Writing. You probably don't like it, and if you do (like me) you don't get paid much for it. But it is a necessary part of any job. I have worked with some brilliant engineers, designers, construction managers, and firm principals that, when forced to crystallize thoughts into words, simply fall apart. As found in their respected scientific professions, there is a method to everything; writing included. Since we can't all be a Christopher Nolan (master of confusing-yet-genius plot-craft full of twists, turns, and "a-ha" moments) linear storytelling is the fastest, easiest, and most direct way to get your point across. Linear storytelling is the way it's always been done. The best tool for linear storytelling is story mapping.
In the case of the often-overlooked, youngest sibling of the Cornetto Trilogy, The World's End is a perfect example of story mapping. In fact, the central device of the entire plot, apart from character study, is a literal map. The writing team of Edgar Wright (who also directs) and Simon Pegg (who also stars) create a seemingly simple story of five friends who reunite for a legendary pub crawl in their home town that unravels in layers into a sci-fi adventure of annihilation.
Gary King is stuck in the glory days of 1990, when life was simple and good. His closest attempt at anything great was the night he spent with his friends trying the infamous Golden Mile - a 12-bar pub crawl marathon that he has thought about ever since. His friends have all grown into their own lives and moved on, but Gary remains stuck as a perennial teenager. Past transgressions are discussed and reconciled, but half-way through their pub crawl Gary and his crew comes to realize that something is not quite right about their hometown. Some townsfolk behave strangely, and others don't even recognize them. When Gary nearly reaches a breaking point after an intervention of sorts, he drunkenly engages in a fight with a bar-goer in the restroom, only to find he is a robot-like creature with blue blood.
From there, the plot accelerates as they try to figure out why their town has been taking over by hive-like robots. They presume the best course of action is to continue the plan of completing the Golden Mile Pub Crawl as they try to survive, find a way out of town, and avoid being turned into mindless robot slaves. Sounds far-fetched to be sure, but with the recap of their first night as teenagers serving as a prologue of precise foreshadowing, and referencing the map of the Golden Mile for its clues, the story is easier to follow. The sci-fi romp and cheeky dialogue makes it a fun watch, especially with friends and beers.
Anything becomes easier when you have a plan. I remember back to some of my college days when you had to submit your outline for your final essay as part of the assignment. Many people (except maybe on social media) these days focus more on grammar than structure. What often results from that is a grammatically correct rambling of incoherent and unrelated facts. As it usually happens with an RFP, the outline is created for you in terms of the sections included and the requirements within. These usually remain pretty standard. Where things can get tricky, however, is crafting a scope of work or approach/methodology section. It is tempting to many to toss in the "kitchen sink" of facts and hope something valuable floats to the top. As I have learned, and related many times, luck is not the best approach. A well-crafted, organized, and linear approach or scope section is often what can make or break a winning proposal. Films are the best teachers of writing in this sense. How else do you cram a life experience into two hours of viewing time? The fastest and simplest approach (and usually the only one the reviewer of the proposal has time for) is a linear storyline.
Examples of linear story telling/story maps with variations in story nodes.
In the case of The World's End, Wright and Pegg craft a story around an actual map of the Golden Mile. Each pub in the map functions as a story node. In these nodes, characters develop though revelation, challenges are faced, battles occur, plans are formed and the true nature of the robot invasion is revealed with each pub they visit. Each setting is a chapter in the overall story so that the plot of the film unfolds like a well crafted book. There are even foreshadowing clues in the name and nature of each pub that indicate what happens while they are there. And in case you needed another visual (or have yet to see the film) observe the obvious storytelling in the actual map of the Golden Mile:
How does this help you to craft a project scope or approach? If outlines are not your thing, try story boarding it. The RFP or RFQ that you are responding to will have its own requirements, of course, but the main points in each of your responses to those requirements should be story nodes of their own. Plotting these out ahead of time essentially helps to develop the skeleton of the story. It keeps your dialogue on track and reiterates the messages you are trying to communicate. Details are important of course, and necessary, but only as a support to the main point, or your story node.
PowerPoint presentations are also good tools for this type of storytelling, and the Smart Art tool in PowerPoint is excellent for organizing and formatting a story map. LucidChart is also a good website for plotting story lines, flow charts, and even org charts. These applications work like building blocks for the approach or scope that needs formatting, similar to moving around index cards on the table. In addition to using index cards, story maps can just as easily be sketched out or organized with Post-Its. Any tool at your teams disposal which works with your comfort level can be used to make a story map, so long as the information is organized in a logical way with a linear flow.
Formatting a scope or approach can be done in accordance to the sample scope that is usually included in the RFP. In some cases with RFQs, however, the requirements are often more relaxed, making a response difficult to craft. If you have your differentiators and win themes handy, these are good places to start with in creating your story nodes, and details can be added from there. Another added benefit to having a story map of some kind is to pass that right along to the marketer who is working on drafting the proposal; or even drafting it along with the marketer. It works as a clear visual of the intention of the scope or approach message, and streamlines communication while minimizing confusion.
Writing can be almost as daunting as public speaking, but it doesn't have to be if you find a way to simplify the process. Since most project managers I know are builders, it makes sense to relate to storytelling as a set of building blocks, a blueprint, or a schematic. Linear storytelling is as easy as "point A to point B to point C, etc.", and if you keep that simple pattern in mind, and fill in the blanks on your map, the story sometimes writes itself. Have a friend or a colleague review your map prior to writing anything, just to see if the story structure makes sense. And if, for some reason, things really get frustrating, you can always take a break and grab a pint at your local pub. Please drink, and write, responsibly.
The opening scene of The World's End is a quick introduction to the overall plot, as well as the Golden Mile Pub Crawl featured in the movie. It is also a fine example of linear storytelling and clever dialogue. Check it out for some inspiration.