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How to Become a Better Product Storyteller

If you want to learn how to deliver winning presentations, then one of the best resources out there is Nancy Duarte’s book Resonate. One of the ideas outlined by Duarte is that a successful presenter persuades the audience to believe in a new idea. To achieve this goal, the presenter should deliver a compelling story, which paints the ordinary world of today and contrasts it with the special world of the future. Furthermore, she should call the audience to embark on the adventure, handle their immediate objections to this invitation, and establish the presenter as the mentor throughout the journey.

Delivering an engaging presentation at its core is no different than shipping a winning product. In both cases, you need a good storyteller to persuade the audience to believe in the new idea by comparing, side by side, the current status quo with the special world of the future that the idea unlocks. If you take into account the leap required to transfer from the world of today to the world of the future, you understand how good the story has to be.

Product managers are people that communicate through great stories, since they are responsible to traverse the users throughout the product journey. Therefore, storytelling is an important tool to have in your belt as a product person.

The product manager is the product storyteller.

Product storytellers ask questions, find answers, and figure out how to instil an idea or vision into a product story. They develop the plot, identify the users, and shape the product around the specific values it should offer to the audience. Moreover, they think about the big picture, while they can also go deep and analytical, because the product’s true value lies in every interaction with the users.

At its core, a good story has a hero. A lot of product people often forget who the hero of their story should be. Often we see decisions about features taken solely based on revenues, metrics, investors’ opinions, competitor moves, etc, thereby neglecting the basic rule of storytelling.

The hero of your story should be the user.

Inspiration for product storytellers can be taken from some of the greatest storytellers out there, people that create stories for kids just like Pixar and Disney do. In fact, the development of storyboarding is attributed to Walt Disney, who pioneered this technique at his Animation Studios in the 1930s.

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (‘Toy Story’, ‘WALL-E’) shares what he knows about storytelling

When Airbnb started storyboarding its customer experience, people realised they were missing a big part of the picture, the offline experience. As a result of this, they created the Neighbourhood Guides to provide context on what different neighbourhoods are like, so someone can decide whether one is right or wrong for him.

According to Marc Abraham, there are five key steps to cover in your storyboarding exercise:

  1. Identify the problem.
  2. Establish the characters.
  3. Write out the moments.
  4. Overlay moments with emotions, actions, thoughts.
  5. Sketch out each scene of the end to end story.
http://www.donnalichaw.com/resources

UX Designer Donna Lichaw suggests a methodology with pretty similar steps that each startup should cover in its storyboarding exercise:

  1. User problem.
  2. Trigger/Call to action.
  3. Flow.
  4. Obstacles to success.
  5. Problem solved.
  6. Value delivered.
  7. Flow finished.
  8. Goal met.

Regardless of the exact steps your storyboarding experience will entail, just like all stories, every storyboard should have a beginning (problem and user), middle (solving the problem) and end (providing value), the flow that the user traverses throughout the product journey.

Moreover, compelling product stories tend to follow similar guidelines:

Story Cohesion & the Feature Fallacy

What's your story?

Cohesion and simplicity in a product story are all about the number of different moments you have. Airbnb’s Nathan Blecharczyk states:

We started with a list of many, many moments, grouped like ones together and refined them down into a concise set. If you have too many moments on your storyboard, it’s worthless.

You add feature X because a user asked for it. You add feature Y because your competitor has it. Sound familiar? Although these can be signals, they do not necessarily mean that a feature/moment could be part of your story.

Great products are the ones that have a handful of core features, which allow users to get to their end goals quicker. Thus, the best products resonate deeply with their audiences, as they make lives easier for people. Product managers often fall into the feature fallacy and introduce features without a solid understanding of their audience, just because someone asked for it or because it is easy to implement. Such teams are often called feature factories. Hence, one of the greatest abilities of Product Managers is the ability to reject unnecessary features and the ability to say ‘no’.

As Matt Krueger, a Microsoft and Lumosity alum, argues:

If you try to please everyone as a product manager, you will crash and burn.

Story Changes & Killing Features

Your product story might change over time, and this is normal. Twitter once was a service that allowed people to find and subscribe to podcasts (Odeo) and Instagram was a combination of gaming and photo app (Burbn). Imagine a company that decides to change its strategy and ventures upmarket to satisfy a different audience. Product stories often change.

But, here comes the tricky part! When a story changes, so do its moments. You cannot have a different story, by preserving all existing moments. Product Managers often need to take the bold decision to kill features, when these stop being part of the story. It does not matter if there is a user that is still using this feature. You ‘d better lose a few customers, than lose the coherence of the new story you are trying to craft.

Share with people

A product storyteller should be positioned in the company to help break down the walls between all groups, facilitate the development of a single story, foster collaboration between groups, and ensure that every interaction a consumer has with a product or brand maps back to that story.

As Matt Krueger claims:

The whole team needs to be on the same page with where we’re trying to go, how we can get there, and how we’ll know when we’ve arrived.

