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People want to hear your story! But even those of us who can tell a good story often stumble when it comes to telling the story of our own work. Storyboards help others learn from you—they help leadership appreciate their problem-solving bench strength.

This 1-hour Introductory Webinar will guide you to showcase your project in a way that others can understand and enjoy. Spread the good word with a good Storyboard!

Webinar Level

  • Introductory


  • What’s a Storyboard?
  • Why Do We Need Storyboards?
  • What Makes a Good Storyboard?
  • What Are the 5 Classic Storyboard Missteps?
  • What Are the Storyboarding Tips and Tricks?

Tools & Templates

Webinar Transcript

Tracy O’Rourke: Hi everyone. Welcome to’s webinar. Thanks for spending some quality time with us today. Hundreds of people, I think six hundred have registered for this particular webinar and we are very excited that you’re all here.

Lean and Six Sigma are the go-to improvement methods used by leading organizations all over the world to delight customers, minimize costs, maximize profits, and develop better teams. Every month, we craft webinars just for you, our global learner community that simplify the concepts and tools of Lean and Six Sigma so that you can understand them and apply them more easily and be more successful because our goal is to build the problem-solving muscle.

Today’s webinar is titled How to Build a Powerful Project Storyboard. I’m Tracy O’Rourke and I’m Managing Partner at And today’s presenter is also a Managing Partner at, my colleague, the wonderfully talented, innovative, and consummately knowledgeable, Elisabeth Swan. How are you today, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth Swan: I’m good. Thank you, Tracy.

About the Presenter

Tracy O’Rourke: So I’m going to tell you a little bit about Elisabeth in case you haven’t heard the glowing information about her credentials. She is Executive Advisor here at, a Master Black Belt Consultant, coach, and trainer for 25 years. She started when she was 7.

Elisabeth has helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab, Target, Volvo, Alberta Health Services, Starwood Hotels, and many, many, many others successfully apply Lean Sigma to achieve their goals.

Elisabeth lives on Cape Cod with her husband and cute but geriatric cat. And today – oh by the way, she also lives on a pond. It’s picturesque. And she has two visitors on that pond today, two swans. Are they named, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth Swan: Both of them, Tracy, no. Just one.

Tracy O’Rourke: Elisabeth and Lizzie. So that’s a very nice welcome to the weather change, isn’t it? Having swans come and visit.

Elisabeth Swan: Very nice.

How to Interact

Tracy O’Rourke: Alright. So, a few housekeeping notes before we begin. During this webinar, all attendees will be in listen-only mode. At the end of the presentation, we’ll have a question and answer session. However, please feel free to ask questions at any time by entering them in the question area. We’ll ask you to participate in some polls and also some commentary in the later part of the webinar. And if we don’t answer all of your questions during the webinar, we’ll be sure to post answers as well as share a recording and the slides of this webinar on our website at

Let’s Interact!

So we’re going to start our first activity. Please share where are you from? This is one of our favorite parts. We’d love to hear where people are from. Hundreds of people come from all over the world. So click on Ask a Question and type in in the question area where you’re from. Florian Raber says, “Hi, Elisabeth.”

Elisabeth Swan: Hello, Florian.

Tracy O’Rourke: He was certified three years ago by you and recently a founder of a company.

Elisabeth Swan: Nice going, Florian.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah. Then there is Denise from Anaheim and Heather from Lowell and Rach from Melbourne, Australia.

Elisabeth Swan: All right.

Tracy O’Rourke: We have Michelle from Oklahoma City. Mary from South Dakota. Mary Jane from Austin, Texas. Catherine from Ventura, California. Christine from New York City. Lynn from Phoenix, Arizona, Lynn Emmons.

Elisabeth Swan: Oh yeah. Hey, Lynn.

Tracy O’Rourke: And we have Tenzin from England. And let’s see, Sandy Grumble from Saskatchewan. I’ve been there.

Elisabeth Swan: All right.

Tracy O’Rourke: Jason from Provo. Teresa from LA. We’ve got lots of others too but we could go on and on. We have Lucy from Ohio!

Elisabeth Swan: Go Lucy!

Tracy O’Rourke: And Lisa from Arlington and Stephanie from Houston!

Elisabeth Swan: OK.

Tracy O’Rourke: All right.

Elisabeth Swan: We got a big crowd.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. I’m going to hand it over to you now, Elisabeth, to get going on storyboard.

Who Is

Elisabeth Swan: Thank you, Tracy. And thank you for your as ever incredibly warm introduction. Sorry Tracy and I can’t see all of you guys but we are really happy you joined us. As Tracy said, we’ve both been with Go Lean Six Sigma since its inception and our mission is to make it easy for you to build your problem-solving muscles. So that means that we simplify complex concepts and we’ve made our training extremely practical and we think really enjoyable.

We’ve got a running case study at the Bahama Bistro. Our restaurant team applies all the tools that we teach. And aside from this webinar series, we put out blogs and podcasts and book reviews and lots of other information to help you get where you need to go. And we’ve used and taught Lean Six Sigma for decades. Started young as Tracy said because it’s supplies the best toolkit for problem-solving.

And thankfully, there’s a growing list of companies who agree with us. So here are some of the organizations we’ve helped.

We’ve Helped People From…

And you can see bricks and mortar. You can see online companies. They’re diverse industries. There’s health care, financial services, manufacturing, and government. And the reason is because Lean Six Sigma is about problem-solving. And Tracy likes to say, once you have an organization, you got problems.

