Happily Ever After - The Reason We Tell Stories

Knowledge / Inspiration

Happily Ever After - The Reason We Tell Stories

Continuous Design
UXDX Community Berlin 2020

...we keep remembering the stories we were told as kids long into our adult life, some we might even pass on to future generations. Storytelling has always been a part of us, it is a way to pass on knowledge, get people together and celebrate extraordinary lives. For a Product Manager it's our strongest tool to align the vision and the direction of the company and we need to make sure our customers get to be the heroes that they are and enchant the company to work together to solve our heroes problems. In this talk, I'll talk through how I've applied the story telling process to my teams, how it has helped me get alignment in my teams and how it has helped us create better products.

Hi, everyone. And thank you for tuning in my name is Emilie and I work at Outfittery as a Product Manager here in Berlin. And I will talk to you about a topic that is very warm to my heart. And that I think is one of the most powerful tools that we have as product managers or as people potentially. And so, I want to talk about storytelling and the reason why we tell stories. And also, the things that we tend to forget. So, to get into the mood of this, I would like you all to take a moment and think about a story that you were told as a kid. Maybe it was during your bedtime, when you someone read it to you, maybe it wasn't a movie that really gets stuck in your head or something about turtles or something about braid princesses, something, just take a minute and think about it. And what's the first thing that comes to your mind. So, maybe you would be able to meet that story pretty well, maybe not from the once upon a time until they happily ever after that parts in between, you would be able to tell about and you would be able to tell me a little bit about the hero and maybe some of the challenges or some of the other people or characters that are in the story. So, there's definitely a lot there that you would be able to tell just from reminiscing a little bit. And why is that? Well, we remember these stores because they make sense because we have the full picture. We get drawn into these stories by heroes that are exciting and we want to know what's happening. And then in the end we know the happily ever after. So, everything makes sense. Everything that unraveled to us in the story kind of makes sense. Not saying that giants' bean stocks climbing into the heavens and killing giants are senseful things, but they do make sense as a story. So, this is the reason why stories work and why we do tend to tell them a lot is because we understand them. We get the whole point; we get the why the story is being told. So, we have told stories forever. We've told stories since the early cave paintings that are like 30,000 years old, where we had little buffaloes being chased by small tiny humans with spears. So, we were told how to change, how to hunt and what to do hunt already back then and then we were told endless stories about all the Greek mythologists and the mysticism in the world were being explained by these stories and then coming to things like the store is about trolls and scary lake monsters. All of these stories were told to keep us away from dangerous things though, so that we didn't wander off in the forest by ourselves. And there were generation of stories passing through where they were sitting around the campfire, talking about what to harvest, how to harvest and so on. I don't know that much about harvesting because no one had told me this, but there's a lot of stuff that was being told in stories and then come the printing press where we could get these stories to last forever and then with this, we were also expanding the knowledge to certain things that happen today. So, we had the newspapers telling us current stories, making us aware and engaged in what's going on around the world. And we have the whole world of entertainment with music and movies and theater and dance and everything, all this stories. And today with social media, there are literally stories, Instagram stories, Facebook stories, LinkedIn stories? Maybe there are, I don't know the stories anyways everywhere. And the reason why we tell them is because they simply work. We get and sanctify them. We get a lost into stories. We understand the why we get the stories. We get excited about the adventures and we get, we really root for our heroes. And at the end of the day, we feel like we're a part of the stories because we can relate because we have got so much in this story and in the details of the story that week, I actually feel like we're a part of it. And this is where interesting things starts to happen. When we come to that point, we can put the boots of our customers in our mind and see what he needs to move forward. This is when we start to get really creative and really, really, really inspiring. This is where magic starts to happen. So, we tell stories all the time, not just as product managers for the world of business are stories everywhere. We tell them in our long-term planning, what kind of visions and missions, we tell them in shorter term planning that you cross-functional things, with roadmaps and things like that. This is storytelling. We do it with marketing towards our customers, but we also do it with interviews with our customers and we do it with the use of testing that we do all of this is framed around a storytelling format. We can try to convince our stakeholders to what's the next best thing that the story for them. We want them to get along, to get aligned and to be better. And we break it down to the