Captain’s log: stardate 22 July 2020

The Mission director rubbed his throbbing temples and shifted in his seat to relieve the pain from the pressure points caused by continual virtual meetings ever since COVID began.

Today will be a full day MarsLander mission meeting with the latest Mission Control team. ‘I may need my comfy cushion for this one,’ he thought. Bringing end-to-end stakeholders together is always a challenge. Different ‘Techno-speak’, framework protectionism, conflicting goals and priorities.

The Mission director sighed and dropped a second Paracetamol into the glass of water next to his screen.

COVID and all this remote working is not only physically uncomfortable, but also mentally challenging for teams and individuals trying to learn to communicate and collaborate remotely, AND adopt ‘New ways of working’.

In this session a team of 7 strangers will have to learn to operate as a high performing team in a matter of hours! Effectively collaborating AND translating ITIL theory into practice. ‘Judging by the way teams have tried ‘Implementing’ ITIL in the past I am not convinced they will be able to perform!’ thought the Mission Director ‘How many Paracetamols am I allowed in one day’ he wondered.

End of log

Welcome to this Marslander ITIL 4 Masterclass session

At the start of the workshop delegates were asked what they were hoping to discover?

  • More about effective online communication and collaboration (clearly recognizing the challenges posed above by the Mission Director).
  • A new way of online learning using simulations (e-learning can be tiring and a little dull at times).
  • More about ITIL 4 and its value (there are grumbles about the relevance of ITIL in this age of agile transformations)
  • More about how ITSM/ITIL uses concepts from, and aligns more with LEAN, Agile and DevOps ways of working (something that many ITSM teams are being challenged with ‘How do we make ITSM/ITIL more agile!?’)

In at the deep end!

We threw the team into Mission Control, giving them a backlog of work and conflicting priorities. The Product owner driving priorities quickly focused on ‘features’ and ‘value’. Major risks and incidents were tolerated and begrudgingly allocated scarce resources. The Service manager was unable to get resources to work on continual improvements and ‘technical debt’ and ‘none-issues’ were ignored – ‘who cares if the Service level isn’t achieved – not my problem’ said the Product owner.

Service management – sink or swim

Service management was struggling to find a place in the end to end value stream way of working, hindered by lack of information, unclear goals, lack of engagement with business stakeholders to understand value, lack of visibility and situational awareness, lack of business understanding to make business cases for improvements. Unclear role and responsibilities in relation to the Product owner. The SLA was not linked to business impact and risk and was not seen as valuable by the business. There was a lack of focus on Problem management to reduce risks as resources were thrown at adhoc firefighting of incidents to meet an SLA that the business wasn’t concerned about….

Just like reality.

These Paracetamol tablets must be fake’ thought the mission director, rubbing his throbbing temples again.

Value stream or stagnant pool?

It seemed like the end-to-end value stream is more like a stagnant pool at times’ thought the Mission Director, wondering ‘who co-ordinates and coaches the team to adopt these new ways of working?’

The sediment settles – transparency returns

We then reflected using ITIL 4. Staring with the guiding principle of ‘start where you are’:

  • What is working well
  • What needs improving
  • Which questions are still unanswered
  • What are some new ideas we can try

This was an example of ‘Collaborate & promote visibility’ – having the end to end team explore and visualize how they could ‘progress iteratively with feedback’.

It was very much internally focused until we looked at the Service Value System and explored ‘Value’. What does ‘Focus-on-value’ mean? How can we change team behaviors and end-to-end ways of working to demonstrate a focus on value? Especially with conflicting views from the Sales Director, The Flight operations director, Product owner and Service manager about Value!

Feel good factor

After practicing ‘progress iteratively with feedback’ in 3 game rounds and exploring ITIL theory each time, the team was performing as an end-to-end team, delivering more value as well as reducing risks. It also felt good! The guiding principles ‘Focus on value’, ‘Collaborate and promote visibility’ and ‘progress iteratively with feedback’ had been translated into sustainable ‘behaviors’ – with coaching to help embed the behaviors into ‘the way we do things’!

Unfortunately they were always playing ‘catch-up’ as a result of not taking continual improvement seriously from the start.

Mission Director: ‘Continual improvement needs to be a core capability as demands grow and the need for high-velocity IT increases – but teams are so focused on short terms goals, product features and have KPI’s that are in conflict with digital transformation ambitions – this results in improvement work being overlooked. It doesn’t help when ITSM doesn’t understand the business well enough to make the business case for improvements!’

As one delegate stated ‘Investments in improvements is not a secondary focus after ‘day job’’

At the end of the simulation the team scores for revenue growth, customer satisfaction and risk were looking healthy.  ‘The throbbing has gone away’ sighed the Mission Director with relief throwing his Paracetamols into the bin.

