A game is just nice to have right? – Wrong!

Paul Wilkinson
Paul Wilkinson

This article has been contributed by Paul Wilkinson, Co-Director and Co-Owner at GamingWorks. Ahead of his presentation at the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition, Paul discusses Gaming – perceptions, deployments, benefits and more…

I must admit to being tired, frustrated, disappointed and angry at the latest mega hype around ‘gamification’. Why? You would think that being a company that develops business simulation games  we would be happy, right? Or perhaps you are still asking “what has ‘gaming’ got to do with ITSM”? You are probably thinking that gaming is just a nice way to make training more fun and interesting. You couldn’t be MORE wrong, I will show you why shortly.

I am happy that ‘gaming’ is getting attention. I am NOT happy about the general perceptions being created about gaming and I am NOT happy with the general way in which they are deployed.

These perceptions and poor deployment are damaging the credibility of gaming as valuable intervention instruments. In this article I want to try and demonstrate to you that a game isn’t just a nice to have add-on to ITIL training to make it less boring, nor simply a great way of creating more ‘awareness’. These are the LEAST valuable benefits of gaming.

General perceptions

The general perceptions, partly prompted by the new breed of software developers, is that gamification is all about digital, video, on-line, and engagement type games with leader boards, badges and rewards; great for marketing and driving traffic to web-sites.

When I talk to people about business simulation games they often ask “Where can we download it?”, “Is there an on-line demo we can play?”, “Can I install it on my iPad”, “Do I get to shoot people in the game?”….the last one was a joke by the way. It seems that people are prepared to queue up all through the night to buy the latest game that allows them to shoot people and score points! But they don’t want to invest in a business game because they don’t see how it adds value!

I am NOT saying that these computer based games are of no value. They are extremely powerful if used correctly, with a clear set of business objectives. I am simply saying there is more to gaming, such as classroom based business simulation games – dynamic, interactive, experiential learning environments  in which people have to work together, face-to-face to solve problems and learn.

Learning to discuss, engage in dialogue, make agreements, give and receive feedback, resolve conflicts, and convince somebody of the business case, these  are all difficult to simulate in a computer game.

Yet these are some of the competences required when deploying best practices such as ITIL, and these are some of the key reasons ITSM improvement initiatives fail! A simulation game is a great way to test and explore these types of behavior.

Deployment

People leap onto games as the next TOOL. Just like many organizations used ITIL as a TOOL to be ‘implemented’ – and generally failed, just like organizations who buy expensive service management TOOLS and then find they aren’t being used properly.

One of the top ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) worst practice cards chosen in workshops world-wide is  ‘A Fool with a tool is still a fool’  – It’s not about the TOOL, it’s about what you do with it. I often hear people say ‘We played a game…..didn’t see the results we HOPED for’. ‘It was fun, created energy but…’. That is because they deployed the game as a TOOL; a product.

A game is not a one-size-fits all, just like ITIL needs to be customized to the needs of the organization, just like a tool needs to be customized to the needs of the organization, so too a game facilitation needs to be customized to the needs of the organization.

Gartner predicted that 80% of gamification investments would fail because of poor design – not aligning them with the organization’s needs. Questions need to be explored such as: what problem are we trying to solve, what behavior do we want to confront, to learn, to test, to explore, who needs to play which roles and why? What will we do with the captured learning and improvement points? Basically a game needs to be played in the context of the organization to ensure a maximum return on the investment. However when done well the returns are high.

A game needs to be part of the learning process

This means that a game needs to be part of a learning process:

  • Before activities (customization)
  • During activities (facilitation, fit-for-purpose, fit-for-use)
  • After activities (transfer & embedding).

Unfortunately many organizations do not do this, they simply say “let’s play an ITIL game and let people learn about ITIL”! – just like many  people don’t do this with ITIL training either  – “let’s send people on ITIL foundation training to get an ITIL certificate and learn about ITIL” they say.  “Oh?” we ask “and what problem do we HOPE to solve by sending them on the training? How will we ensure the learning is transferred to the workplace”? – questions which are often just meets with blank stares!

Is it any wonder that with more than 1.5 million ITIL certificates still many organizations fail to get the HOPED for value?

So how is a game going to help with all this?

I’m glad you asked.

We recently conducted a survey with training organizations and customer organizations into the effectiveness and benefits of simulation games. This survey was conducted with consulting and training companies offering games and customer organizations who have used games. It is interesting to see the difference in perceived benefits between the training companies offering the games and the customer organizations who took the time and effort to do the groundwork (before-during-after).

Our first survey question was ‘when are simulation games most effective?’ The answers were:

  • To support culture change initiatives
  • To create understanding and ‘buy-in’ for a best practice (such as ITIL, Prince2, PMI, BPM, CoBIT)
  • Translating theory into practice
  • Breaking down silos and creating end-t0-end, ‘team working’

5clubscardjpegAs you can see simple ‘awareness and understanding’ scores number 2 in the list and supporting a culture change initiative within IT scores the highest.  Failure to address organizational culture was named as the top reason for ITSM initiatives failing according to the OGC planning to implement service management book. This is one of the reasons we published the ‘ABC of ICT’ book and assessment (card set) to help address these issues, and this is where a simulation game starts to get serious.

