“When the going gets tough the tough get simulating!”
Digital disruption & COVID, hand-in-hand driving the need for agile transformations, which in turn demand a need to adopt new ways of working, representing a significant shift in attitudes, behaviors and culture for many IT organizations. This disruption is coupled with the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) which transformational change brings with it, compounded by the loneliness and the challenges of remote working and remote collaboration.
Leading teams and individuals through this disruption is a tough challenge for Managers. A challenge to both realize change – the shift to new agile ways of working – and to help manage the doubts, uncertainties and concerns of those involved. For teams, it is also a challenge. A challenge to learn to effectively communicate and collaborate working remotely and a challenge to adopt new, end-to-end ways of working. New ways of working require the need to shift from a focus on product & service to a focus on value, from SILOes to end-to-end, from processes to value streams, from an internal focus to a more external focus, from an order taker to a trusted advisor or strategic partner. For many organizations, these are large steps to take in one leap.
In this article we want to explore how a business simulation workshop (MarsLander) can be used to:
One of the key problems that we often see when people adopt new ways of working such as agile, DevOps, Lean, and ITIL is that the framework itself becomes the goal, rather than the outcomes we hope to achieve using the framework. Often the frameworks become ‘instrumental’. There is a strong focus on procedures, practices, the automation. What is often overlooked entirely or given too little attention are the principles.
‘…What have principles got to do with agile flow and automation pipelines?’
Agile, DevOps, Lean, even ITIL. Often they are simply posters on a wall. Principles should be the binding glue that can tie SILOes and SILOed frameworks together! The frameworks, like the supporting processes, practices, rituals and tools are simply there to enable and support the desired behaviors. Let us take a look at some of the principles from the different frameworks and see what commonality should glue them together.
DevOps (DASA) principles:
Does anybody recognize a pattern? Focus on Value and customer, End-to-end collaboration and flow, continual learning and improving. We need to have end-to-end teams translate these principles into desirable, sustainable behaviors.
How can we get teams to explore and agree on the right behaviors to underpin these principles? A business simulation is an ideal way for teams to experiment in a safe environment and practice new behaviors as well as all-important feedback. In this article, I want to describe what happened with one team of senior managers, from different organizations, who were put into the MarsLander simulation and challenged with becoming a high-performing team in 4 hours!
What happened in the simulation and how does this reflect reality? In the Marslander simulation, the team plays the business and IT roles in the Mission control team of the Marslander Mission. They are confronted with growing business demands for IT-enabled innovation, the need to manage risks and maintain ongoing business services AND at the same time adopt new agile ways of working. With scarce resources. How will they cope? At the start of the simulation, the team is given time to discuss and agree on how they will work together to ensure a smooth end-to-end flow of work and deliver business value.
The team discussed and made agreements to the way they would work. They did not record or confirm that everybody knew the agreements or what it would mean to them personally; nobody asked if anybody had any concerns or doubts. Many great questions were raised, not all of them were answered, some were ignored, leaving people feeling frustrated and not taken seriously. But this was not checked. The team assumed they knew what ‘we’ agreed and that ‘we’ would all do what ‘we’ think ‘we’ just agreed. There was confusion between the role of the Product owner, the business as usual manager, and the Service manager when it came to prioritization.
Needless to say, there was chaos, confusion, frustration, blaming the way the team was forced to change too quickly without the right training or practice. There was stress. It was uncomfortable, goals were not being achieved. There was no coaching, there was no feedback, work was piled onto them with unrealistic expectations, they did not fully understand or know the business goals……Just like reality said some.
But nobody raised these as concerns in advance. And nobody checked to see if people were comfortable with the way that the change had been imposed upon them, or whether they needed help. ‘But I told you, you were an empowered team’! said the Mission director. But telling the team they are empowered and should take ownership and responsibility is not the same as empowering and enabling the team.
As the simulation progressed we also captured new insights as they occurred. New insights into behavior changes are required by managers in order to help manage the challenges mentioned above. Questions that managers could take away to see how well change was being enabled in their own organizations.
The teams translated the principles ‘Focus on value’, ‘collaborate and promote visibility’ and ‘progress iteratively’ into agreed behaviors that they would practice, give feedback on and where necessary offer help and coaching. There was less stress and frustration, it felt better, the relationship with the business had improved, the team had situational awareness to make effective decisions and co-create value from the massive amount of opportunities and demands thrown at them. If only it could be like this in reality. Why isn’t it? At the end of the day, we reflected on what the team had done. How had they managed to change the way they felt and the performance they had achieved? What had they learned and more importantly what could they take away and do differently to solve the recognized challenges above.
As can be seen, Managers have an important role to play in helping teams adopt the right behaviors to support and enable new agile ways of working. It requires practice, feedback, patience and iterative improvement. A business simulation is an ideal instrument to bring stakeholders together in a safe environment to practice, experiment, give feedback, and agree on new behaviors and improvements THEY want to take away and apply. Accelerating the adoption of new ways of working and empowering people to make their own change.
Core characteristics I saw in the team: Giving input and feedback on ideas, accepting and admitting improvement needs at the team and personal level, adopting and applying new learning, asking questions for clarification and stimulating others to provide ideas, listening and respecting the input of others.
Author: Paul Wilkinson