Basic Guide for Writing Story Models

Intended for people who have had the live workshop and would like to further apply Story Models or to refine existing models.

[Draft Version, In Progress]

A Story Model consists of two parts

  • a collection of stories that illustrate the value of a product
  • an abstract model that describes the product itself

A Story is composed of 3 parts – Situation, Vision and Insights

[Situation] Somebody has a problem.

[Vision] How Product comes to solve the problem.

[Insights] What was learned from this story?

Situation

The situation informs us about who we are interested in and what problem they are struggling with.  Important that we feel connected to the actor (person or organization), empathize with their situation, understand why they want to solve the problem.

Elements

The situation describes the current state of things.  How does the actor usually accommodate the situation?  Why is does that not work well for them?  Why are they not content?  Important to relate to the actor, that we empathize with their situation and want to help them resolve their problem.

The situation should address five aspects:

The actor – Who has a problem?  An individual, a group, an organization, a company.

The setting – The part of our world we are discussing.   Live music performances, finding dates, reading books, managing staff, ordering food.

The problem – I need a band, I need a life partner, I want to find books to read, the company wastes time inefficiently organizing staff, I want to order some healthy food for delivery.

The status quo – How is the problem currently dealt with and why is it not working.

The sentiment – How do the people involved feel about the status quo?  Frustration, hopeless, inefficient, wasteful, confused.  Or content but unaware of better possibilities?

Examples

The Harpy [ Live Music Events ]
The local bar The Harpy features live music on most nights of the week, often 2 or 3 bands in a night. The Harpy struggles though to find enough artists. Relying on word of mouth in the community and networking is cumbersome and time consuming, and misses out on many underground or alternative possibilities.

Joanna [ Dating ]
Joanna wants to find companionship for hanging out and possibly romantic relationships.   She passes many people every day, in the elevator, jogging in the park, neighbor through the window, dancing at favorite club.  Many look interesting, and Joanna wonders if there could be a connection.  But in the routines of her life she seldom has occasion to interact with anybody new and feels awkward initiating random interactions with strangers.  Besides, not really possible to stop at the moment of crossing and have a chat if you are busy.  Also don’t know if the other people are single, or what status, or interested and willing to meet new people, or interested in her.  Joanna fears being rejected if she tries to initiate contact with someone.

Kolera [ Content Management ]
Kolera is a small chain of Medical Clinics in the Southern U.S.  Their web portal is an important part of their interaction with patients, for making appointments, giving test results, communicating with medical staff.  Many parts of the site contain content, such as announcements or reminders or financial and plan information, that must be updated frequently by different parts of the organization.  The process to make updates involves a lot of coordinating between various departments and IT, making everything slow, error prone and frustrating.

Strength

A story is strong if it paints a rich and nuanced picture of the actor, the  problem and the status quo.

Weak to say only “John needs a band to play at his event and is failing to find one.

Stronger to describe John so we know him a bit, give some specifics about the problem John is facing, and some details about the background.

John is a bit of a perfectionist and wants to throw the perfect birthday party for his partner Jane, who he loves dearly and who prefers heavy metal.  He wants to find an artist to play at the party who is not too expensive but is still talented and has not only great music but also a mix of humor and energy in their performance.  John’s doesn’t really know any bands, and is not having much success with googling or reaching out to his friends network.

Vision

How the Product solves the Problem and the Actor becomes content

How is the product introduced to the situation?  How does the actor come to learn about the product

John’s friend Dale, who is into live music, occasionally attends Gigstarter’s sponsored performances.

How does the actor engage with the product?

John goes to the Gigstarter website and listens to samples of artists featured on the landing page.  Hears some good music, and decides to create an account.

Does the product make sense to them?  How do they apply the product to solve their problem?

John browses Gigstarter’s catalog to find an artist to perform at Jane’s party, listening to samples and watching videos, looking for music Jane would love but also performers that would make the party fun.

Was it difficult?  What did they struggle with at first?

John feels a bit overwhelmed by all the possibilities that all start to mix together in his head.  Most don’t suit his need.   John tries using the filters, and after some effort and experimenting, understands basically how they work, and he narrows down his list to a manageable size.

Does the product completely solve their problem?  Or do they need to enlist other tools as well?

To organize his thoughts, John opens Notepad and makes a short list of his top choices, with notes about each, good and bad, and the link to their Gigstarter profiles.  When John has had enough, he reviews his list and contacts the first choice.

How do they feel about the experience?  Was the result exactly what they want?

John found it a bit tiring to go through and organize all the information, but was quite happy to have many options, and loved the artist he chose in the end.

How is the offering superior to the status quo and to other alternatives?  How is the actors life improved now with the product as part of their world?

Although it still took John time to find the band, Gigstarter was a more focused approach than googling or asking around, and yielded many more possibilities.  John felt in the end like he was able to see a fair sampling of what was available and to make an informed choice.  He was confident the partiers, and especially Jane, would love the band.

Obstacles / Resistance

The product should not win over the actor too easily. 

John went to Gigstarter, browsed the artists and found exactly the right Heavy Metal band for Jane’s party.

