Storyboards are used in Lean Six Sigma to support communication and information sharing. They tell the story of an improvement project from the beginning to the end, outlining the steps involved and the lessons learned along the way. They are used as evidence by those seeking certification (e.g. Green Belt or Black Belt) and also support project tollgate reviews, communication with stakeholders and the sharing and transferring of good practice across organisations.
We all know what makes a good story – it grabs attention, takes the audience on a journey and has a good non-fizzly (technical term) ending. However some forget this when they put their Storyboards together and submit something that doesn’t do justice to the project or they work they’ve put into it. Here are some top tips for Storyboard excellence:
A Story Not a Saga
Where Lean Six Sigma practitioners are using their Storyboards for certification we recommend that it consists of around 15 – 25 PowerPoint slides (having the Storyboard in Powerpoint form makes it easy to share and easy to format). Too much information can overload the audience, so avoid anything that takes too long to read or talk through. Keep the rest of your project collateral in a folder for future reference or maintain an epic version of the Storyboard as you work through the project (your ‘story so far’ with everything in it) and develop an edited down version for presentation purposes.
Use it as a Tool throughout the Project
Keeping the Storyboard up to date as you work through the project promotes reflection and helps to consolidate learning. What has gone well? It’s important to recognise those things and celebrate them. What could be better? Capture lessons learned as you go, at the end of each project phase or at other points in the project (e.g. what did the team learn about process stapling? Or about data collection?). Taking time to reflect on progress and consolidate the Storyboard stimulates ideas.
An up to date Storyboard supports effective and efficient tollgate review meetings with the project champion, as well as discussion in between tollgates. It also facilitates communication with other stakeholders, including your team, your manager and your coach.
Finally, keeping the Storyboard up to date saves you from the fate of having to document everything at the end of the project, when the details might be difficult to recall and the task seems massive. Your future self will thank you for keeping the Storyboard up to date.
A Picture Paints a Thousand Words
Some of the most effective Storyboards I’ve seen have incorporated photographs to deliver key messages. For example the Problem Statement featuring a photo of a process operator on their hands and knees scraping up the damaged lino on the floor of a toilet! Looking at that picture I felt all the pain associated with the process that wasn’t working properly. I also loved the team selfie of a Green Belt who had created a great spirit of continuous improvement and trust within her improvement team. Photos of flip charts, photos of process stapling activities, photos of project ‘before and afters’ – they work brilliantly in Storyboards.
Go With the Flow
Just as a good story includes a ‘narrative flow’, so should a good Storyboard. Storytellers achieve flow by connecting one sentence with another, helping us moving seamlessly from one idea to the next. Often when reviewing Storyboards we see some great looking and well executed ‘tools and techniques’, but without any narrative to join them together the Storyboard feels like a collection of tools, not a story. When you mapped the process, what were your key observations? And what did you go on to do about that? When you measured process performance what did you learn? Adding this sort of information to your Storyboard helps connect the elements together and gives a much greater insight into the improvement journey.
Weave the Story Together with a Golden Thread
A Golden Thread is used by storytellers to link various parts of a story together – a central theme or key focus that the reader is reminded of at key points, that gets nicely tied off at the end. This technique is used by writers from Charles Dickens to Stephen King and all the best TED Talkers you’ve seen. CTQs provide the Golden Thread for Lean Six Sigma practitioners.
CTQs are the Critical to Quality requirements of the customer – the things that matter most to them about the process in question. These should feature in every phase of the DMAIC project. In the Define phase we identify the CTQs and these establish the focus of the improvement work to follow. We then measure CTQ performance in the Measure phase (along with some measurement of in-process and input variables to enable an understanding of cause and effect). In the Analyse phase we identify what’s causing the CTQ results and in the Improve phase we see how the causes can be addressed with appropriate and focussed solutions. Finally, in the Control phase we see the solutions being implemented in order improve CTQ performance and we see what CTQ performance looks like as a result of the intervention. The CTQs will therefore be an integral part of the project story. They have a key role as the primary agent that propels your story forward.
Not Too Technical
The Storyboard is clearly an important and valuable document – but it shouldn’t be a complicated one. Too many acronyms and too much jargon can make the story difficult to read or understand, so keep it simple, and add a short glossary if it’s really needed.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address took only two minutes and used 246 words, most of them one or two syllables. The speaker before Lincoln spoke for two hours and used 13,607 words, yet hardly ever gets a mention! Simplicity makes for memorable messages.
On the same note, remember that the improvement project you’re writing about is likely to have a ‘change’ focus (therefore a people focus) as well as a technical focus. Content on activities such as stakeholder management, communication and influencing is as important as the other tools and techniques – arguably more so.
Happily Ever After?
Remember a good story ties the golden thread up into a satisfying conclusion – and so should yours. Include details about the results achieved and the benefits attained. Remember to include information on all of the different types of benefit too – e.g. environmental benefits, compliance or reputational benefits, ‘feelgood’ benefits, as well as the ‘harder’ (but easier to measure) benefits of time savings and cost savings.
Go and Tell the Story!
Of course, the Storyboard is a means to an end, and that is tell your story! It has huge value beyond project management or ‘belt’ certification. Tell stakeholders! Tell colleagues! Tell people at the coffee queue! Tell people at the end of a zoom meeting! Distil some key messages from your Storyboard and use them whenever you can to raise awareness, build support and celebrate successes. We can shape the culture we want through the stories we tell.