The trouble with this sort of exercise, as I see it, is simple. There is not, in the usual course of business operations, much in the area of wearing blindfolds and falling backwards. It just never comes up.
This being the case, a better team-building exercise would recreate more accurately the specific challenges that people do experience every day in their jobs.
Furthermore, it would do that in a more accelerated and quantified manner than would be possible in real life. That way, any lessons learned could be learned much more quickly than would be possible on the job, and participants could get a sense of just how effective (or imperfect) their collaboration really was.
If you've ever seen the military simulations that fighter pilots use in training, you know what I'm talking about. The basic idea is to give these pilots a way to learn that
(a) closely recreates the real experience of flying a plane
(b) can be executed much more quickly than really flying a plane
(c) assigns the pilot a score, and thus puts performance in very clear terms
(d) doesn't risk the daunting possibility that a stupefied newbie pilot will steer an $80 million Lockheed Lightning plane into a mountain.
What if you could take that basic premise, and apply it to IT complexities -- creating a kind of simulator of them? Wouldn't that be a powerful learning experience, capable of teaching people all kinds of complex lessons in short order?
Well, that's exactly what IBM will be offering at Pulse 2012 March 4-7 in Las Vegas: a Service Management Simulator Workshop.
Are you up for the challenge?
Going beyond the fighter-pilot simulator described above, this Simulator focuses not on individual performance, but on team performance.
The idea of the Simulator is to assemble a team of 15 to 20 players in a room, assign them different job roles and simulate a real-world organization facing typical real-world business and IT challenges.
Then hammer them with those challenges and see how well they do.
The roles vary widely both in terms of hierarchical rank and job duties:
- Senior management (executive team)
- Line-of-business owners
- Operations management
- Service desk staff
- Technical support services
Furthermore, the hypothetical logistics organization where they work focuses on shipping and fulfillment, and like all such organizations, holds itself to an incredibly high standard of performance.
Remember this slogan? �Fed Ex...when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.�
You can see the guarantee implied by that kind of language. So the collaboration between team members at this organization has to be as seamless and friction-free as possible to increase the odds of that guarantee working out for the maximum number of shipments.
When issues arise (and the Simulator is just merciless in this respect), those issues have to be isolated to root causes, assigned to the right people and resolved lickety-split. Otherwise, deadlines will be missed and the organization will sustain a quantified business impact.
And since the scoreboard in the Simulator is constantly updated to reflect revenue and profitability in specific dollar terms, that impact will be painfully clear.
Pull a few ITIL rabbits out of the hat
Now, it does help quite a bit that this organization (just as real-world organizations) has a powerful resource to draw on in accomplishing all of these goals.
I'm referring to ITIL -- the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, aka The World's Leading Best Practices Framework for IT People. In the latest version (v3), ITIL was updated specifically to address service management issues of the sort you'll find in the Simulator.
However (as those with experience in best practices have discovered for themselves), ITIL isn't really a 1-2-3-4 ops manual. It doesn't talk about particular solutions from particular vendors, or how to use and combine them. It instead talks in more abstract terms about basic tasks (like trouble ticket assignment or server provisioning or resource allocation). Then it leaves the implementation up to you.
So, while team members can lean on ITIL concepts and practices to get a higher score, they'll need to figure out all the details for themselves. Just like they'd have to do in the real world.
A session with the Simulator runs for several hours, and teams will get a chance to play several rounds (each taking about an hour). They're usually going to need several rounds, too.
This is a hardcore, no-holds-barred, spit-on-your-corpse-and-laugh sort of game, and it's not for wannabes. For instance, when stuff goes wrong, and it's always going wrong, a loud horn blares. If you don't like that, or if you find it distracting, too bad. Perhaps you can find a Pac Man machine somewhere in Vegas and play that instead.
But for those who really engage with the Simulator, and make a serious, sustained effort to learn and improve, the payoff will be considerable: a drastically improved comprehension of what it takes to make ITIL concepts fly in a pressure-packed environment that closely recreates the real world.
David Ojalvo, from IBM's Service Management group, can bear witness to that. Watching an early version of the Simulator in 2011, his observation was this:
�After three hours and three rounds, the group was both exhausted and exhilarated� I had a chance to interview several of the participants after the session, and they were all effusive in their praise for the workshop. Clearly, the workshop far exceeded their expectations, and they were anxious to share the experience and apply some of the best practices at their own organizations.�
Holding a mirror up to real life
Toward that end -- practical application -- the Simulator has been tweaked to reflect the way organizations have changed in recent years.
For instance, beyond ITIL implementation and service management complexities, it also now incorporates a second organization as well as the logistics company. This second organization is an external service provider that handles some (but not all) of the IT services the logistics organization is responsible for.
If that has a familiar ring to you, ponder the phrase �third-party cloud host� and consider how much more popular those have become in the last year or two. IBM is aware of that development and has taken it into account.
The result is that the game now actually involves two hierarchies, two infrastructures and twice the total required collaboration -- all of which makes it harder than ever. (I told you it was merciless.)
And, of course, the challenges that come up vary not only in nature, but also in timing. So don't be surprised if you get slammed with four different challenges simultaneously, and have to conduct an improvised triage to decide what to do first. This represents a challenge in itself, and it can make or break the eventual score teams get -- just as problem prioritization can make or break real-world businesses.
Maybe all this sounds a little intimidating? Well, it's meant to be. If it weren't, it wouldn't be much of a simulation. But more importantly, when all is said and done, it's also fun.
�In my opinion,� said analyst Rich Ptak of Ptak/Noel after attending the Pulse 2011 Simulator Workshop, �this was by far the most fun and engaging workshop I've attended in a long time. This opinion was confirmed with other attendees... I wasn't ready to quit at the end of the three hours. I was really involved and want to go for more. If you get a chance, take this workshop, but watch out: the scorekeeper has lots of surprises for you.�
Think you're ready for the Simulator? Register to attend Pulse 2012 and find out!
The Workshop will be held Sunday, March 4, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm in Room 306, located on Level 3 of the MGM Grand Hotel Conference Center. To receive additional information, email Tivoli Marketing at firstname.lastname@example.org and include the following details: confirmation that you want to attend along with your name, title, email address, and cell phone number. You will receive a return email from David Ojalvo confirming your participation in the session.
Learn more about Business Service Management
Find out what Pulse 2012 has to offer
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Watch this Service Management Simulator Workshop video
About the author
Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.
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