Visualize Your Strategy

How storyboarding can help your team create a strategic plan

Back Article Apr 13, 2017 By Tania Fowler

Are you the kind of person who thinks in pictures? If so, then storyboarding is for you. Are you the kind of person who doesn’t think in terms of pictures? If so, then storyboarding is for you, too — you may just not know it yet.

I sometimes struggle to keep clients in my workshops focused and inspired. When creating a plan for an 8-hour workshop, my biggest competition is the lure of a smartphone coupled with progressively shorter attention spans. Recently, while attending a lecture at Sacramento State, the subject of storyboarding came up and the professor told his students, “You can storyboard anything.”

I happened to have a deadline looming for a strategic planning workshop and had been looking for a way to inspire participants by making the subject unique. The professor’s comment hit me like a jolt: I knew that implementing a storyboarding-for-strategy approach was the way forward. It could definitely compete with both technology and shorter attention spans — I just had to get it right.

Creating pictures in your mind is a great way to walk through how you want something to go. If you have ever played sports, given a speech or approached a big project, didn’t you always envision the outcome?

So I got to work. Anticipating that my biggest hurdle would be loud objections from attendees saying they can’t draw, I came prepared with a series of slides with drawn stick figures that progressed from how to draw people to how to draw groups, facial expressions, workplace items, communication devices and so on. Indeed, there were rumblings of “I can’t draw” or “This is something I can’t do.” I smiled and said, “Hang on, stick with me, you will be able to do this. Just watch.”

The goal of the meeting was to create a strategic plan — a process that can be dry and banal. So I looked deeper into the company to ensure my plan aligned with the organization’s mission. I found several artistic photographs and paintings, each one telling its own story, and asked the group to share their insights on the story being told. Thinking about the perspective of a story through visual aids helped to loosen the team’s creativity to embrace the visual art of storytelling.

From there we did a deep dive on the strategic initiative and spent time mind-mapping (which is basically a diagram used to organize and connect ideas swimming around in your head) the strategy with what was known so far. Next, armed with SWOT information (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), information from previous sessions, process charts, mind maps, sample storyboards and stick figure art tips, each participant spent time alone drawing out their storyboards with pictures that visually detailed their version of the strategy.

They talked about communicating the strategy more effectively — drawing bullhorns on every panel that required communication. It was an “ah ha” moment when they realized how much more communication was needed than originally thought.

It was really fun to witness the intensity and creativity spilling out of this earnest and focused group. I was fascinated by how everyone mind-mapped and story-boarded so differently from one another. We hung the individual story boards up like in an art gallery, and the participants walked around voting on their favorites.

Once the winning storyboard had been established, the team set out to draw one large storyboard that mapped out the organization’s strategy. The winner got up and drew the pictures, while another person facilitated the discussion.

The best takeaway: Because the strategy had become so visual, the participants were able to identify gaps much more readily, backfilling where they could see an impending problem. They talked about communicating the strategy more effectively — drawing bullhorns on every panel that required communication. It was an “ah ha” moment when they realized how much more communication was needed than originally thought. A third person wrote out the strategy as the discussion ensued. By the end, the participants had a series of pictures in their heads, put to paper and then broken down in clearly defined steps.

The team was enlivened to approach their strategic planning through storyboarding. The next day, I received an email from one woman saying how fun it was and how it pushed her skill set to a new place that she felt really good about. Oh, and it was fun and inspiring too. Success! The process is easily repeatable and more sessions will be coming; almost any strategic initiative can be handled in this manner.

When it ended, I thought: Why haven’t I tried this before? It turns out that storyboarding for strategy is a comprehensive way to build out a strategic plan while having lots of fun in the meantime. Storyboard a strategy of your own. 

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