Data architects as storytellers

In my past, I was involved in a grassroots advocacy organization. Acceptance to our cause lacked momentum. The organization saw the need to focus our efforts in a way that was consistent and engaging while respecting the individual experiences of the advocates. They adopted the concept of storytelling. It was a success and paid off handsomely with us achieving our end goal.

Storytelling is not a new concept. We are familiar with it as children and as parents. A story is the means by which the storyteller connects to the listener. The storytelling technique that I learned has three parts.

  1. The story: A story is the central focus of the art. The teller speaks of a past experience that was a pivotal influence in their life.
  2. Storyteller Benefits: The storyteller shares the benefits realized by and positive changes that occurred as the result of the shared experience.
  3. Listener Benefits: The story ends with the storyteller explaining how the listener benefits from the experience the storyteller shared.

Storytelling has been used in the sales and marketing business worlds where connecting with a customer is paramount. Storytelling works when the storyteller successfully connects their past experience to the listener’s life. The selection of the right story is crucial in peaking the listener’s attention and engaging them through the end of the story.

Connectedness is a necessity for IT and data professionals. Techies need to connect in project teams spanning departments and business units. Storytelling provides the means to make those important connections. Let’s look at how storytelling might come into play for the data architect.

The Story

The data architect draws from their portfolio and finds a project that had similar goals and characteristics to the project at hand. The storyteller builds a story that emphasizes challenges faced; technologies deployed and involvement of the data team and data technologies.

The story teller structures the story to the audience. Technicians thrive on IT buzzwords and dropping names of software, hardware and development techniques. The business community tunes in to impact on the bottom line, streamlining of business processes and more flexible and friendly user interfaces. A mixed audience responds to a message that both technical and business focused at a level of detail that peaks interest and does not lose their interest.

Storyteller Benefits

The middle of the traditional story is focused on how the storyteller benefited. Data storytelling must expand beyond those inward facing benefits to a broader focus of the data team, IT and the enterprise. How the data architect benefited is directly tied to the success of the project and fellow team members.

Connectedness with the listener is highly dependent on relating your benefits to the benefits the listener values. This implies that data architects need to do some footwork get to know the listener and what makes them tick. This part of the story is about your past experience, but your listener needs to be engaged. That only happens when a connection is made.

Listener Benefits

Your story telling ends with “the sale”. The data architect relates their past experience and benefits realized to the immediate needs of the listener. Successfully selling your story results when the listener connect the dots to their needs at hand and engage you in further dialogue.

Connectedness is reliant at this stage on targeting the listener’s needs and matching them with data technology, services and personnel. The data architect must have fully researched the project at hand; be familiar with technology solutions on the table and knowledge of the listener’s capabilities and limitations.

Applicability

Many situations are suited for storytelling. The above scenario focused on project engagement. Storytelling is effective in eliciting data requirements. It works well in resolving design dilemmas. It can help repair dysfunctional relationships.

Any situation that benefits from connectedness benefits from storytelling. The formula is simple. Chose a compelling story from your past. Share the benefits realized from that experience. Relate those benefits to the listener. Success is just a story away.

Tom Bilcze

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  1. Pingback: Dangling Relationships | The shift of the data architect’s paradigm

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