Storytelling – what’s in it for agilists?

  • What is storytelling?
  • What’s the purpose of stories?
  • How to become a great storyteller?
  • How to apply stories in agile environments?


Wrap-up of a discussion of professionals in the agile field during the weekly PoDoJo Skype Chat on 23.05.2013.


What is storytelling?

What’s the purpose of stories?

  • Stephen Denning describes stories and how they are used for different purposes
  • Dave Snowden states: "Stories are agents in a social complex system."
  • Stories capture procedural knowledge and create empathy. Stories are much more effective to transfer knowledge than just pure data or abstract descriptions.
  • There are "user stories" in Scrum to describe functions, sales stories in marketing, and stories about prototypes in product development.
  • Stories relay the product vision, supported by a physical metaphor like lego or a “product box”.
  • Stories make the team aware of the context of a task or series of tasks, in software for example to get down to why what is done how to reach whatever goal.

How to become a great storyteller?

  • Use the right words and speak in a universal language your team understands well.
  • Study the basic principles, like developing in movie authoring, or even in myths and fairytales. Use the basic elements of drama to tell a compelling, strong story about a product or service innovation you have in your mind.
  • Just do it and gauge the emotions that come back at you.

How to apply stories in agile environments?

  • If you compare customer journey visualization, based on subsequent actions of users of a (digital) service, with a storyline of a novel or film script, you'll see they resemble very much to each other. 
  • Stories provide a tool to prototype a solution in its early stage. They are like a spoken sketch. 
  • Use personas and their actions as a basic storyline (represented by a user journey) to visualize elements of a story, or sketches of a cartoon, or even a film or text.
  • Stories add more content to your personas. They come to live within the stories. Tell the story of a user (persona, the hero), describe the setting he's in, and his efforts to solve a problem by looking for and using a (software-based) service, turning his problem into a new success. 
  • In a team setting, it’s a way of brainstorming. You may tell a story about your vision, others listen, and maybe repeat it with changes or additions. 
  • In a retrospective, it’s a great exercise to start a story, and let each person add new parts to the story – either themed, or open ended.
  • A cultural hack creates an event that is best communicated by a story. Create an event -> create a story -> spread it -> create change in culture. That's what Francis Alys does in his piece 'When Faith Moves Mountains"

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