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A game is just nice to have right? – Wrong!

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Paul Wilkinson

Paul Wilkinson

This article has been contributed by Paul Wilkinson, Co-Director and Co-Owner at GamingWorks. Ahead of his presentation at the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition, Paul discusses Gaming – perceptions, deployments, benefits and more…

I must admit to being tired, frustrated, disappointed and angry at the latest mega hype around ‘gamification’. Why? You would think that being a company that develops business simulation games  we would be happy, right? Or perhaps you are still asking “what has ‘gaming’ got to do with ITSM”? You are probably thinking that gaming is just a nice way to make training more fun and interesting. You couldn’t be MORE wrong, I will show you why shortly.

I am happy that ‘gaming’ is getting attention. I am NOT happy about the general perceptions being created about gaming and I am NOT happy with the general way in which they are deployed.

These perceptions and poor deployment are damaging the credibility of gaming as valuable intervention instruments. In this article I want to try and demonstrate to you that a game isn’t just a nice to have add-on to ITIL training to make it less boring, nor simply a great way of creating more ‘awareness’. These are the LEAST valuable benefits of gaming.

General perceptions

The general perceptions, partly prompted by the new breed of software developers, is that gamification is all about digital, video, on-line, and engagement type games with leader boards, badges and rewards; great for marketing and driving traffic to web-sites.

When I talk to people about business simulation games they often ask “Where can we download it?”, “Is there an on-line demo we can play?”, “Can I install it on my iPad”, “Do I get to shoot people in the game?”….the last one was a joke by the way. It seems that people are prepared to queue up all through the night to buy the latest game that allows them to shoot people and score points! But they don’t want to invest in a business game because they don’t see how it adds value!

I am NOT saying that these computer based games are of no value. They are extremely powerful if used correctly, with a clear set of business objectives. I am simply saying there is more to gaming, such as classroom based business simulation games – dynamic, interactive, experiential learning environments  in which people have to work together, face-to-face to solve problems and learn.

Learning to discuss, engage in dialogue, make agreements, give and receive feedback, resolve conflicts, and convince somebody of the business case, these  are all difficult to simulate in a computer game.

Yet these are some of the competences required when deploying best practices such as ITIL, and these are some of the key reasons ITSM improvement initiatives fail! A simulation game is a great way to test and explore these types of behavior.

Deployment

People leap onto games as the next TOOL. Just like many organizations used ITIL as a TOOL to be ‘implemented’ – and generally failed, just like organizations who buy expensive service management TOOLS and then find they aren’t being used properly.

One of the top ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) worst practice cards chosen in workshops world-wide is  ‘A Fool with a tool is still a fool’  – It’s not about the TOOL, it’s about what you do with it. I often hear people say ‘We played a game…..didn’t see the results we HOPED for’. ‘It was fun, created energy but…’. That is because they deployed the game as a TOOL; a product.

A game is not a one-size-fits all, just like ITIL needs to be customized to the needs of the organization, just like a tool needs to be customized to the needs of the organization, so too a game facilitation needs to be customized to the needs of the organization.

Gartner predicted that 80% of gamification investments would fail because of poor design – not aligning them with the organization’s needs. Questions need to be explored such as: what problem are we trying to solve, what behavior do we want to confront, to learn, to test, to explore, who needs to play which roles and why? What will we do with the captured learning and improvement points? Basically a game needs to be played in the context of the organization to ensure a maximum return on the investment. However when done well the returns are high.

A game needs to be part of the learning process

This means that a game needs to be part of a learning process:

  • Before activities (customization)
  • During activities (facilitation, fit-for-purpose, fit-for-use)
  • After activities (transfer & embedding).

Unfortunately many organizations do not do this, they simply say “let’s play an ITIL game and let people learn about ITIL”! – just like many  people don’t do this with ITIL training either  – “let’s send people on ITIL foundation training to get an ITIL certificate and learn about ITIL” they say.  “Oh?” we ask “and what problem do we HOPE to solve by sending them on the training? How will we ensure the learning is transferred to the workplace”? – questions which are often just meets with blank stares!

Is it any wonder that with more than 1.5 million ITIL certificates still many organizations fail to get the HOPED for value?

