The best way to learn a language is to listen to other people speak that language. Try to repeat what you hear and mind their feedback. Gradually, you will progress from individual words to phrases and to complete sentences. The more you speak, the faster you will learn.
With Domain Storytelling you can employ the same principle when learning a new domain language. Let domain experts tell their domain stories. While listening, you record the domain stories using a pictographic language. The domain experts can see immediately if you understand their story correctly. After very few stories, you are able to talk about the people, tasks, tools, work items, and events in that domain.
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Imagine you are a software developer who was tasked to develop an app for a cinema. The app should have an online reservation feature. Since you have no clue where to start, you decide to interview an employee who works in the ticket office and takes reservations by phone and in person. The picture shows a graphical recording of the employee's Domain Story. To read the story, just follow the numbers:
The customer asks the ticket seller for a reservation. The ticket seller looks up the show in the ticket system. ... (you get the idea)
To record Domain Stories, we need a vocabulary and pictograms that represent the vocabulary:
Domain Stories are told from an actor's perspective. Actors may be a person, a group, or a software system. Hence, we use different pictograms.
Actors create, work with, and exchange work objects and information about work objects such as documents and messages. The pictograms represent the work object’s medium.
The actor's activities are depicted as arrows.
Textual annotations are useful to document assumptions, variations and exceptions.
To add a specific meaning to a pictogram, we name it with a term from the domain language:
An actor ticket seller, a work object screen plan, an activity looks up etc.
In the examples on this website, we use about a dozen of Google's Material icons that represent typical office work. Feel free to compile your own set of pictograms that fits to your domain but keep in mind:
1. Using many different icons will water down your pictographic language.
2. The icons add meaning to the story and make it “tangible”.
Keep in mind that anyone should be able to read the graphical Domain Story out loud.
Every actor should appear only once in a Domain Story. However, if you use the same work object in several sentences, you have to draw it several times (with different numbers and maybe with a different pictogram). By numbering the work objects, we can express in what sequence the activities occur.
Most business process modeling approaches show what can possibly happen in a process:
While there is value in such "algorithmic" descriptions, for many purposes you would be better suited with some examples of what actually happens.
To paraphrase requirements engineering expert Peter Hruschka:
"Three good examples are better than a bad abstraction."
Domain Storytelling helps you to find meaningful examples of what actually happens in a business process. Maybe you noticed that the visual language does not contain any symbols for cases, exceptions and parallelism.
Instead, the context of a Domain Story is defined with assumptions:
"Let’s assume the customer calls. How do you take her reservation?"
While you record the story, additional assumptions might be necessary:
"Assuming that there are enough seats available, what do you do next?"
Important alternatives and error cases deserve their own Domain Story.
Usually, very few Domain Stories are sufficient to understand a business process. After recording Domain Stories for a few processes, you will become fluent in the domain language.
Peter Hruschka in Business Analysis und Requirements Engineering
Domain Stories are developed in workshops. Participants include domain experts (often from several departments), IT experts and a moderator. The moderator communicates the purpose of the workshop. All participants contribute to the story. The moderator keeps the participant’s story going by asking questions like:
What happens next?
Where do you get this information from?
How do you determine what to do next?
The moderator helps to record the Domain Stories graphically. The story needs to be visible for all participants (e.g. on a whiteboard or projected on a screen). The participants see what gets recorded and give feedback immediately.
Once the story is finished, the moderator checks if all participants agree upon the recorded Domain Story. Objections, important variations, edge cases and so on are not dismissed but written down and may trigger another Domain Story.
Do not think of Domain Stories as documentation. Use them to dive into Domain Driven Design, or to uncover requirements for software development. Inviting the right people to the workshops is important because the primary goal is to learn and communicate. A picture of a Domain Story serves as an aid to memory for those present at the workshop, but it is not a replacement for participating.
You can visualize Domain Stories with tools like PowerPoint, Visio, yEd or any other graph editor. But often a whiteboard and some sticky notes are all you need.
But since drawing the icons can be tedious, we have developed a whiteboard kit to speed up the recording process. You can download this template and make your own kit.
You can download this template and make your own kit.
A legacy tool for Domain Storytelling’s predecessor is available at austria.omilab.org (German only).
