Do you simply want to have your staff pass the ITIL® 4 exam? Or do you want your staff to be able and willing to apply the learning to address a business challenge? If you are more interested in the second option then read further. This article shows the captured learning and takeaways from a team of delegates from a financial organization has participated in an interactive, online business simulation as part of their ITIL® 4 Foundation class. ‘But this makes it 3 days instead of 2 Where is the value in that? Let’s just skip the game and do some additional exam training’ I hear you say.
A business simulation is a form of ‘experiential learning’ or ‘learning-by-doing’. It is aimed at helping students translate ITIL theory into practice. The team participated in the MarsLander simulation, in which they play both the business and IT roles in the Mission Control team for the MarsLander mission. The captured learning and takeaways were focused not just on ITIL® 4 but also on soft skills and behaviors such as communication and collaboration. Skills and behaviors that are critical elements of new ways of working and agile transformations.
In this simulation environment, the team will need to balance increasing demands and opportunities from different stakeholders. Innovating new products and service offerings, optimizing existing business value, managing technical debt as well as aligning and improving end-to-end value streams. There is a lot of competition in the market. Speed and quality count.
The team will be faced with running business as usual as well as Transforming to new agile ways of applying ITSM using ITIL4 concepts. By playing in a number of game rounds and reflecting and improving between rounds the team will also need to apply ‘continual learning and improving’ as a core team capability. Measuring the impact of their continual improvement against business value. All this with scarce resources and time pressure. All of this working remotely – demanding effective communication and collaboration skills.
The organization was already using ITIL v3 but was looking to move to more agile ways of working. Organizational-wide initiatives had already been adopted for Lean, Agile and DevOps. ITIL v3 was not seen as supporting and enabling the agile new ways of working. The initiative for ITIL® 4 was also to improve the ‘Professionalization’ of IT with a focus on improving ‘predictability’, ’customer value’, ‘business results’. This professionalization also necessitated a transformation in IT culture and an improved relationship with the business.
New corporate cultural values had been defined to both shape the transformation and to define the behaviors needed for the future. These values being:
- Courage: E.g. the courage to change, experimentation, fail fast, fail often, and learn from it.
- Leadership: E.g. great decision making, facilitating the team to high performance, trust in employees, empowerment, and equality.
- Team building: E.g. common purpose, collaboration, mutual trust.
- Continual Improvement: E.g. first time right, customer-centric, value-driven, result-driven, knowledge sharing.
At the start of the Foundation training, delegates were asked what they were hoping to learn. The majority were attending the training because gaining an ITIL certificate was mandatory. None had considered what specific value ITIL®4 would bring to their work as opposed to ITILv3 and none were hoping to address a recognized problem that needed solving using ITIL4. Learning expectations were seen as:
- To pass the exam
- When I don’t have any questions anymore
- Learn (ITIL) concepts
- Once we learn the training to complete the exam
- If I am motivated for tomorrow (to take part in a simulation)
- How does ITIL relate to Agile
- Get a better picture of the coherence of aspects
- Understand the basic principles
Sending people onto this type of blended training is an ideal opportunity not only to translate ITIL®4 theory into practice but also to explore and experiment with the new corporate culture, values and behaviors that the organization is hoping to achieve. For example:
Leadership: ‘facilitating team to high performance’, ‘empowerment’
- Exploring with delegates in advance what they hope to learn in the training.
- Sharing with delegates problems that need solving and asking delegates to explore how ITIL4 will help?
- Ask the students to come and present a continual improvement suggestion after the training. An improvement that would help demonstrate ‘Customer-centric’, ‘Value focused’, ‘Result focused’ improvements.
- Empower, coach and facilitate delegates to apply their captured takeaway actions from the simulation exercise.
- Allocate time after the training for delegates to practice their continual improvement suggestions.
- Agreeing before the training a problem or continual improvement needs the team would like to address and exploring how ITIL4 will help address this.
- Presenting back to their own department or team what was learned and making an improvement suggestion based on ITIL4.