Without a solid understanding of the product story, the team risks becoming task-focused, losing sight of the big picture, and deflating any sense of empowerment or excitement. When this happens, users experience a disconnected product and message and, consequently, they do not have a clear perception of its value.

User Value

The product story ends with the value the users are getting from using the product. Thereby, products are, inherently, value-delivery vehicles. Greylock’s Jerry Chen in his deck on Unit of Value, outlined the extent to which all founders and Product Managers need to understand their own product’s Unit of Value if they want to market and scale it effectively. Your unit of value determines how you price, scale and sell your product to your users.

This article was originally posted at:
https://blog.prototypr.io/dear-product-managers-learn-how-to-tell-great-stories-5a8246c960bc

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Call to action (CTA)

A call to action is a marketing term that refers to a prompt that invokes a response leading to a sale. When referring to a call to action (CTA) in the digital design world we usually mean the interactive element that leads to the next step in the experience - something that needs to be clicked or tapped.

User testing

User testing refers to a technique used in the design process to evaluate a product, feature or prototype with real users. There are several reasons why you might want to undergo usability testing, the most common is that it allows the design team to identify friction in a user experience they are designing, so that it can be addressed before being built or deployed.

WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG (pronounced WIZ-ee-wig) is an acronym for "What You See Is What You Get". It helps identify an an interface that allows user input resulting in an output that is rendered in a similar way. For example; a word processor application interface might resemble a piece of paper,so when printed the user can see how the output will appear.

Content Management System

A content management system (CMS) is an tool that allows a website editor/administrator to manage the content that is displayed. Websites are made of HTML and CSS to create pages. Pages can be hard-coded but would require technical development skills to make changes. A CMS usually allows a person without coding knowledge to amend existing and add new content to a website using a WYSIWYG interface.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design refers to a web page that dynamically adapts its layout to fit the size and orientation of the device on which it is viewed. A responsive design allows for a more optimised user experience across desktop and laptop computers as well as smartphones and tablets of varying sizes.

User Stories

User stories allow the functionality of a product or service to be expressed as written descriptions of an experience as seen from the users perspective. The writing of user stories creates a list of design and development tasks to complete in order to create any required functionality.

User Interface

A user interface (UI) is a conduit between human and computer interaction - the space where a user will interact with a computer or machine to complete tasks. The purpose of a UI is to enable a user to effectively control a computer or machine they are interacting with, and for feedback to be received in order to communicate effective completion of tasks.

Personas

A persona in UX Design is the characterisation of a user who represents a segment of your target audience. On a project you might create any number of personas to be representative of a range of user needs and desires. The solutions you design must answer these needs in order to deliver value to your target audience.

Card sorting

A great, reliable, inexpensive method for discovering patterns in how users would expect to find content or functionality. Card sorting is used to test the taxonomy of data with a group of subjects, usually to help inform the creation of the information architecture, user flow, or menu structure on a project.

Brainstorming

A technique used to generate ideas around a specific topic. Often done in groups, but can be done individuals. The process usually involves writing down all ideas around a topic onto paper, a whiteboard or stickies often implying some kind of association.

Minimum Viable Product

An MVP is a product that has the minimum set of features to prove the most essential hypothesis for a product. Businesses building a new product can create a Minimum Viable Product to prove that an idea is viable and warrants further investment. A further benefit being that the next stage of development can be informed by feedback obtained from testing that MVP.

Sitemap

A sitemap is a diagrammatic representation of a hierarchical system. It usually depicts the parent-sibling relationship between pages in a website, showing how sub pages might be arranged underneath their parent groupings. This arrangement forms a map of the site.

User journey

A user journey represents a sequence of events or experiences a user might encounter while using a product or service. A user journey can be mapped or designed to show the steps and choices presented as interactions, and the resulting actions.

Prototype

A prototype is draft representation built to test ideas for layout, behaviour and flow in a system. Prototypes are an indispensable tool for resolving a large number of potential issues in a concept or business before too many resources are deployed to put a design into production.

Wireframes

A Wireframe is a visual schematic that conveys a basic level of communication, structure and behaviour during the design of a system. Wireframes are low-fidelity designs that bypass including a detailed user interface or visual design, conveying just enough to get across the core idea.

Usability

To say something is usable is a qualitative statement about how easy that thing is to use. Usability is an assessment of how learnable a system is and how easy a user finds it to use. The usability of a system or product is a key factor in determining whether the user experience is a good one.

Information Architecture

Information architecture is the design and organisation of content, pages and data into a structure that aids users understanding of a system. A more organised system enables users to more easily find the information they require and complete the intended tasks.

UI Design

User Interface Design is the discipline of designing software interfaces for devices, ideally with a focus on maximising efficiency, responsiveness and aesthetics to foster a good user experience.

UX Design

The practice of User Experience (UX) Design is the coming together of many specific design related disciplines to improve the usability, responsiveness, uptake and aesthetics of a product or service.

User Experience

A general term that covers all aspects of a user's participation while engaging with something that has been designed. Usually when talking about User Experience in the digital design field it refers to the interactions, reactions, emotions and perceptions while using an app, service, website or product.

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