And like all of you, these companies want to be best at problem-solving. So, you’re in good company. So more on benefits later but let’s review today’s agenda for today’s webinar.

Today’s Agenda

So first off, what exactly is a storyboard and then why do we need them? What makes a good one? What are 5 classic storyboard missteps? And then finally, some storyboarding tips and tricks.

What’s a Storyboard?

Let’s dive in with the first one. What is a storyboard? At its heart, a storyboard is the history of your problem-solving journey. It shows the arc of your work. Where did you go to figure this issue out? Who to deal with? What did you discover?

It’s also a summary. It captures all of your hard work in one place, all of the data you collected, the charts you made, the ways you proved your analysis.

It’s also a way to let others know what you did. It’s a communication device. It’s a deck. You can pass it around. You can present it in meetings and project it. It can serve as a way to let others know just what you did.

Right in the name, it’s a success story. You changed something for the better. It’s a good story. So let’s talk about what it’s not.

What a Storyboard Is Not

So a storyboard is not check the box. People often approach it as a bureaucratic exercise. They leave it to the last minute. They leave the bare minimum. The project history achievements are glassed over. And that is a huge, huge loss to your peers, to you, to the organization. This is your story and you’ve got a great opportunity to brush up on storytelling skills and really document what great work you did. So let’s look at what goes into that.

This is your story and you’ve got a great opportunity to brush up on storytelling skills and really document what great work you did.

Why Do You Need a Storyboard?

So why do you need one? First off, you might be looking to get certified as either a Green Belt or a Black Belt. And at an official level, it’s for assessors to know what did you do? They need to see your storyboard to know how did you succeed in this particular project.

It’s also a really good coaching tool. I use it all the time with learners to show what they’re missing. I often write notes right on their slides. You need to label this or when did this take place, what did you learn here. You’ve got a great piece of data but I don’t understand what your takeaway is.

I might put a blank slide in there to say, “You’re missing this. So go and get this information and put it here. I’d left a placeholder for you.”

It’s also if you share it, it’s a way to teach others how you solve the problem. Every time I teach a new group the same organization, they want to know what is last year’s group did or what did last quarter’s group did. They want to see storyboards. They want to know how did they do it? How did they solve problems? What did their story look like?

Storyboards also contribute to the problem-solving culture of an organization. It contributes to everyone’s success because it builds momentum. People see, “Wow! Things are happening. Things are changing.” I could do that. I could change stuff. And they also let people know, “Hey, this worked over here. It could work over there.”

I did a lot of work in hospitality, in hotels. We did lots of work with Starwood. They had 800 properties. Well, if you fix the check-in process at one property, why can’t you apply that to another property? So you can really transfer gains and multiply your bang for the buck by letting other people see how did you do this.

…you can really transfer gains and multiply your bang for the buck by letting other people see how did you do this.

What you accomplished in one area can be used somewhere else. They also help you learn how to talk about what you did, how to tell your own story. You’ve got basically a storytelling culture. People listen to stories. They want to hear how did that happen, what did you go through to get that done. And the better you get at telling your story, the better – the more people will listen to it, the more they’re engaged, the more you are building their problem-solving muscles. But being a good storyteller is key.

Also, you devoted a ton of time and effort to this project and you deserve to shine. So this is your chance to shine.

How Storyboards Are Assessed

So how do they get people – how do they get assessed?

So first off, there is a checklist and it tells you exactly what you need to put into your storyboard. It tells you the maximums for Green Belt, the maximum if you’re a Black Belt. There is an appendix. It’s unlimited. So you could put all kinds of extra stuff in there but you want to pick and choose what are the slides that tell my story best?

Be succinct.

Use the right tools. Sometimes I see bar charts that say the first bar is January, the second bar is February, the next bar is March. It’s like, wait a second. Are you using bar charts to tell what happened to your data over time? Well, that’s a run chart or a control chart. That’s some kind of a time plot.

Also, don’t put solutions in a charter. So they’re looking for, are you using the tools properly? Did you understand what these tools are about and how to use them?

Label your graphs. We’ll come back to this a lot. What’s the unit? What’s the timeframe? Tell the reader what they’re looking at.

Include a takeaway on every slide. We always want to know. So you did the work. You filled in this chart or you filled in this matrix. Well, what did that tell you? What did you learn from that? We want to see your takeaways. Spell it out. That is the part that people are really interested in. They want to know. What did you find out? What did you discover? They want to hear from you. Was it hard? What battles did you fight?

And finally, this last one, show improvement. You’ve got to move the needle. The after graph has to look better than the before graph. It seems obvious. But that’s a big piece of an improvement project is that you actually have to improve something.

Poll #1: Which part of Storyboards do you struggle with most?

OK. First question for you guys. If you dealt with storyboards and if you didn’t, don’t worry about it. But if you have, what part of storyboard do you struggle with most? Is it about adding more slides? Is it that you’re not good at labeling graphs? Forget to add a takeaway to each slide? Not good explaining analysis or you get confused at what goes where? So let me launch this poll and you guys can start filling that in.

Tracy, what have you seen?