Serious gaming to solve serious problems.

Our second question was ‘what are the benefits of simulation games?’.

Attitude change

  • Better understanding and buy-in for ITSM best practices, experiencing the benefits
  • Better understanding of other groups perspective
  • Better understanding of customer expectations and customer centric behaviour
  • Agreed improvement actions captured and a willingess and commitment to execute them

Behaviour change

  • Improved quality of services resulting from the change in behaviour as agreed in the simulation game experience
  • People started applying the behaviour they had experienced in the simulation game
  • Reduces time, cost and effort to implement as people have a better understanding of how to apply after following a simulation

Culture change

  • People started confronting each other on ‘undesirable behaviour’ as they had experienced in the simulation
  • People got together more after a simulation game to analyze and improve their work together, ‘improving your work is your work’ – CSI

As can be seen from the responses games are considerably more than simply instruments to make training more fun or just to help create awareness.

Top benefits as perceived by training and consulting organizations

  1.  ‘Better understanding and buy-in for the benefits of ITSM best practices’, which helps address the biggest reason for ITSM improvement program failures – Resistance to change.
  2. Better understanding of other groups perspectives’, which demonstrates a simulation’s effect at ‘breaking down organizational silos’ and helping to ‘foster end-to-end working’ and ‘more effective team working and collaboration’.
  3. Better understanding of customer expectations and customer centric behavior’, which shows a simulation helps ‘IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority’, and ‘IT is too internally focused’.
  4. Agreed improvement actions captured and a willingness and commitment to carry them out’. Which shows how a simulation can help provide input to a service improvement initiative. Creating a shared perception of improvement needs. This helps ‘Empower’ people to improve their own work.

Top benefits as perceived by the supplier organization

  1.  ‘Improved quality of service resulting from the change in behavior as agreed in the simulation game’. This shows how a simulation has a positive impact on creating ‘desirable behavior’. Participants learn how to translate ‘knowledge into results’, which leads to quality improvements.
  2. People started applying the behavior they had experienced in the simulation game’. This shows how a simulation helps ‘translate theory into practice’. This also demonstrates not only buy-in to the new ways of working, but also a commitment to execute.
  3. Reduces time, cost and effort to implement (best practices) as people have a better understanding of how to apply after following a simulation’. This shows how a simulation can help reduce risks of an ITSM improvement initiative from failing (70% still do not gain the hoped for value from an initiative), as well as speed up the adoption and value realization.
  4. People got together more after the simulation game to analyze and improve their work together’.  This shows how a simulation helps foster a culture of ‘continual service improvement’ and enables people to apply a pragmatic approach to analyzing and improving their work.

So back to the title. ‘A game is just nice to have right?’ – yes if you want to simply use it as an off the shelf TOOL to create awareness.  Wrong! If you want to help change the attitude, behavior and culture in your organization and ensure a sustainable, lasting improvement that delivers value.

Want to hear more from Paul? He will be presenting in Birmingham at the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition, 4-5 November. You can catch him on day 1 for his session “Grab@Pizza – Experience Business & IT Alignment in ACTION” (please note that this session has limited attendance), and/or day 2 looking at “Creating a Measurable Return on Value of an ITSM Training Investment”.

About Paul:

Paul has been working in the IT Industry for more than 30 years fulfilling a wide variety of roles from Computer Operator, to Systems manager to IT Services manager. Paul has been actively involved in ITSM for more than 20 years as both an Senior consultant, Service development manager and as ITIL author. He was a project team leader for the original BITE (Business IT Excellence) ITIL process-modeling initiative, and co-author of the ITIL publication “Planning to Implement IT Service Management”. He was a member of the ITIL advisory group for ITIL Version 3. Paul is also co-director and co-owner of GamingWorks, the company that developed the internationally renowned ‘Apollo 13 – an ITSM case experience’ ITIL simulation game. He was also co-author and cartoonist for the itSMF ‘Worst practice’ publication “IT Service management from Hell” and more recently the ‘ABC-of-ICT’ publications focusing on Attitude, behavior and Culture within IT organizations.

The ABC of ITSM: Why Building The Right Process Matters

Attitude, Behaviour and Culture (ABC) - this sets out to ensure that the human aspect of ITSM and service delivery matches that of the IT implementation.

This article has been contributed by Ben Cody of Serena Software.

In my previous piece for The ITSM Review, I examined the state of general dissatisfaction with ITSM tools at the moment.

In doing so, I wanted to question why a positive dedication to “process” should be at the heart of how organisations solve complex (and simple for that matter) IT services challenges. This time around, I want to look at the human element of process.

The new ABC

ABC (for the purposes of our story here) stands for Attitude, Behaviour and Culture — basically, this sets out to ensure that the human aspect of ITSM and service delivery matches that of the IT implementation.

One area that can help ITSM professionals today is to look at their approach to ABC in a new light, based on understanding the wider processes that are in place.

