It's a game, it's fun, it's playing, it's my favourite thing to do! It's not work then, is it? I mean, how can playing be serious and useful and result in a practical improvement? Here's how:
The Phoenix Project Game is serious play; it's experiential learning that gets a bunch of humans in a room to simulate the challenges we all see every day in our business lives and experiment with ways to make improvements over several increments. This is good for us - our brains like working this way. As neuroscientist David Rock says:
"The active ingredient to large-scale behaviour change is facilitating insight in social situations over time. Research points to the importance of a three-step process: seeing something different in a social setting, having an insight about that behaviour, and making these types of connections over time. Insight to action causes change. If you have those insights and discuss them in a social setting, you are more likely to want to change."
In the world of work, telling people what to do isn't effective; empowering people to participate in change is a key cultural principle of DevOps as is leaders moving from a command and control stance to a coaching and discovery mode. Single learning events are rarely sufficient to make behavioural change stick as an organisation evolves their ways of working. Neuroscientist Gretchen Schmelzer explains that this is because information that is received in this manner is stored in short-term memory, rather than in long-term memory. Information can shift from short-term to long-term memory in three ways: urgency, repetition, and association as Ian Cornett explains here. And this is why experiential learning works as part of a learning programme aimed at driving change:
- Urgency is felt while the participants are fully immersed in a challenge that requires them to think and act quickly to achieve a specific outcome
- Repetition happens as scenarios are played out repeatedly so participants can practice new skills and see how the results change based on those skills; behaviour change requires facilitating new thinking and the only way to facilitate new thinking is to help people make new neural connections through repetition
- Association is employed in the retrospectives and reflections when the knowledge gained during the training is recalled and connected to the workplace. These new connections create “aha moments” that can be referenced in the future, also through association
Yesterday we ran an open programme game for eighteen people (a little over our recommended fifteen but they managed very well! In a smaller room too - we like to experiment with different rooms sizes and setup and seeing if this affects the play and outcomes). Our game participants were from a variety of industries (insurance, media and publishing, banks and online trading, pharmaceuticals, travel and consulting) and as always, with these open events, were change agents in their fields. It's always fascinating for us to observe how a group of strangers come together and how the dynamic evolves as these natural leaders start collaborating with each other to play successfully and develop improvements to their working practices.
The game runs in four rounds with the people playing the characters and working through the narrative arc in the book. Each round follows a pattern based on the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) Deming Wheel or problem solving model and concludes with a retrospective. In the final retrospective we reflect on the learning outcomes in order to help the concepts strengthen in people's heads; making those connections. This is what the game players came up with this week:
- Understanding the importance of seeing a value stream end to end and practicing working through it to optimise flow
- Seeing exactly why having too much WIP (Work In Progress) causes difficulties in delivering anything at all
- Experiencing why context switching has a negative impact on delivering the intended outcomes
- Seeing why testing is so important and why shifting left has such an influence on the quality of the solution
- Highlighting why identifying constraints and removing them makes constant improvement
- Discovering how the building of trust reduces friction and improves flow
- Witnessing how a continuous conversation with 'the business' improves prioritisation and focus on value
- Observing why having a cross-functional team improves flow and delivers faster
- Noticing how behaviour evolves from 'me' to 'us': the definition of done from "I did my job" to "We delivered value"