Tracy O’Rourke: So, I will say that where I see people struggle is the takeaway part because they don’t put it or what they put it in is kind of weak. So I could tell you what I see in terms of the takeaway but don’t make me work, right? So if I’m your assessor, tell me what you think I should be seeing. So that’s where I think I see people struggle with is they don’t succinctly say, “So what is the takeaway? What do I want my reader to learn from this or show me what they’ve learned? So does that make sense?”

So what is the takeaway? What do I want my reader to learn from this or show me what they’ve learned?

Elisabeth Swan: It does. Actually, that mirrors my experience. I think one of the most constant notes I have on a slide going back to a learner is where is the takeaway? Where is the takeaway? Tell me what you learned.

All right. So let’s close this and see if that is reflected by our group today. So I’m going to close this and share.

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. So we have 31% agree with us, Elisabeth, I forget to add a takeaway to each slide. Followed very closely by 28%, I’m not good at explaining my analysis. I think there’s a tie there, right? So the takeaway if it’s not substantial, it doesn’t necessarily tell us what we want. Like some people will put run chart. That’s not a takeaway. And then 21%, I get confused about what goes where. That makes sense especially if this is the first time storyboard. And then 16% said like to add more slides and required. And 4%, I’m not good at labeling graphs.

Elisabeth Swan: OK. So interesting. Another thing I see on takeaways is sometimes people will say, say it’s a SIPOC and they’re showing their SIPOC and their takeaway is a SIPOC is a high-level map. True. Yeah.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah. And?

Elisabeth Swan: OK. Those are great. Thanks, Tracy, for your reflections on that one.

Handy Checklist

OK. So let’s go to the next piece which is your handy checklists. So you have a great tool to help you walk through your storyboard. So let’s stay with checklist for a second.

So these – checklists themselves are really great tools in your projects. A lot of people’s solutions or what part of their solutions is to develop checklist for other people. Just doing this – our webinars, we have a team checklist we go through before we broadcast. So checklists are great tools themselves. If you have not, there’s a great short, well-written book called “The Checklist Manifesto. That is by Atul Gawande. Highly recommend. It’s on our booklist that we recommend.

So this checklist – these two checklists are to tell you exactly what has to go into your Green Belt storyboard, exactly what goes in your Black Belt storyboard.

The guidelines are right there, how you’re being assessed. You’ve got to complete the required elements. You got to tell your story to the gut maximums for each. You got to use the tools wisely. Label graphs. Be clear about your analysis and show measurable improvement. So they are right there for you.

‘T’ indicates there’s a handy template for you to use. All the templates have examples. Often, two examples for you to learn from. You can check how the Bahama Bistro do it to give you a little idea of what’s going into each of those columns.

The slides referencing each requirement are listed. So if you can’t remember. It has been a while. You want to go back and see, “Well, let me see about that voice of the customer translation matrix.” There it is in the Define Phase, slide 3.32 and 3.38. So really nice references there.

We’ve also added dynamic links to webinars. If there’s a webinar that should go or can go with a topic or a tool, we’ll put that right into the checklist for you.

So check the box as you go through. Make sure you have done your work.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

OK. Now, this one is one of the templates you get, which is the storyboard templates themselves. We’ve got one designated for Green Belts and one designated for Black Belts. They have been developed to follow exactly those checklists. So every template that’s required. We put the Bahama Bistro version in there and you can just replace it with your own. You can cut and paste. We’ve got instructions for Mac users, for PC users. You can screenshots if you want. With the storyboard checklists, it’s embedded right in there. So easy to use.

Tracy always says easy peasy lemon squeezy. So I’m going with that for the storyboards. Nice, Tracy.

Tracy O’Rourke: Right.

5 Classic Storyboard Missteps

Elisabeth Swan: All right. Let’s get into the 5 classic storyboard missteps. And these are missing labels, no take away, bait n’ switch, no proof, and misplaced solutions. There are more missteps. These are what we’ve encountered the most.

Misstep #1 – Missing Labels

So let’s dive in on that first one, which is missing labels. So what is this? Is this Mt. Everest? Is that where you went hiking? Run charts are required for the baseline. So this is a really good example. SigmaXL, Minitab, your stats package of choice will do what you tell them to do. If you don’t provide a title, there’s not title. If you don’t specify units, we don’t know if it’s minutes, hours, days, defects. If you don’t provide a timeframe, we don’t know what the data represents, a day, a month, last year, five years ago.

You can add these to PowerPoint too. You can just add a text field. So you don’t have to do it inside the graphics program. You could just do it with PowerPoint.

Make sure the reader knows at a glance what they’re looking at. Make it easy. Make it easy for readers, assessors. Make it easy for your colleagues. Make it easy for your boss. Make it easy for everyone to know exactly what this graph tells you.

Misstep #2 – No Takeaway

Misstep #2, no take away. Part of telling your story is letting the reader know what you thought. Was this a discovery? Did you know it took that long to serve a lunch order? What happened during the process walk? What did the process participants think? There is always an opportunity to give a behind the scenes look. What was really happening? Be candid. This makes your story interesting. It’s a story.

Takeaways Include People Side

Takeaways can also include the people side. This is big. It’s often a big miss. There’s an opportunity to just talk about that acceptance side if you remember. The pseudo equation, it’s results are equal to the quality of your work times the acceptance of your work. And the idea here is you can do this beautiful quality project. You come up with a really elegant solution but nobody bought into it. And a hundred percent quality time, zero percent acceptance is zero results. So that acceptance is huge. It’s half the equation.

