of projects and programs is critical to their success and adoption; technical project management, while crucial, is no longer enough.


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1 Comment on Using Analogies and Storytelling in Project and Program Management

Mark Gray says:

Telling a convincing story is essential if we want to promote a change in our environment, this I fully agree. In fact, in my research into the value of lessons “learned” I have found that the most successful way to transmit a lesson is through story telling using a simple structured approach (I recently developed a template to help project teams with this), and since a lesson means “doing something different” I can certainly relate to this article.

Nice “story” Dan smile

PS: there is a book called “Being a Change Agent” that I recall reading…

Posted on March 7, 2013 at 1:47 am

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