Perhaps an important ITSM KPI ‘Reduction in business leader Paracetamol intake’.

Take aways

At the end of the session we looked back at some of the key success factors and at some of the actionable takeaways from the team. ‘What had they applied today in this simulation, that had made such a difference to team performance, that they could take away and apply in their working environment?’

A key success factor: effective communication

  • Active listening and questioning meaning – avoiding assumptions
  • Respecting everybody’s feedback and input
  • Actively asking each person for feedback and confirming understanding of agreements
  • Daring to ask for help
  • Asking if people need help (uncertainty, unfamiliarity with remote working)
  • Asking exploratory questions rather than ‘selling’ opinions and forcing own ideas
  • Recording decisions made and agreements on responsibilities and ways of working – to use during reflection and feedback. Did we do what we agreed?
  • Asking people upstream and downstream in the value stream ‘what information do you NEED from me to do your job effectively’?

A key success factor: Collaborative behaviours

  • Clear agreement of roles and responsibilities – particularly around decision making authority
  • Sharing goals (overall goals and individual team goals) to identify conflicting goals and priorities
  • Engaging with stakeholders to agree value and agree priority and decision making
  • Visualization of information to support rapid decision making, effective prioritization, identifying constraints, identifying impediments and improvement needs
  • Fostering a culture of improvement ‘everybody records improvement opportunities on the team board’ – used to ‘progress iteratively with feedback’
  • Coordination/Coaching role, especially with new end-to-end ways of communicating and collaborating
  • The importance of fast, effective decision making to enable high-velocity IT without having to continually escalate up hierarchic chains and across SILOed boundaries
  • Value streams to bind the specialist areas together, the glue being the shared value they need to realize.
  • Improvement is not a secondary focus after your day job…
  • Understanding and applying WIP limits and reserving time to progress iteratively with feedback.
  • Fostering a culture of continual learning and improvement end-to-end.
  • Understanding and agreeing the roles and responsibilities of Product owners and Service owners/managers when it comes to prioritization of work, allocation of resources, agreeing value.

Actions to take away and apply

  • Ask the question ‘what value does this work deliver?’ And if it means stopping some other work ask ‘what is the impact and risks of not doing this’? (Value, Outcomes, Costs, Risks).
  • Confirm with the team what they are going to do – to ensure understanding of agreements and priorities.
  • Share our discoveries about the visual management system (based on Service value system) as a tool to focus on value and support faster, more effective decision making.
  • Review the way we prioritize work again the value formula (Value = the positive impacts of Value Creation work – the negative impact of Value leakage work + the positive benefits of value Improvement work).
  • Discuss the best way to improve collaborative behaviors and ways of working in our team. Such as end-to-end improvement sessions, improving visualization of goals, of priorities, of work in progress.
  • Ensure we take a step back to discuss and agree improvement actions’ (This means scheduling time for these activities and improvements).
  • Engage with stakeholders to understand the different perspectives on value – particularly customer focused value.

Was it useful?

‘…it was incredibly helpful’

‘…it was excellent’

‘…I thought the session was brilliant. A really different and refreshing way of bringing ITIL to life’

‘…Great session….I’m inspired to learn more about ITIL 4’

‘…Gamification is something I’d love to see applied in more learning packages across all areas of education. I think applying the fundamental principles into a game scenario certainly improves and accelerates the learning process for me…’

‘The Mars Lander simulation was a really innovative and refreshing way to learn how to use key concepts of ITIL 4 in real situations. As a group we quickly learned how the guiding principles aid decision making, collaboration is key, and visibility is vital to identify and focus on value.’ Sean BurkinshawITIL Specialist – BT

Final thoughts

Mission Director: ‘The team had shown that communication and collaboration skills are critical if we want to start working in end-to-end value streams. The team also discovered the NEED to engage with multiple end-to-end stakeholders to understand the different perspectives on value. This type of experiential learning had also helped translate ITIL 4 theory into practice and capture concrete actions to take away….. I won’t be outsourcing the next Mission if my ITSM teams start behaving like this!’

Which of these success factors and takeaways do YOU need to adopt in your organization? Have some Paracetamol handy, it won’t be easy! 

Paul Wilkinson
Director & Owner at GamingWorks | Website

Paul has been involved in the IT industry for more than 25 years and has a broad background in IT operations, IT management and product innovation and development. He was project team lead in the original BITE (Business & IT Excellence) process modeling of ITIL, an ITIL V2 author and member of the ITIL V3 advisory group. He is co-owner of GamingWorks and co-developer of a range of business simulations focusing on IT Service management, Project management, Business Process management, Business and IT alignment, Alliance management and co-author and developer of the ABC of ICT products and publications.

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