And often, you can include that right in your take away. So here, doing this 5S effort and discovering all this waste of motion got the kitchen staff interested in this project. So you’re going to be working with some folks that aren’t on your team but they’re part of the process and just getting exposed to the project is going to increase engagement. Increase interest. And you should tell about that. Other learners want to hear what happened when you did that.

So a lot of things went on. Was there a resistance? Was there a battle? Did you make new friends? People often discover whole segments of an organization they didn’t know. Did the data surprise you? Did working together with other people change their position? Did you learn something you didn’t know? This is important to bring up.

Misstep #3 – Bait n’ Switch

OK. Misstep #3. In this one, I’m going to call bait n’ switch. And this often happens for good reasons. People find out new important information and they chase it down. So the project might start with one measure. In this case, this charter is looking at cycle time. They want to reduce the cycle time.

But somewhere along the way, the focus changes and there’s no reflection at the end to the project Y, the thing we were trying to improve. Suddenly, cycle time is lost and it doesn’t show up on the executive summary. It doesn’t show up in the improve phase. We’ve lost track of it.

But somewhere along the way, the focus changes and there’s no reflection at the end to the project Y, the thing we were trying to improve.

And some of this is because the analysis can include different measures. And that’s great. Defects cause rework and that impacts the cycle time. So maybe that’s why there’s a defects graph in your project. And that’s helpful. It’s interesting. It helps you get to root cause and it probably – if you reduce the number of defects, it reduced the cycle time.

But you have to show the impact on the cycle time. You have to come back to that Y measure. Did you reduce it? So you can go down this analysis path but come back. Make sure the executive summary, the improve phase, you always take focus on that project Y.

Misstep #4 – No Proof

Next up is misstep #4, which is no proof. Root cause hypotheses are series. You have to prove them. How do you know it’s true? Analysis, the phase of analyze and the define measure, analyze, improve, and control is the crux. It’s the crux of process of improvement. If you don’t have verification then those are hunches. They’re guesses. They’re assumptions.

Problem-solving requires dig into the root and the root cause analysis requires verification. Maybe you observed the root cause in action. Maybe you collected some data. Maybe you observed it.

Problem-solving requires dig into the root and the root cause analysis requires verification.

I have a team looking to reduce the amount of time, it was the team lead, he was looking to reduce the time his couriers were spending on the road because if they weren’t on the road making deliveries, they were back helping to sort mail and do other helpful activities. He was looking to reduce that road time. And one of the things he did was just ride along with his curriers and gets to experience what it was like for them to deal with traffic, to take their routes.

And one particular courier, everybody left at 8 but this one courier, once he got to the client, they didn’t open until 9 so he waited. So that was an observed issue. It happened every day and that was an easy fix.

So if you don’t prove your case then your solutions may not address the problem. So these are essential. That’s what we’re looking for. So trust but verify.

Trust But Verify!

And here you can see references to data displays, references to histograms, references to a spaghetti chart that was measuring time and motion. So that’s verification.

When people look at your storyboard, they are looking for your process analysis, your data analysis and your discoveries. They want to understand your theories what you came up with. Maybe you had suspicions and you prove them. Maybe you prove yourself wrong.

I worked with a team and they were trying to improve claims processing and this was a company that served all of the New York State workers. And the assumption was that new hires were making more mistakes than the experienced processors. But the analysis – once they did the analysis of rework, well, it turned out the established processors were actually making more mistakes. And when they dug into it, they found out that a lot of them had old habits. Some of them were even accessing old tools that had been retired because they were more comfortable with them.

So this just opened up a whole line of inquiry. And the data told a big story and it helped them understand. And once they put that chart out there, it also changed behavior. It was like, “Oh, we had no idea we were the source of these problems. Give us the new guidelines and we’ll get on board.” So they included that graph. It showed the air rates, experienced versus new workers. Really simple graph. This is a key point in every one story. Your verification.

Misstep #5 – Misplaced Solutions

The fifth misstep is misplaced solutions. Now, goal statements have a very prescribed format. This is the first place we see a misplaced solution. The format says, what’s the baseline? In this case, it was 27 minutes to deliver an order. What is the target? That is 20 minutes to deliver an order. And when do you want to hit that target? Well, by the third quarter.

OK. So that’s my goal statement, real simple. It’s like the old show, it’s just the facts, just give me the facts. This is not where you insert your ideas on how to solve it. It’s not where you put the solution or the process to solve it. We’re going to streamline this process. Well, of course, you are. You’re doing DMAIC. You’re doing Lean Six Sigma project. We expect that kind of work out of you. We just want to know what is your goal? Literally, what is that target and where are you coming from? What’s your baseline?

So that’s one of the places that we see a misplaced solution is in goal statements.

Another big place we see solutions is on the fishbone diagram. And there’s a whole webinar for fishbone which I highly recommend if you have not seen it. Very helpful. But this is where we see this phrase, “lack of” or it could be “need for” or it could be that something is missing.

And these basically are really just solutions masquerading as root causes. And what we see most often is lack of training. And not only is that not a root cause, but it’s incredibly limiting. And a lot of you might be thinking, “Yeah, but sometimes people do need more training or the training needs to be improved,” or we’re coming out of this process with a whole new step so we’ve got to train people on that new step.

Guarantee. Guaranteed that new processes, improved processes will require some adjustments to training. That’s a given. But when I see them on a fishbone diagram that tells me that someone is not looking at a true root cause. It can be a solution but it’s not a root cause.