Re-evaluating processes gives ITSM teams the opportunity to look at their own ABC successes and issues again. It also represents a chance to examine how these ABC milestones can be used to improve wider service within the organisation. Without the right elements in place, those individuals working on the service desk may not be able to deliver what the business expects and requires of them. More importantly, changes within the organisation won’t be successful.

ABC is equally important when it comes to inter-team communication, as the hand-off between teams can be affected by differences in approach and behaviour. If one team is performing well on its own terms, but its output goes through another group with motivational challenges or a different work method, then the initial team’s work may be viewed as not meeting the overall requirements of the business.

The release management black hole

This can be seen in the ITSM world when an application implementation is not completed successfully across to the complete scope and breadth of the organisation. The application itself has been written to specification, thoroughly tested and was ready to go — but the team responsible for managing help-desk calls may see a massive spike in users getting in touch. In this example, the release management process has not been completed successfully, which leads to issues getting raised with the help-desk team and poor perception of IT in general.

Nothing was wrong in the development phase and the ITSM function can provide a great level of service — however, what users remember is that there was a problem in the first place.

In the user’s mind, IT is seen as being one complete unit, yet this is not often the case. Most teams within large organisations are broken down into project and technology teams, depending on how they have evolved over time. Responsibility is split across these different teams and each can have its own approach to managing work based on how it is led.

Achieving some kind of level of “unity of approach” and getting each part of IT to buy into a common set of values is a significant challenge. The responsibility for this should sit with the CIO as part of their leadership role. As business requirements change and IT has to evolve to support new demands, so getting the right processes in place to complement the right ABC is therefore critical. Changing or amending behaviour at the individual level relies on how much people buy into what is being put in place at the process level, too.

Process and ABC: a two-way street?

On the individual attitude and behaviour front, there has to be an understanding across the IT team responsible for delivering a service of how their section fits into the wider business process. This can be as simple as letting each individual know how their work contributes towards a key performance indicator or meeting a service level. For organisations that already have some degree of joined-up processes, the information given back to people can be much more granular.

At the same time, this emphasis on process can be used to remove manual work where it is possible to take it out. In the example above, automating the release of an application that has been developed and tested properly, rather than relying on ad hoc scripting and manual labour, could remove the potential for things going wrong. Not only does this speed up the process overall, it also makes the whole IT team concerned with that installation appear to be part of a uniform and co-ordinated strategy to the business.

For organisations with ABC challenges, looking at “process hand-overs” between teams is the simplest way to evaluate where these problems start and why. Is this an issue with an individual, a team or with the wider IT function within the organisation? Depending on the level at which the problem is occurring, this will change how the ITSM team looks at their processes in a new light.

The attitude and culture that a company has in place will have an impact on the overall process that is being completed — if employees feel valued and trusted, then they are more likely to care that the results of their work are good. At the same time, design of a process can affect ABC as well — a well-designed process that is fit for purpose, automated where it needs to be, and running well should support employees in achieving job satisfaction.

The business-to-IT connection challenge

One of the most common complaints around IT is that it does not match up with the business. Traditionally, IT has been separate to business functions based on the availability of the skills that were required to understand and run the technology department. This is changing with the advent of cloud computing and the growing understanding of IT within the business itself. But whether organisations want to embrace a cloud computing approach or not, the fact is that ITSM professionals have to realise that their service delivery is being judged against a different yardstick. Whereas previously, IT operations and services would be based on what direct competitors are doing, now it is more likely that the business will look at what consumer websites and portals are able to deliver.

This change in emphasis and the need to keep pace with what the business expects from IT, makes looking at ABC more important than ever. Service providers have the mantra in place that “the customer is king” – even when they either don’t know what they want, or are actively looking at the wrong approach. For ITSM, this means looking again at their attitudes to managing users and where this may have to change in future. As cloud continues to attract interest, IT will have to learn lessons from the service provider world.

Ben Cody, Serena Software
Ben Cody, Serena Software

Managing ABC in this environment should theoretically be easier — after all, IT and the business are both part of the same company. However, there can be this barrier between the two that has to be broken down. If it is not, then IT risks either remaining as a support function with little value, or instead being replaced with outside tools and services instead. This would do ITSM a grave disservice, as it should be obvious that internal IT teams have not only the interest of the organisation at the front of their minds but also the most in-depth knowledge of what the business really requires. What does have to change is that understanding of service delivery from the business perspective.

Hand in hand with this ITSM imperative is the need to get the business function’s perception of IT to change. The attitude and behaviour of the business towards IT is just as important as IT’s own ABC i.e. without the willingness to embrace IT as a strategic part of the corporate decision making process, there can be no real change in approach across ITSM. IT can aim at being customer-centric as much as possible, but if the IT team is not involved in the decision-making process from the outset, then this will remain a largely unfulfilled ambition.

Analysing the role of IT across the business process is the best way to achieve the much-needed inclusion that we must achieve here, alongside aligning the culture of the IT team with that present across the wider organisation. By understanding how work goes through the business and the ITSM resources required to support that flow, IT can claim its place at the table.

This article has been contributed by Ben Cody of Serena Software.