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SMCE > Cases > The power of business simulations. Bringing Corporate Values to life

The Barakah nuclear power plant, operated by Nawah Energy Company (A subsidiary of Emirates Nuclear Energy – ENEC) is the United Arab Emirates’s first nuclear power station. Its four reactors are planned to start operation between 2018 and 2020.

Nawah ICT is one of the organizations that will provide IT products and services to support and enable the plant when it goes live. As part of their readiness and skills development program, Zain Khan Head of ICT Governance and Strategy coordinated and co-facilitated a series of business simulation games for broad cross section of the IT staff.

The simulations which were sponsored by Hanan Khamis “Manager of IT Governance and Projects”, focused on 3 main goals: Understanding the importance and relevance of ITSM and IT Governance processes; translating the corporate core values into practice; and capturing concrete improvement suggestions for the roadmap for moving forward.

Service Management Center of Excellence, SMCE, a premier regional consultancy firm, was selected to deliver these simulation workshops.  SMCE is devoted to the development of strategies, techniques, principles and practices of excellence, that will enhance individual and organizational performance, and further the advancement and maturity of organizations in the region.


The core Values

Simulating for Success

Over a three day period the teams played the ‘Apollo 13 – An ITSM Case Experience’ and the ‘Grab@Pizza – A Business & IT Alignment case experience’ business simulations. A business simulation is a dynamic, interactive, classroom based experience based upon ‘learning-By-Doing’ in which a team of participants must collaborate as a team to realize the goals of the simulation.
This article describes some of their experiences, discoveries and key takeaways.

Apollo 13

In the Apollo 13 simulation the team plays the Mission Control Centre of the ill-fated Apollo mission. They must use their ITSM theory to translate NASA strategic goals into a solutions design (Plan), transitioning the solution into the Mission Operations control environment (Build), Operating and Supporting the Live Mission (Run).


In Grab@Pizza the team plays the Business and IT management of a fictional Pizza Franchise organization called Grab@Pizza. The team is challenged with transforming the business. At the start of the simulation IT is posing a significant business risk due to inability of IT to respond to changing business needs (Risk Optimization). The Business team has developed a set of strategic initiatives to bring the sales and profit back on target, retain and grow customers and Franchise outlets (Benefit realization). Existing IT capabilities are poor, resources are tied up in ‘Keeping the lights on’ rather than supporting and enabling new innovations. The IT department must ensure the appropriate capabilities are in place to execute the strategic plan and to ensure both benefits realization and risk mitigation
(Resource optimization).

What happened?

The following sections describe briefly what happened in the game rounds, what the teams did to improve and what key learning and improvement points they captured to take away and apply.

Apollo 13…..Building a Rocket

In Round 1 of the Apollo 13 simulation the team designed (and built) the Rocket. This was an important exercise, as the Nawah IT organization will be developing new products and services in readiness for the reactors going on-line.

The solution was delivered over time, over budget, with quality issues and hidden bugs that the team had not discovered, representing a significant risk to both safety and to realizing the mission goals! Although 20% of team, when asked afterwards, said they thought it would never be finished on time, they did not signal this or take ownership for the promised results.

What had gone wrong?

The round was characterized by an internally focused, SILO’d approach. The teams ‘dived into the technique’, there was little engagement with the customer, the users, the supplier or the IT operations team.

During reflection at the end of the round we explored the definition of a Service according to ITIL.

‘A Service is a means of delivering Value to Customers by facilitating Outcomes they want to achieve without the ownership of specific Costs and Risks’ – 4 keywords that EVERYBODY in IT should know and use to prioritize, negotiate and make decisions. These are: Value, Outcomes, Costs, Risks.
The team had failed to use this to explore with the business the Risks – short time, new technology, skills shortage. The business could have decided to extend the time or allocate more funding to hire in additional expertise, or the business could have agreed on less features and quality to ensure an on-time launch was achieved.

As part of the exercise in round 1 the team developed a Service Transition Checklist (STC). ‘What needs to be transitioned into live operations before we can launch’. However as a result of time constraints, poor allocation of responsibilities, and working in SILO’s the list was only superficial. We explored the 5 Ps (People, Process, Product, Partner, Performance) and looked at their checklist. Their list primarily focused around the product itself. Again this lack of completeness meant that the hand-over into operations introduced new risks and with time pressures building gave operations little chance to say ‘No’ when the solution was ‘Thrown over the wall’.