Solutions as “Root Causes”

I’m going to give you an example. And this is a true story. I belonged to a gym and every time I was in a class, the instructor complained that people were not putting recycling and trash into the proper bins. They were mixing trash and recycling in both bins. And she assumed the root cause was lack of training. So she trained us constantly. She said, “The bin on the left was for recycling. The bin on the right is for trash.” She did a lot of free training. Situation never improved. Just came up a lot.

And I kept – I wanted to try and solve it for her but lack of training is not a root cause. If it’s posed as a root cause, there is only one solution, and that’s training.

Solving Problems at the Root

So if we change the root cause, if we say, really, it’s knowledge level. It’s the knowledge level of your staff. It’s the knowledge level of your customers. It’s knowledge level. Then you can say, “Well, but people – what their lacking in knowledge is that they don’t know which bin to use.”

Now, if we change that, there are lots of solutions. You can change the color of the bins. You could put signage on the wall. You put pictures of trash on one and recycling items or recyclable items on another.

You could use those lids that have the holes that restrict anything you put into the size of a water bottle. And you could use training. So it doesn’t limit it. It doesn’t knock out training as a solution. It just says there is a world of possibilities. If it’s just knowledge level, we can address that with all kinds of methods.

So if you find yourself putting in lack of training on your fishbone, just change it to employee knowledge level or whoever the group is. Make that one change and it will open up your possibilities once you get to the improve phase. It will also help you dig to the root cause of why don’t they know? But if you don’t, you’re limited to the one solution to lack of training, which is training.

Poll #2: Which is the most common Storyboard misstep that you see?

So now, we’ve come to another poll and this one is we want to hear from you, what’s the most common storyboard misstep that you see? So those of you that have seen other storyboards who want to get a feel for what of these missteps that we’ve given you do you see.

So I’m going to go. Tracy, what do you see most often?

Tracy O’Rourke: With the storyboard, so we already talked about the takeaway piece. But actually, I think the scariest misstep listed here that I see is no proof. So again, this is root cause analysis methodology. It’s looking at processes, trying to improve them, and finding what the root causes are.

And often, I get to analyze and there’s nothing in there. And it sort of attributed sometimes to what you just mentioned, right? They have these sort of solutions because we are rewarded to have solutions all the time.

So when people go, “Well, we got to do training or we got to automate. We got to add people to this.” I go, “No, no, no. What are some of the root causes? Just as you said, well, it’s lack of training, lack of automation and lack of more people.” Those are – just like you said, they’re all solutions. But the problem is they don’t have any proof around what root causes they found in the processes. And that’s unfortunate because A, Analyze is so important as you said. And they completely miss the point in my opinion.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s great. You expanded the universe of what we see, which is, yeah, lack of automation is a biggie and it really does limit folks. And it basically skips analysis. And I think you’re right about the cause of it, which is people are often told, “Don’t bring me a problem. Bring me a solution.” So we are trained to do that. And Lean Six Sigma is saying, “OK. Slow it down. Look at the process. Look at the data. Do your work so that you can offer the best solution.”

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes.

Elisabeth Swan: Alright. So let’s close this one and share it.

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. So, most people agree no proof, 37% have said no proof. I wonder if sometimes my answer helps them along. And then 35% say misplaced solution. So that’s another one absolutely. So lots of responses just in those two. Followed by no takeaway, 16%. Bait n’ switch, 10%. And missing labels 3%. So definitely a good portion.

Elisabeth Swan: Yup, no proof. OK. Well, thanks for that, folks. I would say that is – it’s the hard part. I mean it’s the hard part of the DMAIC but it’s where you find out exactly what’s going to drive your solutions.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. And I wonder sometimes. There’s a girl online, her name is Sara. She introduced herself by saying, “Home of the 6-time world champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers.” Nice job, Sara. So I’m wondering which one she picked. I just had to say that because I thought that was a hilarious intro.

Elisabeth Swan: Well, I’m suspecting she’s going to come back to us on the other side when we do our questions.

Tracy O’Rourke: Right.

Tips and Tricks

Elisabeth Swan: All right. So we’ve got tips and tricks for you. Start early. You don’t have to wait to start your storyboard until you finished your project. You can be building it along the way. You can put everything you do into a storyboard. You can weed it out later.

Have your story. It also helps you to frame what’s happening in your project when you see what’s to come and what you’ve accomplished. So, built it as you go.

Also, remember to use your appendix. You can always put extra data, things that you’re not sure if you should have included it or not but assessors can see that you got extra data they can go look to see if there’s something they want more information on.

Another big thing is be clear on the purpose of what you’re doing. And this is important. And this often – it means you have to bring your head up a little bit. But projects are taking you into the weeds. You have to get into the weeds. You got to dig into your data. You got to dig in to your process. But you got to bring your head up to be able to describe it to other people.

What is the purpose? What happened? What was the impact of you doing that project? And I’ll give you an example.

What is the purpose? What happened? What was the impact of you doing that project?

We did work with Alberta Health Systems. And one of the things that we worked on was to make sure that the nurses – nursing stations were all the same. So they did a 5S on all the nurse stations so that notes were in the same place, supplies are on the same place. That meant that nurses did not have to run around trying to figure out, “Well, at this station, where are they? Or where do you keep sutures or where do you keep bandages?” It’s different. It’s further away. It’s closer.

