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Making the Seemingly Impossible Possible

‘Digital Transformation’ is the latest Industry catchphrase. Business leaders have seen the potential of IT to disrupt and transform business models and to attract and retain more customers. IT has moved from the realms of business support and enablement to one of differentiation and business growth. But Digital Transformation isn’t all about the latest technology such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, IoT and Robotics. The most critical component of the transformation is the People. The Attitude, Behavior and Culture of both business and IT people. It is the critical component we are least able to effectively transform.

For IT organizations the transformation is even more significant. It necessitates IT becoming a ‘Strategic Partner’ to the business, yet the majority of IT organizations are still struggling to become an effective ‘Service Provider’. The speed of change demanded by ‘Digital Transformation’ means that a significant, but rapid shift is needed in the way that IT operates. It seems like an almost impossible challenge!

‘We need to be able to rapidly translate theory into practice and action’!

Oman has embarked upon an ambitious plan to introduce e-government and create a ‘digital society’.
A Government organization has been established to help Omani Ministries develop Digital Transformation capabilities. This organization recognized the need for new IT leadership and management skills to help face this challenge.

More than 50 delegates comprising of senior IT Directors, Managers, Team and Competence leads got together to play the Apollo 13 business simulation. The simulation was not to explore and learn about ITSM, which is what the simulation is often used for, but to focus on the leadership and soft skills required to enable IT organizations to realize the People transformation.

What are the Barriers Preventing Us?

There were no pre-set learning objectives for the simulation workshops. At the start of the sessions we explored with the team(s) ‘What problems are you trying to solve? What are the barriers preventing the transformation? What do you want to learn?’

Learning Topics: (Bold represent the top named topics)

  • Improving collaboration and team working
  • Improving communication skills
  • Learning about Leadership in a rapidly changing landscape
  • Improving decision making
  • Learning problem solving techniques
  • Learning ways we can Improve our performance
  • Learning how to engage and motivate employees and teams
  • Learning how to foster a sense of responsibility and ownership
  • Learning how to convince team to accept change
  • Learning how to manage work in an environment of increasing time pressure
  • Learning how to manage critical situations
  • Improving the management of Planning and Execution.
  • Learning to reorganize processes and developing improved process capabilities
  • Recognizing how to use Processes/Rules/Procedures effectively
  • Learning more about Innovating solutions
  • Learning and practicing creative thinking and critical thinking
  • Learning to deal with conflict situations
  • Learning coaching skills

…..All in one day! Is that all?…..We should finish early today then.

Apollo 13 Business simulation.

The simulation is a dynamic, interactive workshop based upon ‘Learning-By-Doing’. In the simulation the team is challenged with designing, building and supporting the Apollo 13 rocket and Mission Operations Control Center.  The team must develop and execute their own processes. They must define, agree and perform roles and responsibilities, as well as align with and manage suppliers in order to ensure the success of the Apollo 13 Mission. They are faced with time pressure; the need to meet business demands; contain costs and deliver an ‘On-time Launch’. Then when the Rocket takes off, live Incidents, requests and changes all enter the simulation. The workload demand increases, there is a growing pressure on resources as well as critical deadlines to meet.
How will the team manage and perform with these challenges?….
Oh and not to forget the ticking time bomb that is Oxygen Tank number 2 that will explode 55 hours into the mission.
Good Luck!

‘What do you mean we have to delay the launch!?…..

In the first round of the simulation the team had to design and build the Rocket from a set of component cards.

The team totally ignored the list of ‘Learning Topics’. Nobody asked ‘Which ones do we want to focus on?’ They all dived into the given roles, and dived into the technology!

The Flight Director sat at her desk discussing plans, controls, budgets and waiting for status updates.
When 25% of the time was spent the Mission Director (Played by the workshop facilitator) asked ‘How is it going with the build…we’re going to be on-time, yes?’
‘Everything is going fine….I haven’t heard any issues
’ said the Flight Director.
Meanwhile the design and build teams were struggling with the new technology. There was a lack of knowledge, conflicting design requirements, poor communication. Teams and individuals were working in Silos. There was little leadership within the teams. People were stressed, frustrated and demotivated.

When asked, nobody in the teams thought it possible to finish on time.
The Flight Director did not KNOW this and nobody took ownership to signal this!

