I remember watching the film “Saving Mr. Banks1” a couple of years ago, which tells the untold true story about the origins of one of Walt Disney’s classics, the film adaptation of Mary Poppins. The story centers on Walt Disney’s attempts to obtain the rights to P.L. Travers’ book about the beloved Poppins. During the movie, Disney personnel are meeting with Travers as they go over the ‘storyboard’ of the movie. It made me think to myself that if ‘storyboarding’ will work for something as complex as a lengthy and detailed movie production, why wouldn’t it work for business, production and manufacturing processes as well.
A ‘storyboard’ is a graphic organizer in the form of illustrations or images displaying in sequence the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence. As it turns out, the process of storyboarding was a ‘Disney’ creation. (Did the man’s genius ever stop?) When I got to really thinking about using storyboards, I could clearly see just how you could take pictures of a process, then provide in-depth descriptions for each picture, and finally assemble them in ‘storyboard’ fashion to not only look at the current process, but also potential alternatives.
Workflow diagrams serve a similar process using some form of ‘icon’ to represent a specific step in a process or business activity, but the actual graphic adapted from a photograph of a specific stage is so much more representative than a mere icon. There are many workflow or ‘work charting’ software programs on the market to help you turn ideas into flow-charts, but in my way of thinking they still don’t do a project justice nearly as much as producing a ‘storyboard’.
As I mentioned, you can not only use the storyboard approach to document a current process, but also to design processes, thus turning status quo into futuristic prototype. This type of low fidelity prototype is particularly useful for refining and validating concepts before writing detailed functional specifications or process controls. The technique enables you to work effectively with a small group to create highly usable and user centered design alternatives.
Identify the situation or current process – start with a well-defined analysis of the current situation or process. This will include photographs of all related work processes, stages and sequences.
Define the intended/needed or proposed scenario(s) – you need a clear picture based upon your research with the client about the goals or intent and also measurable objectives or criteria. Be sure to brainstorm these with your client, yourself and your development team.
Create a Storyboard for each Prototype you identify – select the best scenario(s) or concept(s) and then begin to rearrange copies of the original photographs, if there are significant variations over the existing visuals other than re-ordering it may be necessary to perform a rough sketch or substitute a graphical image of the alternative. Be sure to illustrate each ‘entire scenario’ from beginning to end, in just the way you would expect the actual function/process to work in real life.
Now you are ready to once again brainstorm with your team, and then your client, each of the prototypes you created. If possible, you might consider testing each prototype in order to evaluate them. This might include test runs on a simulation program or in a test environment in order to thoroughly evaluate which prototype comes closest to meeting the defined scenario.
The next time you are called out to see a new client, I suggest that you consider ‘storyboarding’ their work, manufacturing and/or production processes if you are being called in to assist them in helping them update, streamline or automate their operations. The storyboard(s) you produce could just turn out to be your own ‘classic’ akin to Mary Poppins.
1 - Saving Mr. Banks, 2013, Walt Disney Productions; Saving Mr. Banks and Mary Poppins (including graphical representations used herein) are registered trademark of Disney.