Tag Archives: problem

Write a compelling story

Write a compelling storyPeople learn by reading stories. But are your stories getting the result you want? We learned from the film industry to make a compelling story by introducing a problem, a solution and an enemy. Your story is the journey from the problem to the solution, documented in key points that form the paragraphs.

Organizations have been using story telling for quite a while but how do you know it has any results? If you’re only focusing on acquiring and publishing stories, you might get lost in producing input. The danger is that you invest a lot of time and effort that doesn’t pay back. One (of many) reasons could be that your audience is not reading your stories at all. It could be that you lost them after the first paragraph.

What makes a good story?

All good stories (Disney’s Snow White, The Lord Of The Rings, etc) start with a problem and an enemy is introduced. The story is about solving the problem and working toward a solution. The enemy is preventing an all-to-easy solution of the problem and is a guarantee for plot twists. Take any other story in mind and you’ll see it fits: problem, enemy, solution, steps to solution.

The steps to the solution are the key points, the takeaways, of your story. Each key point is something to remember and will form the paragraphs of your story, when you work it out. In this blog entry, all key points are marked in bold. This makes it easier to skip text and still capture the essence of the blog. Do you have much to share? Find the main key points and break them down. Next, do the same with the sub key points you’ve created.

Stick to the core, the essence of your story. Less is more. If a paragraph has no key points marked in bold, ask yourself: “Is this paragraph needed? Is it key to the story?”. For me, this is the biggest challenge. Also experts are challenged here not to bury the essence in too many details and paragraphs.

How to capture the attention of the audience?

Before story starts, you need to capture the attention of the audience. Create the setting for the story and make sure they can relate.

In most stories and movies the audience can relate to the main character and starts to “live” the story. The reader is compelled and is pulled into it. Remember sitting on the edge of your chair when Frodo almost lost his ring in the LOTR movie?

People have nowadays (too) much communication to read and they’re very scarce with giving anything their time and attention. You only have the first seconds when they start reading your story. Make sure that the “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) is captured in the very first paragraph of your text. The WIIFM contains the core of your story, the main reason to convince your reader why he should spend time in reading. You might consider it as a summary of your whole text. If this doesn’t trigger into reading, he’d never have read the full story. Consider it as an acid test for your story.

It might sound odd to give it all away in the very first paragraph of the text, but this is needed to gain interest. Check your local newspaper: they do it too: a nice title and the very first paragraph is the summary of the whole article. If the summary gets you interested, you read further. If you are interested, but you don’t have much time, you skip to the key points marked in bold. If you’re not interested, you check the title and summary of the next article.

When do I start?

So knowing all this, when do you start writing better stories? As of today!

1. Next time you write a story, start with answering following questions:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the setting, the context?
  • What is the solution?
  • What are the steps to the solution? (these will become your key points)

If you find answers to these questions, you can write the summary of your story. Consider it as an elevator pitch: you need to pitch the story to somebody new and have only a few minutes of his time.

2. Write your story: elaborate your key points to create paragraphs.

3. Check your story and remove all information that’s not core to the problem or the solution. Strip it down to the bare essentials.

4. Mark the key takeaways in your paragraphs as bold.

Additional reading

Tagged , , , ,

Smart people have smart problems



This week I was asked to help with a problem solving (RCA – Root Cause Analysis) workshop. From my experience with RCA workshops I know that the workshop will succeed or fail from step 1: the problem definition.

When I got the actual problem(s), I was overwhelmed. It was not clear to me what the exact problem was and how I would get it to fit into the head of the fish bone (Ishikawa diagram).

Even when I applied my task force of six honest serving-men (What, Who, Where, When and How), I couldn’t get the problem sharp.

After talking with the participants, other lean coaches and searching on the Internet I got the problem sharp.

Let’s share some tips and look at the advantages!


Make your problem SMART: Specific – Measurable – Acceptable – Realistic – Time bound.

Workshop participants cannot disagree with a SMART problem because you have a measurable specific facts.

Try to formulate your problem in an elevator pitch.

If you cannot formulate the problem case in 1 to 2 sentences, it’s probably too complex, too blanket or too vague.

Check in advance with workshop participants if they agree with your problem statement and if not, what they propose.

This way you can avoid (expensive) discussion time during the workshop.

Don’t try to capture root causes hidden as effects in the problem definition.

Use only five of your six honest serving-men (What, Who, Where, When and How) for your problem definition, the sixth (Why) is covered in the RCA workshop.

Focus on the problem and not already on the root causes. These root causes will surface during the workshop.

Agree on the problem with the group before you start looking for the root causes.

Make sure everybody is focused and on the same page.

Hang the problem (formulated in the elevator pitch) on a visible spot during the workshop.

RCA workshop can take some time and it’s helpful to have to problem available to refer to in times of need.

Example 1 – four steps from a bad to a good problem statement

Bad problem statement:

“Our external vendor is delivering bad work”.

Why: too vague, not specific

Bad problem statement:

“Cooperation with our external vendor is going bad.”.

Why: too blanket

Bad problem statement:

“The external vender has delivered software with many defects because is not working like agreed”.

Why: has root cause in it, vague (“like agreed”?)

Bad problem statement:

“The external vendor has delivered software with many defects and the analysis was not on time”.

Why: multiple problems in one statement

Good problem statement:

“Our external vendor delivered software with 67 defects in the database layer for software release X on May 2nd and because of it the cost rose with 10%”.

Why: specific, measurable, factual, no discussion, has effect

Example 2 – two steps from a bad to a good problem statement

Bad problem statement:

“The project documentation is unclear and not up to date, so is not used by new team members”.

Why: multiple problems in one statement

Good problem statement:

“Project documentation in the maintenance team is not sufficient for training new team members which leads to twice longer orientation times”.

Why: specific, factual, no discussion, has effect


The advantages to put enough time in the preparation of your problem definition are:

  • Everybody is on the same page. Focus.
  • The problem is a (measurable) fact and no assumptions are made.
  • There’s no discussion about the existence of the problem.
  • Because the problem is a fact, it’s an issue that needs to be resolved.
  • If your problem is defined SMART, you can measure the effectiveness of the solutions you find & apply.

“A problem well stated is a problem half solved” – Charles F. Kettering, US electrical engineer & inventor, Head of research for GM (1876 – 1958)

Tagged , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: