Projects, by their very nature, are journeys into the unknown. I’ve managed projects as small as a software upgrade and as large as standing up a new business unit. Regardless of the size of the project, all projects encounter uncertainty, risk, and resistance. Not everyone is comfortable with change, and projects can carry with them real risks to organizations. Discomfort with an unknown future, aversion to risk, and resistance to change are real impediments to project success. In particular, they can negatively affect decision making and buy in to the project. Creating and promoting a compelling project narrative can help to reduce resistance and improve decision making.
Think of the project narrative as an “elevator speech” for your project. As such, your narrative should be short and focused. It should identify the project and its key sponsor(s), summarize the scope of the project, and then describe the future impact of the project. The narrative should address clearly the main problem being solved or the key benefit to be realized by the completion of the project. When highlighting the impact of the project, focus not just the dollars or corporate benefits, but on the impact to the individuals, both in the company and its customers. By focusing on the people, your goal is to show them what their life will be like after the project is completed. To reduce a little of the uncertainty by demonstrating that the project is fully aware of the impacts, and has examined and is prepared to describe the future state. This is a tall order. This is not a change management exercise, but by highlighting change impacts at a high level, it will demonstrate that sensitivity to these impacts is part of the project brand.
But for the narrative to be effective, it has to be repeated – over and over again. It must become the default description of the project when anyone asks. Make sure your team members know the narrative and can repeat it. Provide it as talking points for senior managers, sponsors, and stakeholders. The goal of this consistent repetition is for the narrative to become your project brand. And it is this brand that will be the focus point for decision making and change management.
The narrative will be used at the beginning of any meetings or presentations. It will be part of the executive summary of any document deliverables. A well-crafted project narrative will focus on the most important goals and outcomes, so it can be used in decision documents and meetings to limit the noise and keep the focus on the desired outcome. It will also support more detailed change management activities.
Lastly, a compelling project narrative can support buy-in. It acts as your sales pitch; it allows all of the project team members, sponsors, and executives to “get the story straight”. Getting everyone to describe the project in the same way, focused on the same details, gives the impression that everyone is on board. Everyone will sound more confident. There will be less opportunity for unimportant or erroneous details to get out into the wild. Senior managers can be your best storytellers. By giving them solid talking points, they can own your story and spread the word. This will help promote buy-in from the top down. And by including a focus on the impacts to the customers and employees, it will also support buy-in from the bottom up.