smallest little pieces here, as well as their stories. We use stories every single day. So, I want to talk a little bit about storytelling as you might've guessed, but I want to talk specifically about the use of story, because I think there's so much power in this store with all of what I've talked about in the power of storytelling that we should really think about when we work and with our user stories and work with our development and tech teams. So, let's take this simple format that a lot of us know and S and X I won't Y, so that I can Z. You might write it a bit differently, but essentially this is kind of the baseline for a simple use of story. And we do these all of the time without even thinking about it, the base of our stories. Another way we could do this just for comparison. Once upon a time, there was a brave princess faraway to the kingdom and her evil stepmother so that she could travel the world and be happy. This is essentially the same thing. Just written a little bit more fun potentially. We have the X, we have the right princess. We have the wants of her that she wants to leave. And we have the said, which is that she wants to travel the world and be happy. So, immediately you start to think when you hear a story like this, you trigger something and you start to think, "Well, why is she brave? What makes her brave? Why is she not brave enough to leave the evil kingdom or the evil stepmother or where does she want to go? Does she want to go by yourself? I mean, I have a billion questions and I wrote that so I should know something else. That's all I know. Anyways, moving along and let's start to break it down, to really dig into what these parts mean here. But first things first, I S X. Who is this story about? Well, first thing first. This you sir, or the customer is always the hero. It's not you. It's not the developers, it's not the CEO. When we're talking about features that are customer facing, everything is always about the user or the customer so what we want to do is that we want to understand him. Because we want to get the full picture and we want to really dig into to why and how and when, and all of these things that we want to know. We want to be able to step into these shoes and really understand things. So, what do we do here? Well, we, we get to know him and how do we do that? Well, let me do it with all of these things that the beautiful pools that we have. We have interviews, would you test and surveys, and we collect feedback and we really try to get into our mind into the mind of our customers to understand him and what he needs to do to conquer in these adventures, to the happily ever after. We create personas around him to make sure that we're able to communicate this with the rest of the company as well. So, we really want to paint these pictures of our users, our customers, to make sure that we have because usually you don't have this one single type patient. We have a few, but you want to make sure that you have these personas and our camp are able to, first of all, they are able to change with time because they do people evolve and things change, but also that we're able to really catch it and be able to spread it to the rest of the company. So, everybody gets to know him. Coming into the what’s the why thing. So, this is actually the adventure. What are the things that are here needs to move forward to the happily ever after. So, what might it be a new format of invoicing or another way to contact customer service or maybe a safer later feature or something like this? I have no idea what features you might have but a few things that could help you on the way here to just try to think about this in maybe a little bit of different way is to ask yourself, what are the challenges that are here on meets? Is it an unclear invoice information or is it a late delivered invoice? Like what is the actual thing that we need to fix for him to move forward and then we also need to look at like what roads that he takes, because this is also where you're in the story does he get these problems. Is it when he logs in? And is he when he incident on the payments side or whatever side that you might have. We need to figure this out to be able to really figure out what the customer needs here. So, where these two pieces, we come to the last piece here and that'll use her story which is then what is the end. The happily ever after and depending on if you have it as a user story like you have the goal, do you have target? Do you have definition of done but also coming to things like the happily ever after for a company. This is something that is the mission statement, the vision of the company or your product vision, the happily ever after something that is there and we must know it by heart. We must really feel it because everything we do should boil on to happy ever after. So, what we need to do here, when we have all of this definition of done and all of these things, we need to be clear. So, we need to exactly know what done means or what success means. So, we have a clear definition and we should set the KPI targets and targets of where we want to reach and what we want to do. But also make sure that you talk to your customers. Direct feedback with new features is the best way to go. So, at the end of the day, you want to say that, “Okay. We reached to happily ever after and here's the proof." So, that's what you need to do. So, we're coming to having all of these pieces together. What did we do as product managers is that we keep telling the story. We keep telling it and we keep telling it to trigger other people's brains in this engagement and problem solving to step into the customer's shoes, to be able to move in the