- Reserving time to experiment and apply improvements with fast feedback, so they can learn and improve more (Progress iteratively with feedback)
Courage: the courage to change, experimentation, fail fast, fail often, and learn from it
- Manager/team accepts that not all teams can mature at the same speed and will need time (empower) to ‘experiment’. Managers need to foster a ‘blame-free’ culture so that team can be open about failure, gain feedback and focus on improving. Managers will need to adopt a coaching style to help teams grow.
Team building: Common purpose, collaboration
- Having stakeholders from end-to-end teams to improve cross-team collaboration and recognize a common purpose
- Having people from the same team in a session to improve team building and collaboration.
The simulation exercise is played in a number of game rounds. This allows delegates to design, apply, reflect and improve iteratively – developing continual learning and improving skills. Between simulation rounds, we reflected on both ITIL theory as well as the cultural aspects of the organization. One of the cultural focus areas is Team building – improving collaboration skills and behaviors. We had the team identify undesirable and desirable behaviors that underpin effective collaboration. Throughout the day the team discovered and practiced the following:
- Agree goals (shared purpose vs team goals – identify conflicts)
- Agree and confirm decisions made
- Confirm understanding (don’t assume)
- Ask for feedback and input from all team members (empower people)
- Communication discipline (active listening, respect others, don’t interrupt)
- Agree ways of working
- Coach/mentor people in teams
- Rotate the facilitator of a stand-up/planning/retrospective session to develop these skills across the team.
- Agree facilitator role for a team/meeting
- Visualize agreements (e.g. roles & responsibilities, goals, the flow of work (value stream), and associated roles
- Ask questions to confirm understanding.
They had developed and agreed on these behaviors together. They became ‘the way we want to work together’ forming a new team culture of collaboration, which supports the cultural values of the organization.
Captured and agreed takeaway actions
At the end of the day, we reflected with the team and asked 3 questions. ‘What did I learn?’, ‘What can I take away and use in my daily work?’ and ‘What do we need to take away (as a team/organization)?’. These were the captured findings:
What did I learn?
- Practical implementation of the concepts studied (such as translating the theoretical guiding principles into sustainable behaviors).
- Collaboration and continual improvement are very important to achieve goals.
- Proper value chain processes (end-to-end) need to be established.
- How agile/scrum works fine with ITIL.
- Collaboration is key.
- How important evaluation is (progress iteratively with feedback) when you want to move forward.
- A better insight into how all aspects relate to each other (e.g. Service Value System).
What can I use in day-to-day work?
- Try to merge ITIL and agile in a better way
- Better prioritization (Value, Outcomes, Costs, Risks)
- More focus on the ‘why’ (Focus on Value).
- Better understanding how Value is subjective. It depends on the person you ask.
- Better collaboration with different disciplines
- Categorization and visualization tools,
- Better understanding of each other’s goals (Value).
The above actions can be discussed with the team/line manager as part of the new culture. ‘Leadership’ – managers can practice new skills and behaviors to empower individuals, and ‘Continual improvement’ – employees can be stimulated and supported to make change happen.
What do we need to take away
These were actions that the team wants to take away and apply more broadly in the organization. These actions can be assigned to the ongoing Transformation program and used as input.
- Improving communication with team and between teams (end-to-end value chain).
- Try to adapt to ITIL4 since it will create more value if we follow the practices.
- Improving communication to get a better understanding of priorities, value AND reflect on what went well/what needs improving (progress iteratively with feedback).
- Improve communication and transparency, remove waste, and better prioritization.
- Improve communication to avoid silos.
- Better time management in meetings to be sure the goal will be reached.
- Ask more questions. Asking more questions is more important than reacting and replying.
As can be seen, a simulation not only helps translate ITIL theory into practice but it can also be used to experiment and explore new cultural skills and behaviors AND create a commitment to apply captured improvement actions – The critical success factor is now to empower and enable delegates to make these improvements in their daily work. So back to the original question. ‘Do you simply want to have your staff pass the ITIL® 4 exam? Or do you want your staff to be able and willing to apply the learning to address a business challenge?’
Authors: Claudine Koers & Paul Wilkinson