And that meant, when they accomplished this, they reduced the waste of motion. Nurses did not have to run around so much. They didn’t have to waste so much time, and that’s great. And they showed the before and after. Much less time wasted there. But the impact, the purpose is to give nurses more time with patients. And that’s part of a story. It’s an important part. What did you do? What’s the impact?

Staff frustration is way down because now, we’re not reworking half or our orders. That’s huge. That’s an impact on people’s lives, on their job satisfaction. Think about the purpose of your project and what the impact was. And a great phrase I come back to all the time is, “for the sake of what?” We reduced rework. For the sake of what? We reduced cycle time. For the sake of what? We reduced the cost.

I had a great example recently. This is a small nonprofit locally here in Cape Cod and they are helping the homeless, they are helping children with Hub STAR programs and they were reducing the cost of supplies. And they got a lot of pushback. Now, people like the brand of soap they were using. They want to order supplies themselves. They didn’t want to go through the vendor that she had picked until she told them that the amount of money they had saved already allow them to pay a mortgage on a new building for new classrooms to help more people. Then resistance died away. So be clear on your purpose.

Another one is make it visual. You got this great access to this charting software. Put some charts in there even if they’re simple ones like a bar chart or a pie chart. Make it visual. Visual, people read visuals 50,000 times faster than text. That’s a lot. 50,000 times faster. And that makes it more interesting, more accessible, use your charts. Use your visuals.

Another thing is to remember the “A”, the acceptance of our equal Q times A. Remember the human side. What does it feel like to do this project? Where did you hear frustration? Where did you find that you remove frustration? Like talk about emotion, the emotion that happened in this project both on your side, on the team side, on the process participants. That’s interesting. That’s a big part of your story. Don’t leave it out.

Remember the human side.

And lastly, make it easy. Your storyboard should stand on its own. Someone should be able to pick it up and read it front to back and get it. I get this. They made a huge improvement. I see what the problem was. I see what they delved into to solve it. And wow! They solved it. And all of these people are happier. Customers’ scores go up. Make it easy for someone to really digest your story and appreciate it. So those are some I think most vital tips and tricks.

You’re the Director

And lastly, it’s a story, right? The story of your project has the same structure as every film in Hollywood. The character, you and your team are the characters. The setting is the process you are working on. The plot is DMAIC. The obstacles happen when you drill the root cause and again when you work to get others to accept your solutions. And the resolution is that you change the system. You overcame the odds and you and your team are heroes. So it’s the hero’s journey and that’s a storyboard at its heart. So take that to heart that you’re the director and that you’re telling a story.

Also, we have two great resources now on storytelling itself. We’ve got storytelling webinars. We also did a storytelling workshop at the Lean Conference for the State of Washington. It was a great breakout. We got those both on our site. You can access them both and I highly encourage you to do that.

Question for You: What are your Storyboard pet peeves – what bugs you?

Which takes us to a question where we want to hear from you, so what didn’t we talk about or what did we talk about that you want to reinforce? What are your storyboard pet peeves? What bugs you? So go ahead and enter those responses in the question box. Enter your pet peeves and what bugs you. And Tracy, why don’t you read off any that you see?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. I will give them a moment to do that and tell them what my pet peeve is.

Elisabeth Swan: What’s your pet peeve?

Tracy O’Rourke: So many times when we get storyboards, if we actually have someone presenting the storyboard, I find what they do is they just launch into DMAIC without any context to what the process is. So we see – imagine, I mean we get – we’re in 200 countries. We are in every industry. And it really helps to get a little bit of context of what the person does, what is this process as opposed to just looking at the SIPOC. So it’s really nice to hear a little bit about that in terms of a storyboard.

And to me, that’s fun. That’s the fun part. So when people don’t include it, they’re missing out on a little bit of the fun that we get. Does that make sense?

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, it does. It does.

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. So let’s see what some people say. So a couple of pet peeves. So Lorna says poor graphics is a pet peeve of hers. Let’s see. Not using – yes, go ahead.

Elisabeth Swan: I would react to the poor graphics. One thing I see is a slide dense with text or it could be dense with graphics. And with graphics, I think the reverse is also just as important, which is white space. Allow people the room to take in the graphic that you’ve given them. So giving people that space to take in what you got there. But yeah, graphic is a big one.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah, I agree with you. That’s another one is text-heavy slides is crazy. It’s kind of a pet peeve.

Not using a Six Sigma focus. So, that’s a great one. Yes, Jennifer, we totally agree because it’s supposed to be a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt or Black Belt storyboard in there. If they’re not focusing on Six Sigma, I’ll be like what? What’s the storyboard? Is this for what?

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, that’s a good one. And one of the things that we put back into the storyboard template was the separators to say, “OK. Now, you’re in the define phase. OK. You’ve defined it. All right. Now, you’re in the measure phase,” to really help define your journey and to stay on the course as she is saying with Lean Six Sigma.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. A couple of other ones pet peeves. Different font sizes, colors, ineffective presentation, story that doesn’t make any sense. So yeah, these are all issues and it could be definitely pet peeves.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, the one of the different font sizes and colors, that’s another one. We try to give people this nice, simple template because you want your story to shine. And I think some people are like, “Yeah. It will be a lot more interesting if we did 36 font in bright pink.” That suddenly the fonts get distracting or try to import more distractors. So yeah, I think that was a – I’ve seen that actually happened recently a few times. So thank you for bringing that one up. All right.