Let's pick up the example we used earlier, but this time we add a little bit more context: Imagine a chain of cinemas has asked us to develop an app that allows their customers to make reservations and buy electronic tickets. To familiarize ourselves with the domain, we set up a Domain Storytelling workshop. We visit one of the cinemas and invite an employee who works at the ticket counter, the local cinema manager, and an administrator who manages the existing ticket system.
First, we talk about the use cases that might be relevant for the app and collect the information in a use case diagram that we draw on a flip chart:
Then, we want to learn how the use cases are handled today. We ask out Domain Experts to pick an important use case and explain it to us in detail. They decide to start with the ticket reservation use case because it takes up a lot of the employee's time:
We write "Reservation at ticket counter" on the whiteboard which we use to record the Domain Story.
Step by step, we record the Domain Story on the whiteboard:
After step three, the employee hesitates.
The employee continues with his story until the reservation number is generated.
We write: "3) If customer wants to choose herself, cashier turns display to customer so she can see the screen plan. Problems: size of screen plan, displays do not rotate."
Employee, manager and administrator all nod their heads.
Manager and administrator nod their heads in agreement. This is our Domain Story:
We revisit the use case diagram. We have just learned that the ticket system is an actor in the reservation process and that reservations can be made at the ticket counter and by phone. Hence, we update the use case diagram accordingly.
We captured the relevant variations of the ticket reservation use case in one Domain Story. There is no need for an additional ticket reservation Domain Story. Hence, we continue with the next use case.
It will take more than one workshop to gather enough knowledge about the domain. We could run another workshop with someone from marketing and someone who is in charge of the screen plans. Or maybe some of the cinemas have a special focus (e.g. festivals, art movies) and work differently. As a rule of thumb, 3-5 workshops should produce enough knowledge so that we can communicate with the domain experts about their needs, requirements and problems.
At Hamburg University, cooperation pictures are created as a requirements engineering method. Cooperating actors and their work objects are visualized with pictograms.
A University spin-off (now WPS – Workplace Solutions Ltd.) adapts cooperation pictures to visualize workflows. The method is used in dozens of projects under the name exemplary business process modeling.
DDD enthusiasts at WPS boil down the approach and add a catchy name to it: Domain Storytelling.
Since Eric Evans  coined the term Domain-Driven Design (DDD), an ever growing DDD community builds software that reflects its domain. If you are new to DDD, we recommend this concise introduction by Scott Millett.
DDD consists of patterns, principles and practices. For some of them Domain Storytelling is of particular use.
Domain Storytelling is a knowledge crunching  technique that helps the people involved to familiarize themselves with the domain and work out a model that expresses their shared understanding. Other ways to build knowledge include scenarios  and scenario exploring . Domain Stories help you to come up with scenarios and to visualize them.
When you approach a domain, we recommend to start broad. Invite people from several departments to create coarse-grained Domain Stories. Do not limit yourself by existing organizational boundaries (or perceived bounded contexts, if you already familiar with DDD) and record Domain Stories that bridge departments. See Domain Storytelling Explained for guidelines and examples of Domain Stories that provide an overview of a domain.
If you want to develop software, you need more than just an understanding of a domain. You need rich domain models that express deep knowledge. But the more details you add, the more ambiguous and complex your models will get. In DDD, we make our models manageable by partitioning the domain into bounded contexts. Every bounded context has its own set of models and ultimately its own, unambiguous ubiquitous language.
 Eric Evans: Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software, Addison Wesley, 2003 –  Scott Millett, Nick Tune: Patterns, Principles, and Practices of Domain-Driven Design, Wrox, 2015 –  Scott Millett: The Anatomy of Domain-Driven Design, leanpub.com, 2017 –  Vaughn Vernon: Domain-Driven Design Distilled, Addison Wesley, 2016
The people involved in requirements elicitation have to learn and to communicate continuously. If you have read Domain Storytelling Explained, you saw how Domain Storytelling helps to learn domain language and to reach a shared understanding. If you are a product owner, domain expert, business analyst, or developer who has to deal with requirements, you can use Domain Storytelling...
1. to identify weaknesses in IT-support and cooperation.
2. to visualize how the domain will change because of the software being developed.
3. as a starting point for writing down requirements.