If project plans aren’t worked out professionally and communicated effectively, they can be misleading to stakeholders and cause project failures. Dr Paul Steinfort says that simple changes to your project plan in how you frame stories can lead to significantly more successful outcomes and sustainable futures.

Room for growth

As sad as it is, project failures are common. According to the AIPM/KPMG project management survey report in 2021, 50% of respondents indicated that their project failed to consistently achieve what they set out to achieve, and 70% of organisations had suffered at least one project failure in the prior 12 months. Examples of this are not hard to find either, with a recent global ABC News research study reporting that billions of dollars are wasted on infrastructure projects because of insufficient communication and planning, bureaucracy, and the failure to engage good staff.

Utilising storytelling

Stories are an underutilised way to effectively transmit project information and values, as mentioned in the Autumn 2021 edition of Paradigm Shift. Storytelling captures and holds attention, something that ignites our curiosity and imagination. It can impact knowledge and either confirm or shift dominant paradigms.

Storytelling has a lot of power, because stories are fundamental to the way we process and experience life.

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values, and agenda of an entire generation that is to come,” said Steve Jobs.

In the case of projects, stories can clarify understanding in a practical, agile way.

The agile way

A combination of traditional storytelling and adaptable project management is required to be successful. The quote, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” (Les Guêpes, January 1849) springs to mind.

The key point here is that the project plans are professional, practical, and achievable, whereas stories can be fiction dressed up as fact. Just think of the way governments or organisations have related project stories to the community. If the factual reality of professional project plans leads to a great story being told, then the project would have a much greater chance of success.

Many large companies, including Microsoft (via Microsoft Project) are using agile processes to assist with storytelling. The flow chart below is from the Microsoft Project Users Group (MPUG) website where Satya Narayan Dash shows stories can have a key place in projects. Atlassian also provide Agile project planning tools to enable more effective project communication through project stories. Climate change activist, Mike Cannon- Brookes, co-CEO and co-Founder, of Atlassian who promotes agile storyline applications featured in the news recently with great stories that proved telling.

Story Breakdown Structutre (source: Stories about Stories in Agile Development – Satya Naryan Dash, Microsoft Project Users Group)


Sustainable project cycle

Project managers can make sustainable change by first engaging with effective and proven project planning techniques to ‘reflect’, ‘plan’, ‘do’, and ‘review’, as achieved by the PSA Project cycle, regularly monitoring the ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘why’, and ‘how’. Focus on:

      • ‘what’ goal to deliver the core value(s) for the key stakeholders
      • ‘who’ are the key stakeholders and what are their agreed outcomes?
      • ‘why’ do this project and is it going to achieve best value outcomes?
      • ‘how’ to deliver sustainable

The stories, narrative, and inspiration come from the frameworks or processes that we apply in planning the scope, engaging with all range of stakeholders to plan, monitor, evaluate, and complete projects.

The power of the work breakdown structure

Stakeholders will relate positively to, engage effectively with, and even be inspired by stories that are brought to life using that key aspect of scope in the work breakdown structure (WBS).

Due to its visual nature, the WBS is a very effective communication tool used by managers to plan the project and relate narratives for the project.

It has the same structure as the components of storytelling, which can be seen in the flow charts:

        • Outcome 1 is the ‘plot’, which is about learning, and growth being informed through ‘chronology’ (or timelines) and the ‘narrative’ by the project plan WBS and the risks of the project.
        • Outcome 2 is the ‘characters’, the key stakeholders’ perception of the project who are needing identification of them and their core values. Then engaging with the stakeholders who power the project’s success and sustainable futures, enabling what can work best in their community. As vital information is recognised, the narrative of the project plan is adapted.


Storylines – Components of Story (source: Beemgee.com)

Story Structure WBS (source: PSA Project)


Final thoughts

By engaging in factual narratives for all your projects through an effective WBS scope, all those involved can then understand and help drive the project.

That positive momentum is then grown throughout the project life cycle through constant monitoring and resolution for continuous improvement.

This then drives sustainable outcomes, maximising value, minimising project time, cost, and resources, achieving sustainable project management with best value deliverables in a timely and least risky way.

Narrative Elements for Project Management Story (source: PSA Project)


Communication is the toughest part of the project

The key positive in all of the above is that the WBS contains all core elements of storylines to communicate most effectively with all stakeholders. Those stories and the stagewise narratives engage understanding, credibility, and commitment to achieve the best value outcomes for all types of programs to projects, in all environments.

The key, in all of the above, is that the scope of the WBS framework can lead the stagewise and sage-wise narratives, core to project plans, to communicate the reality needed for project management to achieve sustainable futures.

They say that communication is the toughest part of any project and that a picture paints a thousand words.