It’s easy to set a couple top-line metrics and forget why they were put there after a while. It’s also easy to tell an inspiring story but lose steam soon after.
Many companies have identified the importance of defining metrics, while many others share the importance of having a strong narrative. When it comes to product managers, storytelling is also an increasingly critical skill — but what makes a good metric, and what makes a good story?
We’ve found that the good metrics tell a story, and the good stories are guided by metrics.
1. Marrying stories and metrics
A metric can be expressed as a formula that identifies levers — telling the story of how we will arrive at that ultimate goal.
Your story can start as far back as user acquisition and end up as far into the business-side as pure revenue. There are a number of ways the formula can be constructed to best highlight what your levers or benchmarks are on the way to your top-line goal.
If minimizing funnel dropout is not a main part of your narrative, you could easily condense the storyline to leave out
Funnel Completions over
Funnel Starts, and simply look at
Funnel Completions over
If formulas are not for you, the
Goal-Signals-Metrics process can help clearly lay out how your metrics come from user-oriented goals and behaviours.
In some cases, the formula approach may not be the most natural expression of your story. In design sprints at GOGOVAN, we use the HEART framework along with the Goals-Signal-Metrics process to help make clear to everyone how we translated values for users to metrics for progress.
While we’ve mostly used the process in combination with HEART, it can be applied to any metrics-defining framework you choose. The key idea is that the Goals and the Signals help surface the people and stories behind the “numbers”.
Great stories paint the journey, not just a happily ever after.
If it is the story structure you struggle with, consider taking a page out of your favorite book. The methods that work well in novels have been found to be just as effective in pitches and presentations. When it comes to product storytelling, some structures that work well with how product development typically progresses are the Linear, Reverse, and Epic narratives.
On the other hand, sometimes the story comes easily. You craft a digestible anecdote, describe a powerful vision, and everyone leaves the kickoff meeting feeling inspired. However, as the team keeps going you find that the story doesn’t stick anymore, or the once-inspired have now become lost.
The best product narratives don’t just convey the now and the final result, they paint the paths to get there. Altogether, it’s one compelling plan that the whole team rallies around and executes against. Those paths are your metrics and the progress markers are the key results against them. When those markers are set down, they motivate the next big initiative. A marathon is hard to continue on without a clear route, and even harder to endure when there’s nothing for progress to be measured against.
A story with no characters is hardly a story at all, and a product narrative with no buy-in has no characters. While product managers craft the narrative, they are not the star of the show. You need your entire product development team, business stakeholders, and all other roles that play a part to actually see themselves in the story.
A common pitfall, whether in evangelizing a product or simply giving a presentation, is forgetting about the audience. The value of a story is relative to its audience — it is critical when storytelling that PMs understand this. Your story, no matter how well crafted the first time, needs to adapt to be sticky for different listeners.
There are a few ways to figure out where your narrative needs updating. One approach is to observe your audience as you speak and notice when they appear less engaged. Alternatively, do test runs with individuals representing different stakeholder backgrounds. If you have the time, dive deeper to understand how their background shapes the way they think.
Adapt, however, does not mean re-invent. The story itself, the core of your narrative, needs to be consistent. LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, once shared in an interview on leadership and getting people onboard:
You invest very heavily and thoughtfully in deciding what kind of company [or product!] you want to be. And then you repeat it, over and over and over again […] If you want to get your point across, especially to a broader audience, you need to repeat yourself so often, you get sick of hearing yourself say it. And only then will people begin to internalize what you’re saying.
So how will you know when you’ve crafted an effective narrative and succeeded in evangelizing it?
- Ask anyone about any metric on a dashboard and you’ll get the same reason for why it’s there.
- Ask anyone about how the product is doing and you can get a clear, measured answer.
- People involved in remembering the storyline long after your last sharing.
- Sound bites become integrated into how people discuss the product.
- Motivation and morale are high across the team.
- You are no longer the only one spreading the word.