There was little attempt at ‘Problem solving’ what was going wrong. The team did not actively engage with, nor inform the Mission Director who was therefore unable to make decisions about investing more money, or lowering requirements to ensure an ‘On-time Launch’. The Crew (Played by the workshop facilitator) was also not engaged in testing, validating or accepting the solution.
The clock counted down to 00:00. The Mission Director was suddenly confronted at launch time with the fact that it wasn’t ready to go!

That was the only outcome I stressed as important – an ‘On-time Launch’. Nobody asked why this was important. ‘I have invited the president and World Leaders. CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera have all sent teams and equipment to transmit the images to billions of people. If we miss this launch window we will need to wait 3 weeks which will damage our reputation and cost millions in delay’.

Nobody understood the real business drivers, they were focused on getting the technology right.

Welcome to the real World of Digital transformation!

What I asked for!

What I got!


“Effective collaboration is…..”

One of the top named ‘Learning Topics’ at the start of the day was ‘Improving collaboration and team working’. We split the group into small teams and asked them ‘What does effective team working look like? What behavior will we see that demonstrates this?’

Delegates looked back at what had just happened in the previous round, at what they had experienced and discovered. One of the behaviors they named was ‘Clear communication’.

Do we all agree’? I asked. They all nodded. I explained they could have told me this before playing the game. A survey with senior managers a few years ago revealed that they named ‘Clear communication’ as a critical success factor. When asked why did their change initiatives fail?…….you got it. ‘Communication!’ We often write container buzzwords and then assume everybody knows what this means. I asked them to be more specific, what does this look like? What will we see that demonstrates this?

This was their list of desired behaviors (consolidated list from 3 teams):

  • We will effectively communicate: Open, clear, accurate, complete, timely, relevant, reliable communication. We will start by asking ‘Up-stream’ and ‘Down-stream’ the question ‘what do you need from me to do your work?’, and tell them ‘this is what I need from you!’



(Information and Communication must flow end-to-end through the Value chain. Not just Technology components).

  • As leaders we will communicate a clear vision and related goals, and ensure these are understood and agreed to.
  • We will set, ask for, and agree priorities – in relation to the goals we agreed.
  • We communicate and gain commitment for agreements we make, we will give timely notification if we cannot meet these commitments.
  • We act in accordance with clearly defined, agreed and accepted Roles and Responsibilities.
  • We take ownership and accountability for the goals, the agreements and responsibilities. We can justify why we are doing one task rather than another in relation to agreed goals and priorities.
  • We admit our mistakes or lack of knowledge and/or skills in relation to our responsibilities, and the agreements we make.
  • We proactively ask for or give help and feedback.
  • We will actively share knowledge – not just technical knowledge (to create multifunctional teams and scale up scarce skills shortages), but also knowledge about customers, customer NEEDS, customer agreements. (Business IQ in Business Relationship Management terminology).
  • Managers do not ‘blame’ when mistakes are admitted, but help seek ways to learn, improve and prevent mistakes from happening again.
  • Managers seek to help or coach individuals and teams.
  • We will confront each other on these agreed behaviors. We can all call ‘Stop’ when we see behaviors are being ignored, then we can discuss them.
  • We will share experiences and reflect together, improving as a team.
  • We need to trust each other – this will come the more we see evidence of the above behaviors.


‘Are these the behaviors you want to see in your organization? Is this behavior you all, as leaders will commit too?’ The answer was ‘Yes!’…… Easier said than done!

Ready to hand-over….What exactly?

As part of ‘Launch readiness’ the team made a ‘Transition checklist’. They were asked ‘What needs to be handed over to the operating organization when the solution is ready to go live?’ The list was almost empty at the end of the design and build. Teams were too busy building to worry about making a checklist! We then explored together the 5 P’s (People, Process, Product, Partner, Performance) identifying what SHOULD be on such a list and why such a list is important.

Why the 5 P’s? Organizations exist to deliver results or performance, it is people that deliver performance, enabled by end to end processes that align and structure what people do, and processes are supported or enabled by products which help automate process activities and provide people with information in order to perform effectively and efficiently. Increasingly organizations are also dependent upon partners and suppliers as part of the end to end process chain.


