Planning and Checking a Process as a Team

Storyboarding - Planning and Checking a Process as a Team

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Build your process step by step.

OK, you've just finished a long planning session for a new initiative, but you can't get rid of the feeling that you've forgotten something important.

Then it hits you... There's a critical flaw in the plan, and now you're going to have to schedule another meeting to do the whole thing all over again. Does this sound familiar?

It's a terrible feeling, and one that we've probably all experienced. We might have avoided this problem, however, if we had used a simple planning tool that the film industry has relied on for decades: the storyboard.

What Are Storyboards?

In the film industry, storyboards are simply a way of looking at the movie, laid out camera-shot-by-camera-shot, with still pictures – before filming actually begins. For example, the storyboard for Scene One opens with an image of what that first shot, or camera angle, will look like. The next shot, from a different angle, shows in the next picture on the storyboard. With each new camera shot or action, a new picture is added.

In a business environment, it's the same idea. But instead of making a movie, you might be planning a product launch, managing a project, creating a marketing strategy, building a new process, or identifying a cause-and-effect relationship.

Your storyboard, then, would detail each step in the process. But instead of using words and writing out a "to do" list, your storyboard allows you to see everything that must happen. As a group, your team creates a detailed outline of the steps that need to take place. Then they work to spot problems, identify complications, and rearrange tasks as necessary. Storyboards are "loose": they encourage creativity and experimentation, and they can be very effective in the planning process.

"Seeing" It All

Storyboards are also useful for building group unity and agreement, and teams using them tend to find it easier to make decisions. This is because everyone can get involved, and there's a much greater level of enthusiasm and commitment.

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Storyboards work because they tell a story in a visual way. When people have something to look at, it's much easier to understand concepts, interpret diagrams or charts, and visualize the future.

It doesn't matter if it's a movie plot or the story of your company's new product. Storyboards can change any kind of data into something living and dynamic. They can turn the sometimes-boring process of planning into an interactive, fun experience for everyone involved.

How to Use Storyboards

Creating a storyboard isn't as hard as it might seem. We'll give you step-by-step instructions, and then show you an example, so you can see the process of storyboarding in action.

Step 1: Lay out Your Steps

Brainstorm what you are trying to achieve, and then write out the steps that you must take to accomplish your goal.

Many people find that Post-it notes help in this process. You may want to re-order steps later, or you may remember steps that you've missed out initially, and Post-its allow you to pick up and rearrange information easily.

Step 2: Put Your Steps in Order

Put the steps that you noted down in Step 1 in the right sequence.

Step 3: Create Your Sublevels

Some actions in a storyboard will be made up of a series of smaller actions. Here, it might help to create a sublevel storyboard for these more involved steps. This helps ensure that you don't miss a key piece of the process.

Step 4: Look for Problems and Obstacles

As each new step is put in your storyboard, encourage the team to look for "holes" and problems in the process. This is especially important between frames. Why? Because it's between frames, or steps, that surprises (in other words, problems) could be hiding (problems within each step are easier to spot.)

This is why storyboards are so valuable. You can see each piece of the puzzle, and how all the pieces interact – so you're more likely to spot problems.


You can structure your storyboard any way you like. Some models show the final outcome on the left, and the steps flow from right to left towards it. Others use a vertical approach: the outcome is at the top, and the steps come up from the bottom to support it. Or you can use the film industry's model, with one frame after another in a line, running from left to right.

Example: Creating a Newsletter

Let's see how using a storyboard applies to the process of creating a newsletter for your business.

Step 1: Lay out Your Steps

This is what you need to do for your newsletter:

  • Create a design.
  • Brainstorm a topic.
  • Develop the content.
  • Do the mailing.

Step 2: Put the Steps in Order

Here's the logical sequence for these steps:

  1. Brainstorm a topic.
  2. Develop the content.
  3. Create a design.
  4. Do the mailing.

Step 3: Create Your Sublevels

When you look at the above steps, you can see that you'll need sublevels for three of your four steps:

  1. Develop the content:
    • Hire a copywriter.
    • Manage the copywriter's delivery.
    • Choose images to support the content.
  2. Create a design:
    • Hire a graphic artist to design the overall look and color scheme.
    • Lay out the newsletter.
    • Proof the final copy.
  3. Do the mailing:
    • Create your mailing list.
    • Print the final copies.
    • Stuff and address envelopes.
    • Mail the envelope.

Step 4: Look for Problems and Obstacles

Team members focus in on the hiring of a copywriter as a key issue, particularly with respect to evaluating the quality of work he or she will do: People have experienced variable standards of copywriting in the past.

They decide to try out two different copywriters with the first newsletter, and then choose the one who produces the best material.

Because each major task is broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces, nothing is left out – and the whole project looks less complicated and more robust.


See also our articles on Affinity Diagrams, Flowcharting, Swim Lane Diagrams, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis and Work Breakdown Structures, all of which do similar jobs, and have different strengths and different weaknesses.

The relative advantage of storyboarding is the way in which it's designed to be used in a group setting, with intelligent group-based challenge of each step.

Key Points

When you're faced with a big project or key decision, the storyboard tool can help you think the problem through so that you don't feel overwhelmed by everything you and your team must accomplish, and so that you've identified and planned for the key problems that can arise.

By working together, you can brainstorm action steps, put them in the correct order, and then challenge them to make sure that you've considered everything, and that your process is robust and well-thought-through.