Translating Principles into Behaviors by using the MarsLander business simulation

Published on Wednesday 8 February 2023 by in Blog with no comments

“When the going gets tough the tough get simulating!”

Digital disruption & COVID, hand-in-hand driving the need for agile transformations, which in turn demand a need to adopt new ways of working, representing a significant shift in attitudes, behaviors and culture for many IT organizations. This disruption is coupled with the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) which transformational change brings with it, compounded by the loneliness and the challenges of remote working and remote collaboration.

Elements of this Image Furnished by NASA

Leading teams and individuals through this disruption is a tough challenge for Managers. A challenge to both realize change – the shift to new agile ways of working – and to help manage the doubts, uncertainties, and concerns of those involved. For teams, it is also a challenge. A challenge to learn to effectively communicate and collaborate working remotely and a challenge to adopt new, end-to-end ways of working. New ways of working require the need to shift from a focus on product & service to a focus on value, from SILOes to end-to-end, from processes to value streams, from an internal focus to a more external focus, from an order taker to a trusted advisor or strategic partner. For many organizations these are large steps to take in one leap.

How can we address these challenges?

In this article we want to explore how a business simulation workshop (MarsLander) can be used to:

  • Engage and empower teams to develop the right behaviors to support and enable new agile ways of working.
  • Help teams learn to effectively communicate and collaborate working remotely.
  • Enable teams to explore and experiment together with the benefits of adopting new methods and practices such as agile, DevOps and ITIL®4.
  • Capture feedback, concerns, and input to change initiatives
  • Identify team maturity and coaching needs
  • Learn how to apply continual learning and improving as a team and identify and agree on iterative improvements.
  • Recognize the impact on leadership skills and styles in order to support and enable the transformation to new ways of working.

Principles. Posters on a wall or Performance instruments.

One of the key problems that we often see when people adopt new ways of working such as agile, DevOps, Lean, and ITIL is that the framework itself becomes the goal, rather than the outcomes we hope to achieve using the framework. Often the frameworks become ‘instrumental’. There is a strong focus on procedures, practices, the automation. What is often overlooked entirely or given too little attention are the principles.

‘The what…?’
‘…What have principles got to do with agile flow and automation pipelines?’

Principles. Everybody talks about them.

Agile, DevOps, Lean, even ITIL. Often they are simply posters on a wall. Principles should be the binding glue that can tie SILOes and SILOed frameworks together! The frameworks, like the supporting processes, practices, rituals and tools are simply there to enable and support the desired behaviors. Let us take a look at some of the principles from the different frameworks and see what commonality should glue them together.

Agile principles:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

DevOps (DASA) principles:

  • Customer-Centric Action
  • Cross-Functional Autonomous Teams
  • Continuous Improvement

Lean principles:

  • Define Value
  • Create Flow (creating cross-functional departments)
  • Pursue Perfection

ITIL principles:

  • Focus on Value
  • Collaborate and promote visibility
  • Progress iteratively with feedback

Anybody recognize a pattern? Focus on Value and customer, End-to-end collaboration and flow, continual learning and improving. We need to have end-to-end teams translate these principles into desirable, sustainable behaviors.

Principles. Not so easy as we thought

How can we get teams to explore and agree on the right behaviors to underpin these principles? A business simulation is an ideal way for teams to experiment in a safe environment and practice new behaviors as well as all-important feedback. In this article, I want to describe what happened with one team of senior managers, from different organizations, who were put into the MarsLander simulation and challenged with becoming a high-performing teams in 4 hours!

What happened in the simulation and how does this reflect reality? In the Marslander simulation, the team plays the business and IT roles in the Mission control team of the Marslander Mission. They are confronted with growing business demands for IT-enabled innovation, the need to manage risks and maintain ongoing business services AND at the same time adopt new agile ways of working. With scarce resources. How will they cope? At the start of the simulation, the team is given time to discuss and agree on how they will work together to ensure a smooth end-to-end flow of work and deliver business value.

The team discussed and made agreements to the way they would work. They did not record or confirm that everybody knew the agreements or what it would mean to them personally; nobody asked if anybody had any concerns or doubts. Many great questions were raised, not all of them were answered, some were ignored, leaving people feeling frustrated and not taken seriously. But this was not checked. The team assumed they knew what ‘we’ agreed and that ‘we’ would all do what ‘we’ think ‘we’ just agreed. There was confusion between the role of the Product owner, the business as usual manager, and the Service manager when it came to prioritization.

Needless to say there was chaos, confusion, frustration, blaming the way the team was forced to change too quickly without the right training or practice. There was stress. It was uncomfortable, goals were not being achieved. There was no coaching, there was no feedback, work was piled onto them with unrealistic expectations, they did not fully understand or know the business goals……Just like reality said some.

