Let Me Tell You a Story

PMI United Kingdom Chapter

Ian Whittingham, PMP is a Program Manager in the Business Transformation group of a leading global news and information company. The views expressed here are his own. You may contact the author directly at ian.whittingham@thomsonreuters.com.

A beginning, a middle and an end. That was how the 4th century BC Greek philosopher Aristotle described the structure of drama. Anyone watching a play can understand it because of this simple, universal pattern, a pattern that does two important things:

  1. It organizes the actions in the play into a temporal sequence that the audience can follow, from start to finish.
  2. It gives those actions meaning by organizing them around three narrative elements that propel the story forward through time: an initial problem (a beginning), the challenge of its complications (a middle) and its final resolution (an end).

Like all good stories, projects also follow this three-part form. They have a beginning (defining what the project will deliver), a middle (the challenge of doing the project work) and an end (delivering the project’s results to the customer). In this way, every project tells its own unique and temporary story. However, it is rarely—as we know from experience—a simple story. No project ever follows the script we have written for it without some unexpected drama occurring along the way.

Looking back
As a record of events, stories occur after the fact, after events have happened. But in telling them, we bring what happened in the past back into the present. Stories are therefore a form of reclamation, a means of revisiting and reliving a sequence …

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"Bad artists always admire each other's work."

- Oscar Wilde

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