So how is a game going to help with all this?

I’m glad you asked.

We recently conducted a survey with training organizations and customer organizations into the effectiveness and benefits of simulation games. This survey was conducted with consulting and training companies offering games and customer organizations who have used games. It is interesting to see the difference in perceived benefits between the training companies offering the games and the customer organizations who took the time and effort to do the groundwork (before-during-after).

Our first survey question was ‘when are simulation games most effective?’ The answers were:

  • To support culture change initiatives
  • To create understanding and ‘buy-in’ for a best practice (such as ITIL, Prince2, PMI, BPM, CoBIT)
  • Translating theory into practice
  • Breaking down silos and creating end-t0-end, ‘team working’

5clubscardjpegAs you can see simple ‘awareness and understanding’ scores number 2 in the list and supporting a culture change initiative within IT scores the highest.  Failure to address organizational culture was named as the top reason for ITSM initiatives failing according to the OGC planning to implement service management book. This is one of the reasons we published the ‘ABC of ICT’ book and assessment (card set) to help address these issues, and this is where a simulation game starts to get serious.

Serious gaming to solve serious problems.

Our second question was ‘what are the benefits of simulation games?’.

Attitude change

  • Better understanding and buy-in for ITSM best practices, experiencing the benefits
  • Better understanding of other groups perspective
  • Better understanding of customer expectations and customer centric behaviour
  • Agreed improvement actions captured and a willingess and commitment to execute them

Behaviour change

  • Improved quality of services resulting from the change in behaviour as agreed in the simulation game experience
  • People started applying the behaviour they had experienced in the simulation game
  • Reduces time, cost and effort to implement as people have a better understanding of how to apply after following a simulation

Culture change

  • People started confronting each other on ‘undesirable behaviour’ as they had experienced in the simulation
  • People got together more after a simulation game to analyze and improve their work together, ‘improving your work is your work’ – CSI

As can be seen from the responses games are considerably more than simply instruments to make training more fun or just to help create awareness.

Top benefits as perceived by training and consulting organizations

  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 ‘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.

Top benefits as perceived by the supplier organization

  1.  ‘Improved quality of service resulting from the change in behavior as agreed in the simulation game’. This shows how a simulation has a positive impact on creating ‘desirable behavior’. Participants learn how to translate ‘knowledge into results’, which leads to quality improvements.
  2. People started applying the behavior they had experienced in the simulation game’. This 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 of how to apply after following a simulation’. This 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’.  This 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.

So back to the title. ‘A game is just nice to have right?’ – yes if you want to simply use it as an off the shelf TOOL to create awareness.  Wrong! If you want to help change the attitude, behavior and culture in your organization and ensure a sustainable, lasting improvement that delivers value.

Want to hear more from Paul? He will be presenting in Birmingham at the itSMF UK Conference and Exhibition, 4-5 November. You can catch him on day 1 for his session “Grab@Pizza – Experience Business & IT Alignment in ACTION” (please note that this session has limited attendance), and/or day 2 looking at “Creating a Measurable Return on Value of an ITSM Training Investment”.

About Paul:

Paul has been working in the IT Industry for more than 30 years fulfilling a wide variety of roles from Computer Operator, to Systems manager to IT Services manager. Paul has been actively involved in ITSM for more than 20 years as both an Senior consultant, Service development manager and as ITIL author. He was a project team leader for the original BITE (Business IT Excellence) ITIL process-modeling initiative, and co-author of the ITIL publication “Planning to Implement IT Service Management”. He was a member of the ITIL advisory group for ITIL Version 3. Paul is also co-director and co-owner of GamingWorks, the company that developed the internationally renowned ‘Apollo 13 – an ITSM case experience’ ITIL simulation game. He was also co-author and cartoonist for the itSMF ‘Worst practice’ publication “IT Service management from Hell” and more recently the ‘ABC-of-ICT’ publications focusing on Attitude, behavior and Culture within IT organizations.




1 Response to " A game is just nice to have right? – Wrong! "

  1. […] and engaging. Paul Wilkinson advocates that gaming can do a lot more as part of a learning process. A game is just nice to have right? – Wrong! (The ITSM […]

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