After reflection the team declared a STC should contain:

• Trained in Product AND Process (IT and Business users)
• Engage with and gain commitment from customer – product requirements (test, validate and accept) and performance requirements (Value, Outcomes, costs, Risks)
• Clear RACI (including Authority, Accountability), also Customer and Partner
• Ops manuals & User documentation

• Defined, agreed and accepted processes (incident, changes, Service Levels)
• Integrated into existing processes
• End-to-end process flow and agreements
• Safety & Priority mechanisms
• Escalation mechanisms
• Overview of costs and financial model

• Tested, validate and accepted product
• Integrated into CMDB
• Integrated into KEDB and IM tool
• Integrated into systems and network management tools (event monitoring and alerting)

• Agreed RACI
• Integrated into Process and Tools
• Underpinning contract

• Agreed KPI’s & SLA’s
• Agreed Reporting (content & frequency)

Transferring Learning into the roadmap for moving forward
When asked, if we were now to start a new project in your org, what would you do differently than you do today?
• Use VOCR to explore with the customer the business goals, explore thresholds for costs, risks, delivery expectations.
• Perform a Risk assessment and have all parties sign off on this.
• Get everyone on the same page? Same time. Understanding goals, roles & responsibilities, escalation procedures.
• Confirm everyone understands roles and responsibilities, accepts these and is trained or coached to be able to do these. This also includes ‘authority’ to take decisions.
• Help each other. Dare to say you need help, ask others if they need help.
• Apply continual improvement to capture lessons learned and suggestions for improving next time
• Agree KPI’s (VOCR) and priorities.
• Agree communication and reporting needs.
• Ensure Customer, User & Partners roles and responsibilities are clear, particularly for right knowledge and skills, escalations, validation and acceptance.
• Ensure we have a complete STC with input from all stakeholders. This STC needs to be given to all development projects and teams and should form the basis of ‘Service Acceptance

Go Live….Launching into the unknown
In the next round the team used (or rather didn’t use) their transition checklist to ensure that everything was ready for Launch. The Flight Director (IT director) agreed everything was ready. The Mission Director (Business) then insisted on a ‘Go-No/Go’ test to conform that everybody was clear on ‘the goals, their role, and the agreed process’ – suddenly we heard from delivery teams ‘No GO’! Processes were unclear, escalation mechanisms were not agreed, there was no priority mechanism. The checklist had not been agreed and signed off by all stakeholders.
The Rocket blasted off into a clear blue sky, with risks that were introduced by a poor design and build and made worse by a poor transition. Incidents and requests started occurring, capacity issues arose…

A bumpy ride…..
‘Where is my critical O2 tank solution…we’re running out of Oxygen’!? asked the Astronaut
‘How should I know?…..I’ve no idea!’ Declared the frustrated help desk (‘…Have a nice day, we appreciate your call, please let us know if we can be of further help in the future!’)

The Mission Director asked the Flight Director ‘How is it going’?
‘Fine…no worries’ was the answer!
‘That was impossible!’ Said the Flight Director, ‘there was far too much work. You (business) gave us far too much to do, we need more people!’
‘Show me the evidence’? I asked as Mission Director. ‘How much work did you have? Which specialists had too much work? How long did each incident take, how many are open? Closed? What were the priority issues?…..there was silence. The team had no ‘Transparency’.

A smooth glide….
The team then applied continual improvement, reflecting and agreeing improvements using the 5 P’s. The next round was smoother, key goals were achieved, the team was less stressed, more motivated, celebrated their successes. The Astronauts and Mission Director were all happy.
‘This went much smoother’ said the Flight Director, ‘but we had less work’?
‘No’ I said, ‘You had more incidents AND you had to manage a change requiring multiple specialists as well!’……there was silence. ‘That is the impact of applying an integrated approach like the 5 P’s’.

Apollo: from Simulation to Accountability

At the end of the day delegates were asked ‘What do we now need to take away and apply in our organization’? These were the answers, I have clustered them according to the Core Values.

