It can be hard to write subtle scenario questions. Here are some techniques that can help.
1. Put dialog in quotation marks.
This trick helps ban the bureaucratic from your writing. Instead of paraphrasing what people say, stick it in quotation marks and it will magically rewrite itself. Here’s an example.
Before: Nuria has been wrangling widgets for three weeks and is frustrated. It is difficult for her to determine the correct wrangling angle.
During: “I am frustrated,” Nuria says. “I have been wrangling widgets for three weeks and it is difficult for me to determine the correct wrangling angle.”
After: “This is driving me nuts,” Nuria says. “I’ve been wrangling widgets for three weeks and I still can’t get the angle right.”
The minute you put your dry prose in quotes, you realize how very dry it is. Then it becomes easy to make it sound more natural. This trick also moves you from boring “telling” to more vivid “showing.”
2. Ask, “Why aren’t they doing it?”
In action mapping, you set a business goal and list what people need to do on the job to reach that goal. And then for each important task, you ask, “Why aren’t they doing it now?”
Unfortunately, it’s common to skip that question and go straight from “Here’s what they need to do” to “Here’s an activity that will help them practice doing it.” This often results in a scenario question that’s generic and too easy.
Instead, take a little time to identify the main barriers to performance: “Why aren’t people wrangling widgets well?” You might talk to a few people who do the job and use this flowchart to guide the discussion. You’ll find out if training will really help and, crucially, you’ll learn the challenges that people face. You’ll have the understanding you need to design subtle scenarios that target what’s really causing the problem.
3. Branching? Start with the end in mind.
Before you write any part of a branching scenario, think of the endings that will make the points you want to make. You might aim for one best ending, a few “fair” endings, and some “poor” endings. Then write a high-level plot that provides several intersecting routes to those endings. You might first write the “best” path and then add the less-great paths. Test your plot on subject matter experts and some future learners to make sure it’s realistic and not too easy. Only then is it safe to start fleshing it out with dialog and details.
What techniques have you discovered that help you write strong scenarios? Let us know in the comments.
Scenario design course: New sessions available
Two new sessions of my four-week, hands-on scenario design course have been scheduled, starting on Oct. 28 and Feb. 10. Learn more about the class and sign up for future announcements here. The action mapping book used in the course will be published this year; I’ll be sure to announce it in the blog when it’s available.
Tips & tricks image © Aquir and iStock