Survey: Business Simulation Games NICE-to-have or Need-to-have?

Published on Saturday 16 February 2013 by in News with 2 comments

‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand’ – Confucious

Do you recognize the following? We sent people on ITIL or ITSM best practice training, they got the certificates, however we still have a silo mentality, people don’t stick to procedures, procedures are too bureaucratic, there is resistance to new ways of working, managers don’t support the processes,  the support tool isn’t up to date, the business is complaining…….? If you recognize any of these you are not alone. More than 70% of organizations we meet don’t get the value they had hoped for from an ITSM best practice improvement initiative and more than 50% fail because of resistance. How can this be? There are more than 1.5 million ITIL certificates? There must be something wrong with ITIL surely!? No there is nothing inherently wrong with ITIL or any other best practice ITSM framework.  A large part of the problem is the way we train people!

The good news is that the New Joint venture owners of the ITIL best practice also recognize the issues and the importance of new ways of learning. ‘…we recognize that there has been a significant shift in the way in which people learn over the last decade. Whilst there is still a place for traditional methods, practitioners in the 21st century demand the ability to learn at the time, place and style of their choosing. Increasingly, we see a shift from ‘learning by listening’ to ‘learning by doing’, underpinned by the increase in modular approaches to learning, plus simulations and other experiential learning techniques‘.(First edition eBulletin from the New Joint Venture).

Back to Basics

Let’s get back to basics, and see how we can turn failure into success.

We send people on training to gain knowledge. Knowledge may be defined as: 

Expertise and skills acquired through
experience or education;
practical or theoretical
understanding of a subject.

We are very good at the education and theory bit, but poor at the experience and practice, as can be confirmed by the low success rate of ITSM best practice adoptions. People are given the theory in traditional classroom courses and are left to gain the practice in a real, live, often mission critical environment, without guidance or support…….and then people complain that ITIL is no good! Whereas a lot of the problems are associated with our inability to translate the theory into practice and not understanding HOW to apply.

ABC remains the number 1 success or fail factor

Together with the itSMF and our world-wide network of partners we have surveyed more than 5000 ITSM practitioners. Our world wide ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) surveys into key ITSM resisters still reveal the following Top 10 issues for adopting and deploying ITSM best practices (As posted on the Stephen Mann blog at Forrester (The ABC of ICT – Top 10 people issues)):

  1. No management commitment.
  2. Saying ‘Yes’, but meaning ‘No’.
  3. “Never mind about following the new procedures just do what we normally do.”
  4. Plan, Do, Stop … No continual improvement focus.
  5. ITIL is the objective not what we should achieve with it.
  6. Process managers without authority.
  7. Unable to specify the value required by the business.
  8. Throwing (ITIL) solutions over the wall and hoping that people will follow them.
  9. No understanding of business impact and priority.
  10. I&O thinks that it doesn’t need to understand the business to make a business case.

These have remained the top 10 more or less for the last 5 years!

Which traditional training or course in ITSM best practices helps you learn HOW to deal with these issues? Considering the fact that just about every IT organization meets with, and recognizes these, it would seem to me that the ability to deal with them needs to be a CORE capability of somebody like an ITIL expert, or anybody charged with deploying ITSM best practices! The fact that these have consistently remained the top issues for 5 years indicates that current training approaches and interventions are not working. Something different is required.

What is a Business simulation and how can THAT make a difference?

In this section we want to explore how business simulation games can help address these reasons for failure, and examine the real benefits of using a simulation as part of an ITSM training or change program.

There are various terms in the market around serious games, gamification, simulations. The table below (Forrester, Oerhlich) explains these terms.

Gami­fication The insertion of game dynamics and mechanics into non-game activities to drive a desired behaviour.
Simulations Immersive games that offer an experiential educational experience that mimics reality. Simulations place people in a risk-free environment that supports their engagement in an authentic experience that contextually demonstrates bene­fits and consequences.
Serious games Use current “gamecraft” techniques and technology (e.g., commercial video game technology, Kinect, strategy) and apply them to elicit serious outcomes on serious concepts, such as business, education, environmental, or social issues.

A Business simulation game is a form of experiential learning, or learning-by-doing. People from different departments, representing the  complete end-to-end service delivery chain, can be brought together in one room to participate in a game environment. People can play different roles to their normal daily role, for example the CIO or second level support managers can be put at the help desk in the game. This allows people to understand each other’s roles and information needs much better.  People learn, in a number of game rounds, to translate theory into practice. They learn how to use the theory to achieve measurable results. They have to work together as a team, solve problems together, discuss and give each other feedback. In the game environment incidents, calls and changes arise, capacity issues occur, events are generated. The team is faced with increasing workloads and demands from the business. Can their processes cope? Can they successfully resolve the issues, manage the changes and realize their SLA targets? Can they demonstrate customer and business focused behavior? The game facilitator often plays the role of the business or customer and can confront the team on their attitude and behavior.