Tracy O’Rourke: So here’s one. It’s pretty interesting that Sara brought up. The presenter takes all the credit. Oh!

Elisabeth Swan: Oh! That is so sad. It means the people on that team, next time they get asked to be on a team, they’re going to be like, “I don’t think so.”

Tracy O’Rourke: Right. We call that – we actually have a name for those people. It’s called the glory hoarder.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. And credit is free. It doesn’t cost you anything to give people credit and it makes them appreciate you. So, I think that’s a huge misstep. Thank you for that one.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. Let’s see. Not showing the full story or the full process. So again, segmenting it or I would say that I think storyboard, there’s definitely an art. So you could put a lot of templates in there that are required but is it really telling the story? And sometimes we see storyboards that they’re not telling the story very well and have not been succinctly put together.

Elisabeth Swan: Right. That’s a good one. Thank you for bringing that one up.

Tracy O’Rourke: Typos or misused of punctuation. Yeah, that could be alarming.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. It takes away from your story. People are suddenly focused on why did you put Y-O-U-R instead of Y-O-U-‘R-E? So doing that last – go through the last look at is my grammar or punctuation and spelling all according to plan?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah. And then here’s one that was sort of alluding to what you mentioned, too many 3D effects trying to make it too flashy.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. That’s a hard one. People are thinking, “Yeah, but it’s PowerPoint. I want to jazz this thing up.”

Tracy O’Rourke: Right.

Elisabeth Swan: It’s usually the road to distraction again. And you should stick with your story. Let your story shine.

Tracy O’Rourke: So I think that’s about it. We have a couple of comments – I mean a couple of questions and I’ll save those. Great. Yeah. So thank you for that.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. Thank you all for chiming and those were helpful.

Today We Covered

So we talked about what a storyboard is, what it’s not. It’s not to check the box. It’s a huge opportunity. You need them to be assessed but you also need them to spread information, to spread success, to spread momentum, to educate your peers.

What makes a good storyboard? Making it succinct, making it clear, making it beautiful without you, making it visual, and making sure you show both your analysis, your discoveries, your struggles, and your solution and how you improved the process.

The 5 Classic Storyboard Missteps. We know there are actually more than five but these are the big ones that we see.

And then we just went through a lot of the storyboarding tips and tricks.

And while you guys enter more questions, Tracy and I are going to go through a little of what’s coming up and what’s available to you. And while we do that, please enter other questions you got into the question box and we’ll come back to you.


Upcoming Webinar – 12/6 at 11 AM PT

There is another upcoming webinar on December 6th, 11 AM, Pacific Time. And this one is where Tracy is going to tell you how leaders use A3s to coach employees. Tracy, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah. So I’ll just say that often – you had mentioned earlier in your presentation, checking the box. And unfortunately, when you’re trying new things, if we don’t really know the reason why behind the tool, it does sometimes feel like a check the box exercise.

We see A3s being used this way too, people tend to look at it like a document they need to fill out to document their project and it’s so much more than that. And I think the piece that’s missing the most with A3s is leaders could be using these to coach their employees, to see the growth, to see how people are coming along with building their problem-solving muscle. It’s a great gauge. And they can use it to develop that skill and I don’t see it happening very much. So it’s way more than just filling out a piece of paper. And we’re going to talk about that in December.

Podcast: Just-In-Time Café

Elisabeth Swan: Great. I’m looking forward to that one. There’s also our latest podcast out there with an interview with Paul Akers, author of 2-Second Lean. If you have not seen a Paul Aker video, go out there and just search for Paul Aker videos and you will find not just all of his videos but also his employees. Put them up constantly. They are quick. They are all interesting and fun. He has got endless energy. He is really kind of an embodiment of Lean enthusiasm. He has got a Lean kitchen, Lean bathroom, all kinds of areas that are common to all of us but this is a really fun jam-packed podcast. So I highly recommend it.

Let’s get back questions.

Q & A

Tracy O’Rourke: OK. So we have some questions that people are putting in the area. Four questions. The first one is, how do we provide a concise update if there is so much data and information that goes on in a project?

Elisabeth Swan: That’s a good question and that’s what the appendix is for. So you need to – this is where you’ve got to do your winnowing job and say, “What did we discover? What is the crux of what we discovered? If I had to sum it up,” and you got more than one slide. You can take a few. You can take two or three. And if I had to sum up, the discoveries we made, what would those three bullets be? There can be more. You can describe your takeaway through each of them.

Start looking at, are the takeaways similar? Am I showing the same takeaway for three different slides? Well, maybe I’ll just use the best one. So look at where you’re repeating yourself. Look at where the discoveries don’t differentiate enough.

And then always put your stuff in the appendix so that it’s there for an assessor to look at. But that’s your job. You got to winnow it down to the highest impact visuals in the way that best tell your story.

Tracy O’Rourke: Wonderful. Very helpful. Thank you, Elisabeth. We have another question from Charles. He writes, “I’ve never built a storyboard before. Should I start at the end and work backwards? What do you suggest?”

