Scrapbook your way to better project comms

Practical thoughts about collection, curation and communication.

Image: Illustration, two hands on top of a scrapbook including a picture of a dog, some leaves, a little envalope with some tickets in it. Glue, ribbons and scissors are dotted around.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we tell the stories of our projects. Well ok perhaps it’s not ‘lately’ it seems to be an ongoing thread, but its something that I’ve noticed a lot of us don’t think enough about.

Scrapbooking for agile comms

In projects, especially complex projects with tight deadlines or difficult stakeholders, we often put our heads down and work work work until the work is done. I find that means that sometimes by the end of it nobody seems to know how we really got there.

This is a huge problem because if the team can’t articulate easily the journey they’ve been on, then they might not stay aligned. If your stakeholders or partners can’t see the work, they might not believe anything is really being done. And if your colleagues can’t understand what’s happened, they won’t be able to learn from it (or use it after you’ve gone).

I think it’s very possible that Giles Turnbull talks about this in his excellent book The Agile Comms handbook - which continues to be my bible. I don’t have it to hand but what seemed to stand out to me was a passage about how if you don’t collect throughout you can’t then use this later, you don’t have the assets for that blog post or that report — which is very true.

Why scrapbooking?

Say you’re on holiday and you have a particularly lovely beer in a tiny place on a beach, or at the top of a mountain. It’s a certain kind of person who will slowly, carefully, peel the label off of that beer to stick into a book to remember later. Others might take a snapshot of a particularly elaborate street sign, some graffitti, an animal, a meal, a restaurant menu. You might come home with a sprig of lavender, a leaf, aa shell, or a ribbon from a particularly delicious chocolate (why are most of my holiday memories food-based?).

And it may seem inconsequential to some, but the remembrance of those things might spark lots of other thoughts, feelings and ideas. It might spark a question. What does that scraggly kitten tell us about life in that Greek island? What made the chocolate so wonderful?

I guess what I’m saying is that these small things build up to give a bigger, more legible, understanding, they tap into people’s thoughts and feelings in a way that pure documentation cannot. They drive human connection.

Juxtaposition, not fidelity

Finally scrapbooking is not about neatness, it’s not about fidelity, it’s about juxtaposition, memories and ideas. In a scrapbook it’s ok to take a wide range of things and put them together to build the story. A newspaper article, a ribbon, a photograph, a sketch, a diagram. All these things can sit side by side. Rather than distract from one another, they build on one another. I’d liken it to the concept of bricolage, if that didn’t feel too grand for such a humble thought piece.

Three different examples of scrapbooks including images, written words, stickers, patterns, sketches.

So, how do you go about scrapbooking your project? Some thoughts and ideas.

1. Collect:

Just as you would at any project kick off, when assigning roles and responsibilities, find time to talk about scrapbook collections and make space to discuss how the team might do this. Can you make it everyone’s responsibility?

How can you get people confident about collecting? Do you need to agree what’s useful? Or make this an informal endeavour so that nothing is off the table? Do people need parameters or do people need incentives? How can you make this easy?

How will you collect and share amongst the team, will this be via a slack channel or team folder somewhere?

What do you need to use to make collection sustainable? e.g can you dump things into a folder marked with the sprint number? How can you make sure assets are findable and reusable without making this a big ask for the team?

2. Curate:

I personally use sprint reviews as an opportunity to curate assets, picking from the ones that help to tell the story at that point in time. Collecting and scrapbooking isn’t about including everything, just those few things that help to remind, prompt, show, explain.

I need to get more disciplined at hyperlinking back to where the asset lives, so that others can find and use it later, but this takes time and practice.

Other things you might consider are how you might use retros to understand what was useful, what wasn’t or to make changes to how you collect.

Communicate:

I guess the first thing to say is there’s very little point in any of the above if you don’t do this last part, and it’s probably too much here for me to talk you through how and why you should communicate about your work. However you might want to consider some of the following:

  • who are you talking to and what might they need or respond to?
  • what medium are you communicating in? Blogs, in -person, reports, public speaking? What do you need to communicate in those different spaces?
  • How will you communicate change? Do you need to show something over time? How can the assets you’ve collected help you to do that?

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Sam Villis

Sam Villis

Now: @socialfinanceuk Prev:@ldgovuk, Head of Digital at National Leadership Centre. GDS. Proud to be @OneTeamGov.