  • Strategic goals
  • Service level Agreements
  • Ownership for specific goals, targets and KPI’s
  • Measurements and Reports


  • Training Support teams
  • Knowledge transfer of issues (bugs and missing features not resolved because of the need to launch on-time)
  • Clear tasks, roles, responsibilities and ‘authority’ levels for decision making
  • End user manuals and training
  • Training in the processes
  • Training on how to use product or service
  • FAQs
  • (The list of desired ‘collaborative behavior’ is embedded into the way of Leadership and working)


  • Process flow and documentation
  • The product or service is integrated into existing ITSM processes
  • End-to-end tasks, roles, responsibilities (including business and suppliers)
  • Accepted process and roles and responsibilities
  • Process outcomes and process reports in relation to agreed performance goals




  • Tested, validated and Accepted solution
  • CMDB of the solution (how it all fits together, dependencies, critical components)
  • Known Error Data base
  • Integrated into existing management tools (including Partner)
  • Integrated into existing management processes and roles

Partner (Supplier):

  • Supplier Roles and responsibilities
  • Contract and SLA

This list was made in 20 minutes in a session with the whole team, representing the business and all supporting functions. The question posed at the end of this was ‘Do you, or the Government IT organizations you support and enable, actually have such a list, and do you make such a list with the end- to-end teams to ensure acceptance’?


Without clear, holistic (5 P’s) transition plans and activities digital transformation programs, and more importantly expected business outcomes will be put at risk.

‘No Go!’


Before launch the team had a chance to use this list to design their support capabilities and ensure acceptance by all stakeholders. The main focus was ensuring the end-to-end capability to provide crew support. Once again they broke up into small Silo’s and Managers got into a huddle, telling People what to do. Some sat in the back, disengaged on their ‘mobile telephones’.  The ‘Transition Checklist’ was soon forgotten, the teams were too busy to look at a list. As such critical items were left undone. The list was in fact a set of ‘agreements’ the team had made. But again nobody took ownership for the agreement. The list was designed to both protect and enable the goals and outcomes. But once again nobody took ownership for the goals or outcomes. They were too busy designing ‘processes’.  Once again there was little engagement with the Mission Director or the Crew.

The Flight Director and Manager specialists confirmed with the Mission Director ‘Ready to Go!…we finshed this task 1 minute early!’
The Mission Director then did a ‘Go/No-Go’ test, asking each person. ‘Are you ready to go? Have we completed all actions on the checklist? Are the processes, roles and responsibilities clear’?


Simply by asking this question, which was a key behavior on the list for ‘effective collaboration’ 3 critical team members said ‘No Go!’, ‘…we haven’t agreed an contract with the suppliers about resolution times’, ‘…it is unclear who escalates to who’, ‘..it is unclear how to decide priorities’, ‘…what SLA, I haven’t been told about any SLA agreements’.


I thought the management team said we were ready to go?’ asked the shocked Mission Director!


The question to the team was now ‘Do you perform a ‘Go/No-Go’ Test before YOU go live with a new digital solution?’




Apollo 13 launched into a clear sky……

In Round 2 the Apollo Rocket soared into the sky. Incidents started coming in, it soon became clear that the process wasn’t being consistently followed, process steps were missing, particularly ‘Monitoring & tracking’, ‘Escalations’ were ignored, there was no overview of the issues, no understanding of the priorities, the Flight Director and Mission Director could not make effective decisions as management information was missing…

The round results were poor. The team had lost a significant amount of Crew safety scores, only 30% of the workload had been achieved. Resolution times were way outside of the SLA. The Users critical functionality wasn’t working, business availability of services was poor. There was a significant risk to the business goals. Nobody seemed to take ‘ownership’ for the goals and performance targets…..again!

“The right stuff!”

Between rounds the teams organized a ‘Retrospective’. They were in a dip. Motivation was low, belief was low.

‘Even in the space of 2 hours we went back to old behaviors. Nobody took ownership for the behaviors, nobody was coaching or stimulating the desired behaviors, when work pressure increased we ignored the processes which then made things worse.’ Said one, shaking his head in weary hopelessness.

‘This is impossible’ said another throwing his pencil onto the table. ‘We need more time! we can’t do this in 30 minutes.’

The Incident manager said ‘Yes we can! ’ She pointed at the list of behaviors pinned on the wall. ‘We need faith, we need to do what we agreed! We can make the impossible possible’ which then became the team catchphrase.

They focused their reflection on People, Process, Product, Partner capabilities and how this had impacted Performance. They engaged with the business to identify key improvements to solve these problems. The key improvements were decided based upon impact on ‘Value, Outcomes, Costs, Risks’. The team clearly recognized and felt the pain of NOT sticking to their desired behaviors for collaboration.

Walking the Talk

The improvements were now agreed as a team, people were freely giving input. There was more focus on the goals and which improvements delivered the most value, and clear confirmation about the behavior and responsibilities. Each person was asked to commit to the Go/No-Go’!