But nobody raised these as concerns in advance. And nobody checked to see if people were comfortable with the way that the change had been imposed upon them, or whether they needed help. ‘But I told you, you were an empowered team’! said the Mission director. But telling the team they are empowered and should take ownership and responsibility is not the same as empowering and enabling the team.

New insights

As the simulation progressed we also captured new insights as they occurred. New insights into behavior changes are required by managers in order to help manage the challenges mentioned above. Questions that managers could take away to see how well change was being enabled in their own organizations.

  • Have we defined what behavior represents ‘Focus on value’? Both from a business & IT perspective? (e.g: The business always shares the goals, IT teams ask for the goals, work is related to the goals and value, when conflicts arise people ask’ why this work first. What is the value? If we leave this piece of work how does it impact the goals and value? Focus on value is a mindset change, which can be manifested by these new behaviors).
  • Do we ensure we get feedback from everybody? including feedback on ‘how does it feel?’, knowing that new ways of working cause frustration, uncertainty, confusion, irritation. (E,g: ask all teams and individuals to record feedback on post-its ‘what worked well? What needs additional improvement? What unanswered questions and concerns do we have? What new ideas can we experiment with?)
  • Do we get end-to-end stakeholders together to suggest iterative improvements? (avoid local optimization at the expense of end-to-end optimization). Or do we have SILOed pockets of improvements (e.g: agile team impediment backlog, Operational team ‘Continual improvement register’, Process owner – ‘Improvement register’.
  • Do we give feedback to stop people from falling into ‘old habits and ways of working’?\Do we translate principles into ‘visible behaviors’? What do we want to SEE happening?
  • As managers are we empowering teams and stimulating ownership of new behaviors or are we micro-managing and displaying conflicting behaviors?

Translating Principles into behaviors

The teams translated the principles ‘Focus on value’, ‘collaborate and promote visibility’ and ‘progress iteratively’ into agreed behaviors that they would practice, give feedback on and where necessary offer help and coaching. There was less stress and frustration, it felt better, the relationship with the business had improved, the team had situational awareness to make effective decisions and co-create value from the massive amount of opportunities and demands thrown at them. If only it could be like this in reality. Why isn’t it? At the end of the day we reflected on what the team had done. How had they managed to change the way they felt and the performance they had achieved? What had they learned and more importantly what could they take away and do differently to solve the recognized challenges above.

Translating learning into practice

Key learnings

  • Always go back to the basics: goals and flow. The two key questions that sum up what the agile transformation is all about.
  • Value and the fast, smooth end-to-end flow of work.
  • Iterative improvements with 3 actions per sprint works quickly and effectively – give attention to ‘how does it feel’?
  • Business simulations are powerful instruments to recognize the importance of role clarity and to explore effective collaboration and create buy-in in new teams (DevOps, Safe train).
  • A Game is a good instrument for creating awareness and buy-in from different stakeholders for new ways of working and collaborating.
  • Be conscious not to fall back in old behavior under pressure

Individual takeaways

  • Be clear and concrete in communicating, making agreements, gathering feedback
  • Define a sprint goal
  • Set clear goals, share them, and visualize them. Use them to support decision making
  • Be conscious not to fall back in old behavior under pressure
  • Make waste visible – how much WIP is being wasted.
  • Use dashboard to show improvements over time.
  • Give more attention to new ways of working in our strategy program ‘How it feels’ and feedback on the four quadrants (What is working well? what can be improved?, any unanswered questions? What ideas can we try?).

Organizational takeaways

  • Visualization of the different types of work (Value creation, Value leakage, Value improvement)
  • Use sprint goals again
  • Within our Strategy program start working in strategy sprints with this improvement approach and let go of old management styles/habits/behaviors. Demonstrate the impact of improvements.
  • Visualize and quantify improvement needs and how they will reduce waste and contribute to the value
  • I want to start using Gamification within my teams to kick-start the new ways of working in sprint trains.

As can be seen, Managers have an important role to play in helping teams adopt the right behaviors to support and enable new agile ways of working. It requires practice, feedback, patience, and iterative improvement. A business simulation is an ideal instrument to bring stakeholders together in a safe environment to practice, experiment, give feedback and agree on new behaviors and improvements THEY want to take away and apply. Accelerating the adoption of new ways of working and empowering people to make their own change.

Core characteristics I saw in the team: Giving input and feedback on ideas, accepting and admitting improvement needs at the team and personal level, adopting and applying new learning, asking questions for clarification and stimulating others to provide ideas, listening and respecting the input of others.

Author: Paul Wilkinson

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