How to write a Narrative
Set goals, Organize your thoughts, and clearly communicate a desired outcome
Well received, might just be two words to you, but if you own a 6 page narrative this is what you are striving for when at AWS. I have been blessed to be in position to own one of these documents and what an experience it has been for my career. I can remember joining my first narrative review 3 weeks into the job as a Senior Cloud Technical Account Manager with the autos group thinking what the hell is going on and why is it so quiet. Well, documents never get read in emails and to make the most of time the first portion of a review is silent while those on the review read the document. This forces engagement and also requires you to read what you are talking about, weird concept at first but IT WORKS.
“There is no way to write a six-page narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”- Jeff Bezos
I 100% agree with Jeff Here… If I need something done, have an idea for a new business, or just really want to organize my thoughts if Im feeling a bit off, I write a narrative. At first, this can seem daunting but what I have found is that breaking larger tasks into smaller sections and creating “small targets/wins” helps me build large complex things. Distributed systems, Barbie Dream houses (all 278 pieces one snap at a time), or Narratives. In this article, I'm going to show you how to eat the elephant one Bite at a time and use this narrative strategy to organize thoughts and communicate an outcome you are trying to achieve. Let's get crackin:
How to Get Started?
Purpose, Background, Context
Coming up with a purpose for the narrative is important because it gives the reader a clear understanding of what the narrative is trying to accomplish and why it is important. The purpose should be concise, but also provide enough detail to give the reader a sense of the topic being discussed. To come up with a purpose for the narrative, think about what the main goal is and why it is important. Additionally, consider any questions that the narrative will be addressing or any assumptions that need to be made. Once the purpose is established, it will be easier to move forward and create a narrative that is focused, clear, and concise.
The background of the narrative provides the foundation for the content to come. It is important to determine the necessary information that needs to be included in the background in order to fully explain the topic being discussed. To come up with a background for the narrative, consider the purpose of the narrative and the context in which it is being written. Collect relevant information and facts that will help to explain the topic and provide the necessary context for the reader to understand. Additionally, consider any assumptions that need to be made in order to provide a comprehensive background for the narrative. Once the background is established, it will be easier to move forward and create a narrative that is clear and cohesive.
The context of the narrative is important to consider as it provides the reader with the necessary context to understand the topic being discussed. To find the context of the narrative, consider the purpose and background of the narrative and the questions that need to be answered. Additionally, look for any assumptions that need to be made to provide a comprehensive context for the narrative. Gathering relevant information and facts to support the context of the narrative is important to ensure that the reader has a full understanding of the topic. Once the context is established, it will be easier to move forward and create a narrative that is clear and purposeful. This is a very important step and can make or break the decision so be sure to get this right.
Meat and potatoes
The "meat and potatoes" of a document is the main content that provides the necessary information and facts to answer the questions and address the assumptions made in the purpose and context sections. To create the meat and potatoes of the narrative, focus on who, what, where, when, and how.
Who: Who is involved in the topic being discussed? This can include people, organizations, or entities that are relevant to the narrative.
What: What is being discussed? This can include objectives, processes, procedures, tasks, or actions that need to be taken to reach the desired outcome.
Where: Where is the topic being discussed? This can include locations, regions, or areas that are relevant to the narrative.
When: When is the topic being discussed? This can include times, dates, or deadlines that are relevant to the narrative.
How: How is the topic being discussed? How are we here? How did this happen?
Why: Why are we talking about this or why is there a problem? Why is this important? I like to use 5 whys if it's a technical narrative about a problem or an RCA for an incident.
The Five Whys
When doing incident reviews I used a system called 5 whys which would normally indicate the route cause of the problem. This exercise can be helpful if you are having trouble with the Why. Example: My internet is out- Why Because My cable is unplugged Why- Because my 4-year-old unplugged it Why- Because I was playing video games and not keeping an eye on her. So my internet went out because of my poor parenting skills. See how that works 😀
Once the meat and potatoes of the narrative are established, it is important to set goals, organize thoughts, and clearly communicate the desired outcome. This will help to ensure that the narrative is focused, clear, and concise and will help the reader to understand the topic and reach the desired outcome. When I wrote a narrative for a software tool that I wanted, I put the Cost analysis and return on investment data in this portion so that I could tell a story of what life would be like with me having this tool. You have to get this right or you will not get what you asked for. Spend your time trying to get to this point in the document, if you do the prework, it will become clear what the outcome is.
Blockers/Dependencies/Dogs not barking
Blockers and dependencies are important to consider when writing a narrative as they can provide the reader with insight into potential issues or challenges that need to be addressed in order to reach the desired outcome. Blockers and dependencies can include technical, financial, or environmental issues that need to be considered in order to reach the desired outcome. Additionally, consider any “dogs not barking”, which are issues that are not being discussed but should be addressed in order to reach the desired outcome. Identifying any potential blockers, dependencies, or dogs not barking is important to ensure that the narrative is comprehensive and covers all aspects of the topic being discussed.
This is where all of the charts, graphs, tables, pictures, evidence, and exhibits go. Fit everything above in the 6 pages, then stuff what you can't fit in the appendix and reference it throughout. 6 pages is just a formatting thing that keeps things from getting out of hand. Your documents can be longer than six pages, but the essay/text needs to fit. The appendix is what I like to call the Junk Drawer of the document. I am a visual learner so I always kind of skipped down to this section first just to get an idea of things. Im a picture reader kind of guy :D and tried to stuff them in one of my first reviews. Not a good idea and a great way to get told to rewrite
Writing a narrative is a great way to organize thoughts, clearly communicate desired outcomes, and effectively communicate ideas. By setting a purpose, gathering background information, and providing context, a narrative can be created that is focused, clear, and concise. Additionally, by setting goals, considering blockers and dependencies, and addressing “dogs not barking”, a narrative can be created that is comprehensive and covers all aspects of the topic being discussed. Finally, by including relevant information and facts in the appendix, a narrative can be created that is informative and impactful. So remember, when writing a narrative, break it down into smaller sections, focus on the details, and don’t forget to include a witty joke at the end!
Where did the hacker go? He RANSOMWARE LOLOL