The game facilitator SHOULD play the game in the context of the organization playing the game. What problem are they trying to solve? What constitutes success? , What desirable behavior are they trying to create by adopting best practices? What undesirable behavior do they want to remove?.

It is our belief that there is no ‘One size fits all’ with a game. Each customer has a unique set of dynamics, context, attitude, behavior and culture that needs to become part of the gaming scenario.

The initial games rounds are often characterized by chaos, confusion, frustration, poor performance, ’just like reality’ many say. The teams struggle to translate ITSM best practice theory into practical working solutions. This is often what we are trying to create in the early game rounds. A recognition of current ways of working, recognition of ‘undesirable, counterproductive, ineffective behavior’ . A recognition of the impact of current ways of working, helping to create a ‘Sense of urgency’ for changing behavior.  Between game rounds the players are facilitated in reflecting on what went wrong? In terms of People, Process, Product, Partner and Performance capabilities. They are then helped to make improvements. They are stimulated to test and explore new ‘desired behavior’. Because the simulation is played in a number of games rounds, it allows the team to develop pragmatic CSI (Continual Service Improvement) skills – learning to analyze, reflect, design, agree, execute their OWN changes to the way they work. At the end of the day they are(often) in control, service targets achieved, the customer is satisfied. The team has successfully translated knowledge into results. It is at this point in which the learning points and improvements suggestions are captured. What do we need to capture and take away and apply in our OWN work?  Results: understanding, buy-in, reduced resistance and captured concrete, pragmatic improvement actions that can be taken away and applied……all in one day!  This is the power and the benefits of serious gaming used as learning instruments and used as organizational change instruments.

Does gaming help?

A scientific study also revealed that Confucious was right. Learning-by-doing is the most effective way of learning.









Forrester, in a report in 2006 also stated:  “Considering the enormity of change that an ITIL project may entail, spending the day that such simulators require should pay back many times over with the creation of a cohesive team with a greater understanding of the components, interrelationships, and vision that are required to successfully transform an IT organization.”

In their most recent research into games Forrester Eveline Oerhlich stated Simulation provide a way to gain perspective and change behavior. What adds value to the business is an organization that can design and optimize services and manage them according to business need. To do this, organizations must adopt or mature their service management and automation initiatives — and I&O leaders can use simulations to ensure they’re choosing the paths that will offer maximum benefit.

A recent report from Deloitte ‘2013 The Corporate Learning factbook’ also revealed ‘Today employees want their training to include video, games, and a whole next generation experience. Much of our research shows that modern best-practice research focuses heavily on the “learner experience….’ .

In spite of the evidence and the advice,  games are often seen as ‘Nice-to-have’ additions to Service Management training. In these financially difficult times when organizations are looking for cost effective training ‘Nice-to-have’ is seen an expensive luxury, one that can be easily cut. But is a simulation game a ‘Nice-to-have’ or ‘Need-to-have’  training and organizational change instrument?

Survey findings

GamingWorks has conducted a global survey to determine when games are most effective in relation to an ITSM improvement program and what the benefits are of deploying a simulation. Is it just a ‘Nice-to-have’? We asked training, consulting and customer organizations two questions. One relating to the most effective use of simulation games, the second relating to the benefits gained by using simulations.

These are the results of our global survey.

 Serious games are most effective when used for? 

















It is interesting to note that survey results show that a simulation game is not seen  as most effective for ‘Creating understanding and buy-in for a best practice (e.g ITIL)’, nor for ‘Translating theory into practice’, which are the most common ways they are positioned.  The most effective use is perceived as being to ‘Support a culture change initiative’.  The ‘Planning to implement Service Management’ OGC publication revealed that the most common reason for the breakdown of service management initiatives is ‘failure to recognize the importance of organizational culture….’.

Simulation games are highly effective instruments in supporting and enabling this, also supporting ‘Breaking down organizational SILOS and creating team working’.

Simulation games also have an additional benefit of  empowering people to  assess and identify their OWN improvements. Which also creates buy-in and ownership for the improvements, and at the same time helping to develop CSI capabilities. Why is developing CSI capabilities important? ITSM improvement initiatives are NOT one time implementation projects or exercises! IT and business organizations are in continual change. Emerging ‘disruptive’ technologies are being developed and adopted at increasing levels and speed, business demands and business change are the ‘norm’.  A core ITSM capability in this changing landscape is the ability to change. As such CSI NEEDS to be a core ITSM capability. 

What are the benefits gained from using a Business simulation as part of an ITSM training or improvement program?