In real life, people resist new ideas and encounter obstacles.  People hesitate to alter habits that are working, and to take a risk and invest effort to try something new.  People don’t understand how things work at first or how to use them.    Learning effort is required, to familiarize themselves with the product.  They easily misunderstand or get confused, may get tired and quit.  People naturally expect that promises from vendors are self-interested and doubt their truth.  They are only likely to proceed if they perceive true value.

John saw a huge number of artists were available on Gigstarter.  He was inspired that somewhere in the list was the perfect band for Jane’s party.  John started checking out random artists, listening to samples and watching videos, but quickly became overwhelmed by all the choices.  He decided to use filters to narrow down the possibilities.  This required a bit of time and effort as John experimented with how to focus in on what he wanted.  He was able to select for a group (not a solo-artist) and narrow the genre Rock, but not quite to Heavy Metal.  That still left John with many possible artist to review, but John’s excitement returned that he might succeed on his quest.

The Offering must motivate people to set aside their natural resistance and to push through obstacles they encounter in the hopes of achieving a valued solution to their problem.

Insights

Generalizing from the specific. 

Insights list observations gleaned from this particular actor solving their problem.  What was learned that informs about and applies to the whole space?

When making a selection, people struggle with too many choices.  Filtering can reduce their burden.

Having videos can help to judge the personality and style of a live artist beyond what can be understood from their music alone.

Insights never refer to the specific actor or problem from this story.  Rather they express general principals about the world that were illustrated by the story.

The insights are what we take from the story to build our vision of the product.  The important points.  The take-a-ways.  The lessons learned.

Truth

A story should have a sense of truth to it.

Does the actor seem like they could exist?  Would they have this problem?  Would they truly consider trying the product?  Could the product solve their problem?  Is their effort worth the benefit?  Is the offering from the product superior to alternatives?

Dining at the Smiths

Situation

The Smith family struggles to manage food in the household and to plan meals.  Parents are not coordinating their shopping, no plan exists for the week’s meals, when cooking, the required ingredients are not present, snacks are depleted.

Vision

The Smiths learn about Hofoma, the Household Food Manager app.  They enter the food inventory of the house into the app, and recipes for favorite meals.  Hofoma helps plan upcoming meals based on what’s available, keeping variety in mind.  When shopping for groceries, Hofoma recommends what to purchase.  The family records changes when food is consumed or restocked.  Hofoma issues alerts to the family when upcoming meal plans are threatened.

Insights

Families find it convenient to maintain the household food supplies in an app so facilitate purchasing groceries and planning meals.

Do you have doubts about the Hofoma story?  Would the Smith family really find the additional work of maintaining the data to be worth the benefit?  Is a typical family even capable of maintaining accurate data?

A story should express a convincing and likely reality.  A story should be such that it could probably happen.   The insights from a story should accurately reflect the real world.

Archetypes

Make several stories, each representative of an important common case. 

The Harpy needs folk artists to perform 5 nights a week…

Dream Nation seeks artists that have a large draw for regular performances…

The Museum of Modern Art continually needs suitable artists for upcoming events…

Each individual story should illuminate an aspect of the product and its use.  The stories together should give a complete sense of diverse actors engaging with the product in various ways.

Focus

Stories may overlap, but should not be redundant. A story should have focus. Avoid overly broad stories that try to cover everything. Rather break large stories into smaller stories that clearly illustrate one aspect or case.

Story Types

There are several types of stories.

Core stories express a party’s need for a product to solve their problem.

Specific stories address a task or goal and may focus on certain aspects or features of a product.

Business stories examine aspects of the product and the business, such as business model, pricing, tiered offerings, sales and marketing initiatives, customer education, on-boarding, growth hacks, development of a new market or investment.

Negative stories illustrate when things don’t work out in the end.

Model

The model gathers together our intuition from the stories to make an abstract description of the product and its world – the concepts around the product, the elements that make up the product, how the elements of the product are related, the capabilities of the product, the processes involved in using the product, etc.  The model then serves as a guide to aid in constructing a product that properly serves all of the stories.

 

Statements

The core of the model is concise statements describing the product.

Gigstarter offers a catalog of artists who can perform at live events.

Artists create profiles with information, music samples and an optional video.

Parties and venues needing bands for gigs can search, browse and filter artists.

Artists can be contacted directly for gigs.

Hiring parties are encouraged to leave reviews and ratings of artists.

 

Elements

The principal elements referenced in the statements are the model’s are entities, relationships and processes.  For example, from the statements above we can identify

Entities:

  • Catalog
  • Artist
  • Profile
  • Music Sample
  • Video
  • Gig
  • Venue
  • (Hiring) Party

Relationships:

  • Gigstarter has a Catalog of Artists
  • An Artist has a Profile
  • A Profile has Information, Music Samples and a Video
  • A Party hires an Artist for a Gig.

Processes

  • An Artist can add Music Samples and a Video to their Profile
  • A Party can filter Artists
  • A Party can view an Artist’s Video
  • A Party can contact an Artist for a Gig

Basis

The model is a basis for what the product should be and do, but without implementation detail.  The model does not specify user interface or technology or platform.  The same model could be used to make a human based service or a sophisticated mobile app.  The product is only required to conform to the model.  In this way, the model serves as constraint to insure that the product will support the stories.  In the example above, the Artist must be able to add a Video to their Profile, and a Party must be able to view this Video.  How exactly this is implemented is not specified, and is left to the design of the implementation.