Elisabeth Swan: Start at the end. Well, if your question is wait until the end of your project, I’d say no. I would say start it at the beginning of your project. If you finished a project and you want to go back and document it in a storyboard then I’d recommend starting at the beginning. And it should be not a difficult thing. If you have done your work and use the tools of Lean Six Sigma, it becomes a cut and paste activity and the thing you add are your takeaways. And that I think is a build from start to finish. Like where did you start? What did you uncover? What did that tell you? And move toward the end.

So I hope that answers the question.

Tracy O’Rourke: Thank you, Elisabeth. We have another question from Ray, “Is there an ideal number of slides for us to qualify an effective storyboard?”

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. We’ve given you the maximums. We’re saying Green Belt should be able to do it in 25 slides or less. And Black Belts in 30 slides or less. I’ve seen other groups say, 15 to 20 really should be the max. In there somewhere is the sweet spot. So it’s your project. The question earlier that person is talking about, “I’ve got a lot of data. I’ve got a lot of slides.” So they’re going to push it toward the upper end.

You may have one big discovery. And so, you’re not going to have as many slides because the crux of it was one specific discovery. So it’s project specific. But those maximums are there to force you to be succinct, to get better at honing your story down.

Tracy O’Rourke: Wonderful. Thank you very much. OK. Really, some really good questions here. So this was really more – same question here, without having to explain the whole DMAIC project in 10 minutes, can you give us some tips on how much time we should be spending on each phase.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s good. Yeah. I think if you sort of glean from what we’ve talked about. Define, you’re really setting the stage, you’re really focusing on the problem statement, the process being addressed. And I would say that – it starts to build. You’re going to get a little bit more to say and measure but that’s verification. And that might be a discovery there. The problem is worse than we thought. The problem wasn’t as bad as we thought. You may have re-scooped at that point and measure. So you get a little bit more there.

Analysis should be where you spend most of your time talking. We discovered this. Here is the graph that shows this. I had no idea people were doing this. So that’s where you want to come out with more.

And then improve, you’re both talking about the solutions you came up with and also the acceptance. Like how did you work with folks to make sure that they were OK with the solution? Were they a part of it? Did you combine with other people to develop the solution? So that arc should be a little defined, little more measure, analysis, and improve. Take the headlights, the spotlight and then control phase really just shows you kept that process stable. There is your ongoing timeline to say we held the games. You can see it’s stable. That’s just – we’re walking away from a good thing. We’re handing it off to a process honor in good shape. So I hope that’s a little bit helpful in terms of where to spend your time.

Tracy O’Rourke: Good. I think there’s time for a few more. So this is an interesting question. On the slide where it says that the plot is DMAIC, if it only a Kaizen event, what would be an ideal plot?

Elisabeth Swan: It is an interesting question. So, you’re still starting with a problem, right? You still came into the Kaizen event with something to solve. And you still have a target, where you’re trying to get with it. You could treat it like a mini DMAIC. You can go say, “This is the map we did. We analyzed it. This is the data we came in with. The whole session takes place in that 2 to 5-day session.” That’s all your analysis and your solution happening right there.

So you can say, “This is what the team wrestled with. This is what they came up with. And here we are. We instituted a new nursing station. We instituted a brand new conveyor system.” Whatever it was but it’s a mini arc of improvement.

Tracy O’Rourke: Nice. I would have said the same thing. It’s pretty much DMAIC still. It’s just in a Kaizen event. You’re still kind of going through the methodology. And some people would even say plan, do, check, adjust, which is also a form of DMAIC.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, which has got more define, measure, analyze up in that front piece.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. So this is the next question. I’m not sure there’s only one answer. I’ll go ahead and share it. And I think there could be lots of things depending on what your organization does. So the question is around A3s and storyboards. When should this complement the A3? When should it replace the A3? When should the A3 complement the storyboard? So Elisabeth, that’s the question.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah. All will be revealed in Tracy’s webinar next month. So A3s are fantastic and I use them with teams all the time. So does Tracy. And these are ways to update the coaches, the project management office, the process owners, process sponsors where are you. Where are you in the process? What have you figured out?

And if you will look, what we’ve included in the storyboard is basically your last A3, which is your executive summary. It’s just a form of an A3. And we say, that was your last one, which really now, you’ve worked through the whole process and it encapsulated what happened in – what was your presenting issue, what did you discover in terms of root causes, how did you solve those, what did you get as measurable improvement, show us the graph. And that’s an A3. And that goes at the beginning of your storyboard to say here it is in one page, and those are great for bosses.

People with very little time would just say things like, “ABC it for me.” Well, here you go. That’s a one-pager. I have tied it up in one single page.

So that is where you start a storyboard. That’s a great question.

Tracy O’Rourke: A great question, I agree. Yeah. And that’s a great answer too. Thank you, Elisabeth. OK. Let’s see. Somebody wants us to restate the coupon code.

Elisabeth Swan: 20STORYBOARD, all one word or one series. 20STORYBOARD is the coupon code. Get 20% off before November 30th.

Tracy O’Rourke: All right. And those are all the questions we have at this point in time, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth Swan: OK. Well, thank you everybody for joining us. Thank you for chiming in, answering polls, giving us questions, sharing your pet peeves. This has been great. And we’ll see you again next month. Bye everybody.

Tracy O’Rourke: Bye-bye everybody.

View our upcoming webinars and join live so you can ask questions and let us know what you’d like to us to cover next. We’re busy building new webinars all the time. And we’re happy to know you’re busy too – building your problem-solving muscles – keep it up!

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Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

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