right direction that will solve these problems and then lead to the happily ever after. So, this is what we do here. And there are times when you will get lost because there are so many initiatives, there's so many great ideas out there, and there are simply so many things that we can do. We have also so many different people within the company, and we're all moving forward in the one direction towards to happily ever after. So, we might get lost. We might see simply lose track of our hero. It could be a new value proposition that targets new customers, new heroes to join the adventure rather than the actual repeating customers that we have and maybe we then forget about the repeat customer and we lose track of him or maybe there are too many stories being told at the same time, we do have different agendas. If I'm working the product or if I work in marketing or finance even if we all want the same thing, we do have different agendas on our tables. So, this is their easy way to lose the plot of the story. Because we simply don't align on it. Well, enough or we simply lose track of the happily ever after this happens to or we get more stuck and older happily ever after we have changed as a company we developed. So, we want something else or we lost track of it completely or we mistook the happily ever after for happy right now, which is not the same thing. That's something that is happening at the moment and happily ever after something that expands over time, it's sticky and it's also continuous. You will get lost. This happens. I remember sitting in the meeting together with a super fun initiative that we wanted to do cross functional, super intriguing brains in this room. And we were talking about how are we going to technically solve something or how we're going to mark things in the system and how we're going to figure things out that are not the actual problem that we wanted to solve because we were so stuck in just our own details on the problem rather than from the purpose user-friendly and hero focused perspective. We didn't even talk about the customer until we have looped around a couple of times and we didn't get anywhere. And then we stopped and we were like, "Hang on, wait. Two questions. Who are we doing this for and how is this helping him on his adventures with us to the happily ever after?" And that made us bounced right back on track in terms of understanding what we're doing and why we're doing it. So, this made me think because we do have an great understanding and we take pride about knowing our customers at outfit trade. We really do and we do a lot of work around it and we have a clear mission. We still sat there and looped around and we lost the story and we didn't know what we were doing really until we looked back and found it. So, this made me think how we ended up in that position and how we got there. And this made me think about the Simpson's actually. So, clearly that's where you go in that. So, the Simpsons or actually a documentary about the Simpsons. I mean, this is so long ago. I have no idea. But they were showing this room where all the writers get together and they write the stories, the episodes in one room together, they lock themselves in with donuts and coffee or whatever they had. And then they just toss ideas around and toss jokes around. They feed off each other and they kind of move around to make things happen. And bam outcome, an episode. Not saying that the episodes of Simpsons had the most fictional thing, but it's definitely storytelling and it's definitely something that they do together. And this is the secret here though. So, that's what they do together. They write it together and they could only do this. If they knew all the characters, all of the heroes, the whole Simpson family, the whole Springfield village. And they could only do this. If they knew the struggles, the challenges, the things that are coming along and the happily ever after, they would only be able to do it. And with their own specialties, they bring things together to a wider perspective. So, the thing that we tend to forget is that we should write together. We should write it together because we're all dividers in the story. We might be telling it but we're not the writers of it. So, hard times to be a product manager. Not only are you not the hero of the story, but you're also not the single writer of it. So, well, what do we do? We keep telling the story but we write it together. So, how do we do this? It's easy to talk about, easy to say. And I have a few things that I think work really well and that are really interesting in terms of how to bring it into the everyday life. Not just would keep telling the story, which you should always keep telling the story but what do we do? So, we keep the focus on the hero. This is the most important that you store the customer. He is the star of the show. He is the hero. He is the one that we're trying to make come from point A to point B and be happily ever after with us. So, this is what we do but important here is that make sure that everybody gets to know him. Everybody knows the hero. And also keep talking to him. I mean, there's a lot of working and understanding and getting to know someone specially customer. So, you need to really pay attention here and make sure that you have these discussions with them. Coming into second point here which is invite the writers. It's easy for us to be like, we are the storytellers. We are the voice, the customer's voice, blah, blah, blah but we're also not writing it by ourselves. So, my absolute favorite thing to do in the world is to have a kickoff meeting if I have an idea that I want to do, I have a change I want to do in a product. I