At AXELOS, we like to explore new ways of working, as well as new ways of learning. One such way is experiential learning (or ‘learning by doing’ as it’s more colloquially known). Earlier this year, Paul Wilkinson from GamingWorks proposed running the [email protected] simulation game to explore:
- aspects of Business/IT alignment (or convergence, if you prefer)
- the role of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) versus the Service Delivery Manager (SDM)
- how business relationship management and service delivery management align with the delivery of value to the business and its customers.
For those who aren’t familiar with the [email protected] simulation game, here’s the overview:
[email protected] is a very successful company selling millions of Pizzas every year. But after six months of the current year, sales figures are far below expectations. IT is posing a significant business risk due to downtime and its inability to respond to changing business needs. The CEO urged the business team to make a challenging recovery plan. This plan is based on a six-month strategy to bring sales and profit back on target. Existing IT capabilities are poor, resources are tied up in ‘keeping the lights on’ rather than supporting and enabling new innovations. The IT department must ensure the appropriate capabilities are in place and sufficient to execute the strategic plan, appropriate and effective resources are provided to ensure both benefits realization and risk mitigation.
While the simulation normally lasts six rounds, we opted to run it for three rounds, and spend more time in reflection.
One of the things I like about these simulations is that it provides an opportunity for people to take on roles that they’re not normally used to and to flip levels of seniority. Paul specifically asked me to take on the role of change manager (more on that later), our legal assistant was the game’s IT Director, and our CMO (chief marketing officer) was the game's IT Support. Paul took on the role of the CEO, one that he clearly relishes for the freedom to politely yell at people!
Round One was a lesson in trying hard yet failing to achieve both the business goals and the service level agreements (SLAs) that had been approved by the business. We used the BRMi maturity model to assess where we were as an organization (we were order takers) and what we aspired to be (we hoped to be a service provider, if not something higher). This is something that we’ve observed in other companies that we’ve worked in or consulted with; IT has aspirations to be more than just order takers, more than just service providers, and yet they cannot earn the trust of the business due to their own shortcomings.
The BRM and SDM facilitated a stand-up that involved all stakeholders, from representatives of the business to IT support, and generated a continual service improvement (CSI) register. Once the register had been created, the registered items were assessed and prioritized according to their alignment to the business strategy, the value delivered, and the costs and risks they would incur. It was a not surprise that the first item listed on the register was that no one knew what the business strategy was and, as a consequence, it was impossible to know how IT should support it.
Other suggested improvements included:
- Improving prioritization of activities at all levels to align business and IT outcomes, whether these were strategic (demand on IT services), tactical (building and implementing IT changes), or operational (incident and problem management). An often overlooked activity in IT service management is the articulation of the values, outcomes, costs and risks (VOCR) of the various services the business offers, and the subsequent alignment of the organization to support it.
- Balancing the IT budget between operations (staff, asset running costs, etc.), maintenance (resolving incidents and eliminating technical debt), and innovation (building and deploying new applications and functionality demanded by business customers).
As well as the [email protected] simulation, I run a workshop called the ABC of ICT, where we explore the attitudes (A), behaviours (B), and cultures (C) in IT organizations. For the last 15 years, not understanding the business priorities or impacts of IT decisions has been the top card.
Think about that for a second. It’s been about three decades since IT became central to successful business models yet, in 2017, organizations still fail to articulate the link between their business and their IT strategies!
Round Two saw the senior members of the IT organization start to speak in a way that reflected business priorities and language. The IT director at one point overruled the business stakeholders to authorize a technical change over an application feature, saying “If we don’t make this change, we won’t have a business anymore”. That certainly won the CEO’s backing!
Additionally, the SDM assessed the performance along the value stream and recommended we invest in improvements to the capacity and skill level within change management and IT support. Both were financial investments which would allow the organization to deliver value faster and prevent value leaking through incidents and technical debt.
However, while business-facing teams could switch their tone and style to communicate with the business, downstream teams still struggled to understand how to prioritize their work with regards the business’ needs. When asked why I deployed one change over another, my response was that I had no idea which had higher value to the business in Round Two, but that I knew one of the changes should have been deployed in Round One, but couldn’t due to insufficient capacity. It turned out that the business didn’t need the change I’d deployed until Round Five, so it could have waited!
Paul says …
As organizations mature, they need to set up clear roles and responsibilities that can facilitate the flow of value and information across the organization, from top-down to bottom-up.
Processes need to clearly articulate how they align with organizational strategy and the VOCR of business services, and need to pay attention to how they pass activities and information to other roles and processes around the organization.
Activity should be defined in terms of business value. It is fine for an IT organization to talk about Change Ticket No. CR9452, but it would be better to refer to it as the E-Commerce System Upgrade. Redefining work in terms the business understands will help underscore its prioritization.
Round Three saw improvements within downstream IT teams. Extra capacity meant more work could be done. More importantly, we started to understand how to articulate activities in business terms, allowing for better prioritization of effort. The IT Director, BRM, and SDM worked better together, and clashed less. IT Support had the freedom to monitor and pay down technical debt as support processes improved.
We captured more opportunities to improve in this final round, such as better sharing of information around the organization. For example:
- We found that information that might have been articulated by the business at the start of the development process often went missing by the time the change was being built.
- Forward planning between the business and the IT Director/ BRM could have resulted in a milestone calendar, which would have helped application management, change management, and IT operations understand what to build and when.
We agreed as a team that improving the way we work is just as important as doing the work itself, which is a key principle in both ITIL® and Lean.
As this was the last round, we closed the day with Paul facilitating a wider discussion around key takeaways.
Final Words from Paul:
AXELOS’ experience with the [email protected] Simulation is no different to that of other organizations I’ve worked with. Their conclusions have a ring of universality to them:
- Reporting should be couched in business language. Talk in terms of business VOCR, not number of changes, or number of incidents.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities, especially where they might overlap, e.g. between IT Director and BRM or between BRM and SDM.
- CSI is key. If CSI isn’t a formal process, make it part of the organization’s culture.
- IT service management helps articulate the link between business requirement and IT outcome.
- Changes can happen at business level, service level, and technical level. The appropriate governance needs to be in place at all levels.
- IT needs to evaluate its positioning against the BRM model, and align activities accordingly.
- The business and IT need to commit time to forward planning, so IT service management can in turn lay the groundwork to align the service portfolio with the business’ needs.
- The business and IT need to observe each other directly to understand the impact of decisions made by either side.
The key observations and takeaways aren’t unique to the AXELOS team. These are challenges we hear every single day. Frameworks such as ITIL can help deliver a structure to help IT move from being an order taker to a strategic partner.
Businesses embarking on large digital transformations need to consider not only transforming how they run their business, but transforming their technology and service portfolios as well. The business must tune in to IT speak. IT must help the business understand the impacts of decisions by employing business-oriented language.
Equally, many of the lessons of ITIL Practitioner should be embedded within the organization’s culture. Building a culture of CSI, and incentivising small experiments over big bang changes, allows organizations to explore new ways of working without fear of catastrophic failure. Similarly, exploring these themes and issues within an experiential simulation provides a safe-to-fail environment for people to learn without endangering the business.
The team at AXELOS would like to thank Paul for running the workshop for us, and we look forward to running more simulations with the GamingWorks team in the future!
Read more AXELOS Blog Posts by Paul Wilkinson
Adopting a value-based, outside-in approach to ITIL
Cyber security simulation: a crucial learning curve for organizations
Making the Guiding Principles live! - Designing for User experience?
Developing outside-in capabilities