DevOps in Action! – People: Engaging for success

Published on Tuesday 16 August 2016 by in News with no comments

The State of Devops report in 2015 confirmed ‘’…that there’s a lot more to IT performance than technical practices. In order to create sustained high performance, organizations need to invest just as much in their people and processes as they do in their technology”. The 2016 survey went on to stress the importance employee engagement for organizational success”.

Engagement, communication, collaboration

GamingWorks, together with Quint, organized a DevOps workshop. A team of Quint advisors, trainers and consultants together with a customer got together to experience how the Phoenix project DevOps business simulation game could help support a DevOps initiative. Frederik Schukken Quint managing consultant and member of DASA (DevOps Agile Skills Association) and Dominque van den Boom, executive manager at LITA (Lean IT association) also attended the session to explore how the simulation can be used to help engage employees and teams to create awareness, and to develop DevOps and Lean capabilities.

The Phoenix Project Simulation

The Phoenix project simulation has been developed by GamingWorks, together with input from Industry experts. The simulation is based upon the book with the same name. Delegates play the roles of the ‘Parts Unlimited’ organization. At the start of the game financial performance is poor, the share price is low. They are being outperformed by their competitors. Survival is at Stake! The business initiates an ambitious IT enabled turn-around program – ‘The Phoenix project’ – however the current IT capabilities also present a significant business risk. The team must demonstrate they can apply DevOps and Lean theory and principles to achieve the company goals.

Jan Schilt (the Game developer) playing the CEO/CIO put the team directly under pressure. ‘…The Phoenix project means a large amount of new software features must be rapidly, and faultlessly deployed to increase revenue and improve share value….failure in NOT an option’!

The team was given time to prepare how they would work and collaborate.

‘…We need a stand up meeting….’?

‘…who will take charge…’?

‘…how does work enter the system….’?

‘…what does the process look like…’?

‘…what does the business need…’?

After their initial preparation the simulation began. Work entered the system, projects, features, issues, unplanned work.

‘…where did this come from? Who submitted this work request…’?

‘…where is the POS project? Who is working on it’?….

‘…what is this I just heard about a critical outage?….who is dealing with that’….

‘…what do I need to test?….how far are we’?….

‘…what is happening to my business project’?…..

The Business and IT managers had no insight into the workload or the status of the work in progress. Business goals were being jeopardized….









What happened? What were the observations of the team?

  • Unclear communication lines creating confusion, wasted time, duplicate effort, frustration.
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities, work was left undone, duplicate actions, assumptions being made.
  • Flow unclear, causing wasted time, unnecessary waiting, missing activities, missing dependencies
  • Unable to get a grip on the workload and unclear status of work in flow
  • Unclear decision making such as priorities when resource conflicts arise (unplanned vs planned work)
  • KPI’s unclear
  • No visibility to business about outcomes
  • No visibility for IT manager to identify bottlenecks
  • Unclear flow of work for ‘projects’ vs ‘issues’
  • Unclear overview of the different types of work and how much was related to issues and unplanned work.

‘This is the first page of our assessment reports every time!’…… was an observation.

There was a clear recognition how this maps to the reality of many organizations.









Continual improvement and learning

Scrum and Agile use terms such as retrospectives, Lean talks about KaiZan ‘change for the good’ the whole idea of continuous improvement is that it is unceasing and without end. ‘No boundary between improving the work and doing the work’. A critical capability for DevOps and agile working is the concept of ‘Continual learning and experimentation’. After the first game round the team then explored some of the critical concepts of DevOps and of Lean, and agreed to apply some Lean tools and make critical (incremental) improvements.

  • Visual management – a Kanban board was made to help visualize the work and the flow.
  • Constraints were identified and countermeasures put in place.
  • The value stream was identified and improved to create a smooth flow of work through the end-to-end team.
  • Improved engagement with the business to obtain ‘feedback’ and the ‘Voice of the customer’ in prioritizing work and for breaking work into smaller components of MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
  • At the end of the second round the team improved their internal KPI’s (amount of deployments, reduced rework, improved resolution), however there was still room for more improvement at the next iteration (game round).

An interesting discussion arose around prioritizing improvements. Should the team first improve their people and process and then adopt fast deployment technologies? Or should they invest in the technology whilst there is still ineffective communication and collaboration – ‘a fool with a tool is still a fool’.

Final conclusions:

  • From one of the participants who recently certified in the DevOps Fundamentals: “doing the game after the training adds real value. After lots of theory, exercises and discussions, the real message and value of DevOps really sinks in during the game. Most valuable!”
  • From a Customer organization attending: “I feel like being at work. All these things happing within the game are the same things going on in our organization…. Doing this together with your team to experiment with Lean/Agile/DevOps principles in a practical way is very effective”.
  • The simulation clearly shows the importance of cross team communication and collaboration.
  • The simulation helps people translate theory into practice….end-to-end.
  • The simulation is a great way to engage with teams and employees to experiment and explore how DevOps principles can improve performance.

The Phoenix Project game succeeds from the first minute to confront delegates with real life challenges faced by many IT organizations. It is also interesting to experience how easy it is to succumb to SILO working, failing to effectively communicate, collaborate and make agreements, Despite the fact that all delegates were doing their best to realize results. It was also powerful to see how significant performance improvement can be realized by applying simple DevOps principles and tools (visualization, prioritization with the customer, optimizing flow of work instead of optimizing resource utilization, cross functional teams etc). I would recommend this type of experiential learning to organizations wanting to develop DevOps awareness and capabilities”.   Frederik Schukken, Quint/DASA

“Instead of spending time discussing the scope and value of DevOps, this game demonstrates that improving customer value and business outcomes is above all a matter of attitude and behavior of all people working within the system. People are challenged to use Lean IT, DevOps and ITSM principles and techniques to strive for continuous improvement and achieving shared goals.”  Dominique van de Boom, LITA

State of DevOps finding: IT performance & employee engagement . ‘Employee engagement is not just a feel-good metric — it drives business outcomes’.  Employee engagement in the report was significantly correlated with ‘The extent to which the organization collects customer feedback and uses it to inform the design of products and features’, ‘The ability of teams to visualize and understand the flow of products or features through development, all the way to the customer’, ‘The extent to which employees identify with their organization’s values and goals, and the effort they’re willing to put in to make the organization successful’.


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