A training investment must deliver a return on value. A typical return on value, according to our surveys into ITIL foundation level training is ‘obtaining an ITIL certificate’, and ‘creating a common terminology’. The perceived return on value of simulation games are shown below. 
















The  top 4 main benefits (as perceived by training and consulting organizations) are:

  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 address two of the top scoring worst practice ABC cards chosen during the ‘customer exercise’ (which cards would the customer choose to describe worst practice IT behavior). These being ‘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, which overcomes another high scoring ABC worst practice which is ‘Throwing solutions (ITIL) over the wall and HOPING thet people follow them’.

When we compare these Top 4 benefits (as perceived by the supplier organizations) with the Top 4 as perceived by the ‘customer’ organizations we get an extremely interesting result. The Top 4 benefits as perceived by customer organizations are:

  1. Improved quality of service resulting from the change in behavior as agreed in the simulation game’. Which shows how a simulation has a positive impact on creating ‘desirable behavior’, Participants have learnt how to translate ‘knowledge into results’, which leads to quality improvements.
  2. People started applying the behavior they had experienced in the simulation game’. Which 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 idea how to apply after following a simulation’. Which 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’;  Which 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. This shows how a simulation helps solve another top scoring ABC worst practice card ‘Plan, Do, Sop….no real continual improvement culture’. 
Provider Customer
Better understanding and buy-in for ITSM best practices, experiencing the benefits Improved quality of services resulting from the change in behavior as agreed in the simulation game experience
Better understanding of other groups perspective People started applying the behavior they had experienced in the simulation game
Better understanding of customer expectations and customer centric behavior Reduces time, cost and effort to implement as people have a better understanding of how to apply after following a simulation
Agreed improvement actions captured & willingness & commitment to execute them People got together more after the simulation game to analyze and improve their work together

However it must be stated that a simulation game is not a solution in itself. The benefits are ONLY realized when a game is used as part of a learning and intervention process. A game should form part of a formal process ‘Before-During-After’

Before: Scoping the problem to be solved. The undesirable behavior to be addressed and its impact, the desirable behavior the organization wants to create and the anticipated results. Scoping how the game will be played and who plays in which role, also what will happen ‘After’ the game. What results will be captured and how will the learning and improvement be transferred into the working environment?

During: The game facilitator must create game situations and interventions to identify ‘undesirable behavior’ and help test, explore and apply desired behavior. The game must be played in the context of the organization, the problem situation identified in the scoping activities.The customer sponsor or problem owner should introduce the game, the context and the expectations and should also ensure at end of game that the follow-up is explained.

After: The facilitator and the customer sponsor should ensure key learning and improvement actions are captured, discussed, prioritized. Activities must be agreed and assigned for transferring the learning and improvements into the daily work. This may be by embedding them in CSI or improvement project initiatives or embedding them in management, team and individual responsibilities and actions.

Too often the benefits are not realized because the Before and After activities were not effectively applied. The steps to be taken are explained in our 8-fields model article.

Still not convinced?

What do customers say about simulations?

CIO Steve van Wyk, ING: “Programs like Apollo 13 (Business simulation) and the ABC of ICT games stimulate the right behavior within IT helping drive the cultural changes needed to reach our strategic objectives.”

CIO Jerry York: …..Employees experience what this means for their day-to-day work in terms of managing their work, communication with the customer and with colleagues and the importance of clear agreements and priorities with the customer’.

However there is a down side to using a serious game:

Three months after playing a series of Apollo 13 games at a large multinational Insurance company we  received a phone call from the IT Operations Director.

“I wish to register a complaint” he said, sounding quite cheerful.

We wondered what it could possibly be, the evaluations of the game sessions were extremely high.

“What is it?” we asked a little concerned.

“I cannot book a meeting room any more, they are always full!” he said. “

“We don’t understand?” we replied. “What has that got to do with us?”.

“All the meeting rooms are booked for 30 minutes, the entries in the planner all say ‘Apollo’. The rooms are booked by 3 or 4 people from different departments who never used to talk to each other. They get together to analyze a bottleneck and make improvement agreements…”

“It is unbelievable” he went on to say. “We have been trying to get people to improve their work for years, we have tried quality approaches and process frameworks….you play a GAME with them all and after 1 day they all become change agents!!!”.

It wasn’t a real complaint he said. It was a luxury problem. “However” he went on to add “I am now put in a difficult position. I now understand what management commitment means, I now get all these teams coming up to me with a mass of improvement requests, I do not have the budget or resources to solve them all so some teams become disappointed. We are now a victim of our own success, but better this than the way it used to be.”`

If you are looking for simulation games for YOUR organizations you check out the list compiled by Jan van Bon (ITSM Portal), or visit our business simulations page.

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