In the final round when the clock displayed ’00:00’ the team solved all of the issues, all business goals were achieved, all service levels were achieved. The Mission Director was happy, the Crew was happy, the team felt empowered and capable. They were energized and motivated. They had made the change a reality by effectively collaborating.

Which team would you rather work in? The one in first 2 rounds ‘Chaos’, ‘Confusion’ – or the team in the last round?’

What do we need to do to recreate this performance in our daily work?

At the end of the day the teams were asked ‘What are your key takeaways, what do ‘we’ need to take back and apply in our own work’?

Reviewing the performance results. ‘We achieved all of our goals’!
Key takeaways:

  • The need to ‘effectively communicate’ – have teams get together (and process owners) to explore upstream and downstream needs. ‘What do you need from me to do your job, what I need from you is…’
  • As leaders confirm both understanding and ability (knowledge/skils)l to perform a task. Apply situational leadership, Balance telling, exploring, coaching, delegating – based upon individual and team abilities.
  • The need to ensure that all understand the goals of the organization, the team and the individuals (answer the ‘why’ question) – this helps foster a sense of purpose and ownership.
  • Goals must be defined and balanced against ‘Value’, ‘Outcomes’, ‘Costs’ and ‘Risks’.
  • Decision making needs to be supported by agreed goals (VOCR) and an ‘integral’ approach. E.g. How does a decision impact (people, process, product, partner, performance).
  • Define and agree end-to-end process flow and process accountabilities with the teams.
  • Process controls are more than a ‘tick-in-the-box’ – explore together (end-to-end) process capabilities and apply ‘continual, incremental improvements’ and measure the impact.
  • Set up measures for process effectiveness, how can we demonstrate Value.
  • Ensure you gain understanding, agreement and commitment to Roles & Responsibilities, to the process and to any agreements made.
  • Ensure you gain ‘personal’ acceptance for new ways of working, this can trigger a ‘yes, but’ which opens up dialogue, feedback and a basis for negotiating.
  • If you cannot meet an agreement notify in advance. If you cannot meet an agreement explore if people have set the right priorities based upon (VOCR).
  • Everybody has the right to say stop if the process is not ‘fit-for-use’ or ‘fit-for-purpose’ or if goals or information is unclear.
  • Use a ‘Transition checklist’ when handing over new solutions, with particular emphasis on People (knowledge, accountabilities, skills), Process (integrated into existing management processes), Product (integrated into existing management tools, such as work-flow, knowledge base, systems monitoring).
  • Apply continual reviewing, learning and improving within teams and end-to-end.
  • Introducing ‘launch readiness – ‘Go/No-Go’ was very powerful. As managers we thought we were ready to go. When EVERYBODY was asked Go/No-Go we were suddenly confronted with no-understanding, process unclear, priorities and goals unclear or not-known.
  • The need to engage with the ‘Customer’ and the ‘Users’ to identify needs, goals AND business responsibilities as well as touch points into the processes.
  • Not everything CAN have the highest priority from the business, resources will always be a constraint as digital transformation demands grow. Balancing resource optimization with Benefits realization and Risk optimization requires effective ‘decision making mechanisms’ or IT Governance. (Such as COBIT).
  • All levels (Strategic, Tactical and Operational) must gain a better understanding of the business and how their decisions impact business goals.
  • We need to ensure Knowledge sharing of work-arounds and creating additional 1st call resolution capabilities freed up ,ore tome for specialists to work on higher value, pro-active tasks instead of adhoc fire-fighting.
  • Being passionate, with integrity and respect to create buy-in and motivate and inspire teams to perform.
  • Build trust in teams. Create an open, no blame culture in which people give feedback, admit mistakes and take time to reflect and improve.
  • Incorporate more ‘learning by doing’ and practical hands-on exercises in our training programs, we need to be able to rapidly translate theory into practice and action. We have too much theoretical knowledge and people struggle to apply it in reality.
  • Faith, belief in our abilities. Yes we can. ‘We strive to make the seemingly impossible, possible’ taking a lesson from Gene Kranz. Who said ‘Failure is not an option’.

The questions now are:

  • will the team take these away and apply them as managers and leaders and embed these into all layers within the organization?
  • Will they help lead IT from being a ‘Service Provider’ to a ‘Strategic Partner’.
  • Will they collaborate as one management team with shared goals?
  • Or will they, with the pressure of daily demands and daily work revert to the tried and tested ways of doing things?


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