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OMAN: Critical success factors for ‘Digital transformation’: Part 2

Tadafur organized a series of business simulation game workshops to follow on from their highly successful executive training program ‘e-Government & Digital  Transformation’.


Experiential learning, or learning-by-doing interventions such as these simulation games are a key ingredient of a training program, to help translate theory into practice and improve team-working and communication’.

The second simulation was ‘The Phoenix Project – A DevOps simulation’ and was held with the Information Technology Authority (ITA).

Why this simulation? The number 2 issue in a recent global CIO survey is ‘Business Agility and Flexibility’ as a result of the drive for Digital Transformation. This has promoted a world-wide interest in DevOps as a way to achieve a faster, safer way to deploy new IT features. Many see technology as the solution to DevOps, but as Gartner revealed in a survey ‘Cultural resistance will create significant failure rates when starting with DevOps’. This simulation focuses on these people related aspects.

Making e-Government a reality

Oman has embarked upon an ambitious plan to introduce e-government and create a ‘digital society’.    The Information Technology Authority (ITA), which was set up by a Royal decree, aims at ‘consolidation and activation of government policies’ to transform the Sultanate into a knowledge–based economy.

DevOps is an unknown topic in the region and one of the aims of the simulation session was to explore how this could contribute to the e-government strategy. However the main aim was to explore experiential learning instruments to evaluate how these could help with the ambitious ‘talent development’ that is required to underpin the e-government transformation’.

The region has made massive investments into certification programs and is not always seeing the hoped for return on value. Organizations are struggling to translate the theory into practice and sometimes questioning the value of certification’.

From Theory to Practice…..translating Knowledge into results:

The business simulation game is based upon the highly successful ‘Phoenix Project book’ which was partly the catalyst for the world wide interest in DevOps. In the simulation delegates play the roles of the ‘Parts Unlimited’ organization. At the start of the game financial performance is poor, the share price is low and they are getting beaten by their competitors. Survival is at Stake! The business initiates an ambitious IT enabled transformation initiative – ‘The Phoenix project’ – however the current IT capabilities present a significant business risk.

Paul Wilkinson co-owner of GamingWorks, playing the CEO immediately put the business directors and VP IT operations under pressure to perform. ‘Show me how you will help to Digitally transform my Organization’!

What happened?….

We walked through a game scenario and captured discoveries on a flip-over. These discoveries were issues that the team experienced, and which they related back to real-life situations that Government and private sector organizations are experiencing with their IT.

  • The Director Retail Operations wanted a project done. ‘Credit card payment’. He went directly to the ‘Lead Engineer’ circumventing the VP of Operations and the Application department. This was soon ping-ponging back and forth. ‘There is no clear ‘Process’ said the Director.
  • Change management had a full calendar and had to remove some changes.
    The business was asked. ‘Are you OK if we remove these changes’?
    No idea. What are they for’?
  • As CEO I asked the business directors ‘Are we going to realize our strategic goals this month, we have promised our investors’?
    IT have promised us’.
    Do you KNOW the status’?
    …..Errr’.
  • A change was removed. Nobody knew which business project it was related to, nor the priority of the business projects. The change happened to be related to the strategic initiative the CEO was worried about.
  • Technology operations asked the ‘Lead Engineer’ to update the firewall. The ‘Lead Engineer’s’ workload was full, so he had said no. Not realizing what the project was, nor the importance.
  • Test Team, when do you get involved?……can you test this ‘Credit card payment’ system’?
    What do I have to test’?
  • Security I don’t want us getting any bad press because of security breaches, that will damage our reputation and lose us investors,  do we have any security issues with the ‘Credit card payment’ project’?
    No idea’ said the CISO not realizing the Lead engineer had failed to perform the security update……

As these discoveries were being made I asked ‘Who is responsible for capturing these improvement needs’? ….it was silent…. the team looked at each other and started randomly pointing fingers.

I wrote ‘CSI’ on the board and explained this was probably the most important IT capability that needs building, as the team had stated ‘external drivers’ are continually changing in the Oman environment, strategies and technologies are continually changing. IT capabilities are often not adequate – This means the ability to continually change and be agile is critical. This is also a KEY component of DevOps ‘Continual learning and improvement and continual experimentation’. At the same time this lies at the heart of IT Service Management – Continual Service Improvement (CSI).

The flip-over with discoveries soon became full:

  • CSI – “Improving your work IS your work” and needs to be embedded in the culture, not allocated as another IT function. This is a capability that needs to be developed to underpin ‘digital transformation’.
  • Lack of clear ‘Flow’ – poorly defined and agreed ‘Process’. Many organizations are struggling with unclear processes, roles and work-flow creating bottlenecks, delaying transformation initiatives and creating costly waste in time and resources.
  • Poor prioritization mechanisms…..Prioritization can only be achieved by engaging with the business stakeholders, as they know the strategy and the changing strategic goals for transforming the business.
  • Test Team involved too late. Poor testing a key concern, contributing to the amount of ‘Unplanned’ and ‘Rework’ that is preventing IT from being able to do the important ‘Innovation’ and ‘Digital Transformation’ initiatives. Testing up-front and ‘Test Driven Development’ capabilities need to be developed.
  • No Blame!…Ask ‘what happened? And ‘how can we prevent it from happening next time’?
  • Security involved too late, with a poor visibility into which business initiatives hold the most risk. Poor understanding of changes relating to business initiatives.
  • Change management is a bottleneck preventing the fast flow of new digital transformation initiatives – more up-front approval is needed (standard changes) and a way to automate pre-approved changes.
  • Organizational change management is critical to confront people on ‘undesired’ (unintentional) behavior and help teams learn to communicate, collaborate and improve their own work – the simulation game provides a safe environment, with a ‘change management coach’ facilitating the learning process.
  • IT teams must be able to relate their work to business initiatives to help them prioritize their work.
  • Business ‘Product owner’ must share business initiatives, their strategic importance and help balance priorities between ‘Value creation’ and ‘Value leakage’ and risks.
  • Build the Visual Management System(VMS) ‘together’ to provide information relating to ‘What are the priorities of the work we have’?, ‘who is working on what?’, ‘what is the status of work in progress’, ‘How does work flow smoothly through the system’?
  • Use stand-ups together with end-to-end stakeholders, this fosters discussion, dialogue, questions and creates a shared understanding and commitment to the work to be performed.
  • IT must know the business strategic goals and how these change, IT decision mechanism, process capability, skills, information flows must be aligned to these as they change. Continual learning, experimentation and improvement are key capabilities.

The team built a Visual Management System (Kanban board) and identified their backlog of work. 50% was planned work, 50% was unplanned.

What is this in reality’? The team stated that in reality this was nearer 80% unplanned, which represents a significant risk to Digital transformation initiatives if a large part of IT effort is spent on unplanned work, rework and issues.

Where does all the unplanned work come from’? …..passing defects downstream, poor testing…which the team did in round 1, so they can expect even more unplanned work in the next round!

The team had learnt some of the core basic principles of adopting DevOps such as ‘Flow’ and ‘Visual Management’. At the same time they had experienced the power of business simulation games to support training programs as well as organizational change management. Each delegate had discovered concrete actions to take away and apply.

This was the best workshop I have ever attended’ declared one delegate. ‘We must incorporate more experiential learning into our programs’.

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