have like a new exciting idea to make sure that I get the right insert and the right information, do a kickoff meeting and do it as early as possible and be able to get everybody's knowledge, get everybody's insights worries, fears, joys, moments, whatever that comes to mind when you have this kickoff meeting, but you will get so many things out of that meeting that you don't have to go back and change at the end of the day. Plus you're inviting everybody to be a part of the story from the beginning, so they will be excited and they will support you in this way. And keep this, keep the alignment meetings that you have but add storytelling to it. Don't forget about it. I mean, use the word hero use the word happily ever after. Trigger these things into people to get them to really focus on what we're doing here. So, this is some things that we wanted to come into this putting yourself into the shoes on the hero to understanding and this is what we do, and this is how we do it and also hold them to it. If they want to be a part of it, hold them accountable, make sure that they are coming in and really contributing to the story. And also, that they are understanding and that they are getting to know the heroes are successful. Two things come into a third, which is coming soon. My favorite which is story live in grooming. This is something that is a little bit time-consuming but it's a lot fun and it takes so much energy. It gives so much energy to the team when you do it because they come up with solutions that are better than the original thing that you might have or that because one brain can only think so much. So, I will try and give an example here and see if it works. This is the problem. This is a made-up problem and tried to make something that is universal. The customer tries to place a new order. He has not paid his last one, so he cannot do it. He gets sad and lock office and there's no new water being done. One user story you can use here to bring to your grooming could look something like this, ask the customer. I won and I cash on orders. I have not paid so that I know that I have to pay them. This is a terrible user story, in my opinion. I wrote it. So, I'm allowed to criticize it, but here we're looking at something that is not very inspiring. There's some sort of solution in there that I'm not sure why it would be there. And we're also not solving the original problem even with this because the customer is trying to order it again. And this would be more of a happily ever after. Yes, we want him to pay but we also want him to water. This is not very good. I'm looking at this as a customer, there's also no relationship to whom he is or what he does or like there's nothing about him and one crucial piece of information that we actually know is that this is a repeat customer. He has not paid his from his last order. So, it's coming back again. So, this is returning customers and we do cherish them very much. So, let's try to rewrite this one and see what happens. And again, there's some billion ways of doing this. This is just an attempt from my side to provide it better I challenge you to find a better way as a returning customer, I want to know if I have outstanding payments so that I can easily pay them and make my next order. This triggers more to discuss right here. So, this is what I would mean to the team. There’re no solutions. There’re just things that I need to get to making the next door to get to the happily ever after and this is what I do. So, I would bring this one. I don't bring the acceptance criteria. I don't bring in a technical detail. I bring this and we talk about this and we start by doing what we did before we break it down. All right. So, who is the customer? It's a returning customer. He wants to know if he has outstanding payments. Okay. What is the challenge? But he doesn't get this information. Where is he coming from? What routes does he take it in? Where can we find this problem for him? What do we need to change? Is it a user flow or is it something else? And then how do we make sure that he's always able to make a new order in this flow? So, it brings a lot of solutions. I know I thought about a few already but that's not the point. The point is to have this discussion, to invite them, to get engaged by the stories here, to make sure that we're able to really make them put their selves into the shoes of the customer. So, this is where we want to get moving forward. So, we tell stories to inspire, to engage and to trigger that problem-solving brain, to allow people to get into the shoes of the customer, to really amplify so they know what they do to move forward. And then the third thing that we tend to forget is that we are invited together. So, we should always invite people to this. Maybe not to write a user story together but also possibly make people write user stories. It's really good way of exercising. And you keep telling the story about the customer, about his problems, about what we know about them, about how are we going to get to from A to B to solve something. We just keep telling it but this story changes all the time because we have new writers coming in with ideas and things to change, and we should keep this in mind. I encourage you to try, this is where it starts with one support at a time and you do the rest. You fill it in. I would love to talk about it. It's so much fun when you Excel. I see people getting engaged about the customer. So, I hope that I will see you later today at 6:00 PM. So, we can talk a little bit about storytelling and maybe ideas that you have or struggles that you have. So, we can really get inspired by ourselves here because there's a lot to tell. Thank you very much.