  • Stick to tasks, roles & responsibilities, don’t do other people’s work, confront others on responsibilities ‘how can we help you to….’
  • Foster ownership and accountability, then delegate work. Stop micromanaging. Ensure people are empowered if they are made responsible or accountable (right skills, authority level).
  • Education in processes, tools, roles and responsibilities so that people are empowered to accept accountability.
  • Willingness to make suggestions for improvement.
  • We must break down the ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ attitude. “Business & IT.One Team”
  • ICT and Business agree Strategy and strategic goals and how ITSM enables these. Translate these into KPI’s and SLA’s.
  • Involve everybody in improving ‘collaboration, ‘communication’, ‘process’, ‘roles & responsibilities’ & the ‘Supporting tools’.
  • Everybody needs to understand roles and responsibilities, define these together, end-to-end.
  • Tool designed by end-to-end teams, with input provided from ‘roles and responsibilities’ e.g ‘what do you need to be able to carry out your role and responsibilities’ and at the same time agree accountability for updating tool data. To ensure it is up-to-date, accurate and useful.
  • Create a ‘No blame’ environment, people can admit they don’t know, we look together for ways to improve, not who to blame.
  • Priority mechanisms linked to business impact.
  • Balance resources between projects and service teams and prioritize when conflicts arise. (This is also important for staff ‘burn-out’ with unrealistic and conflicting demands).
  • Active listening – e.g. summarize understanding, ask questions, let people finish, respect people’s input.
  • Foster ‘Pride’ in our work, related to the goals and achievements. Sharing success and recognition.
  • Open, honest feedback and confronting people on behavior (not negatively), asking ‘how can we help ensure that you can execute on your responsibilities’? ,’ what can we do to improve ¬¬the way we work’? ‘What can we do to prevent mistakes and confusion’?
  • Compliance to processes (not just by enforcing, but by creating buy-in and shared ownership ‘This is how we work here’).
  • Goals and priorities must be cascaded from Strategic to Tactical and Operational meetings so that all are informed. Use first 5 minutes in all meetings to focus on these. (This will help create buy-in to using processes, knowing ‘why’ and ‘what outcomes they should achieve’).
  • Reports and dashboard that can be used – showing impact on business gain or loss. (Balance internal IT metrics with metrics and reports the business understands).
  • Clear escalation mechanisms as instruments to support fast and effective decision making not as a blame instrument.
  • Need more awareness about current process design and Continual Service Improvement (CSI) mechanisms e.g: ‘Annual IT process review’, ‘Self assessment instruments’, ‘Operational excellence program’. Managers need to make aware and stimulate people to engage and contribute.
  • Tool review and update. Ask people who use it ‘does it have the right information? Is it up to date?’
  • Need for clear visibility – to aid decision making, prioritization and demonstrate status and performance.
  • Give downstream teams insight so they can plan and prepare and have time to develop skills and capabilities.
  • Strong forecasting and trends from problem management analysis.
  • Start from where we are now and improve iteratively, do not try and improve ALL processes, start with business priorities; start today.
  • Use 5 P’s People, Process, Product, Partner, Performance when looking for improvements.
  • Simplicity. Keep-it-Simple. Don’t over engineer. Keep asking is this ‘fit-for-use’ and ‘fit-for-purpose’ – how does it contribute to ‘Value and Outcomes’ or help reduce ‘Costs and Risks’)
  • Small scenarios of improvements, iterative. Within the organization (like today walk through real scenarios agree 3 improvements).
  • Strong Known Error Database (KEDB), and Configuration Management Database (CMDB). Ask each process owner what do they need in CMDB, Use Problem management to ensure accurate, complete, useful KEDB to support 1st call resolution).
  • Revisit our documentation and procedures (KIS – Keep It Simple), allocate a six sigma black belt, get teams together to remove waste.
  • Revisit staffing levels. Gather and report facts & figures to underpin this. Do we have adequate resources to accommodate the portfolio of initiatives planned.

Grab@Pizza – Business & IT. One Team

In Grab@Pizza the team plays the Business and IT management of a fictional Pizza Franchise organization Grab@Pizza. The team is challenged with transforming the business. At the start of the simulation IT is posing a significant business risk due to inability of IT to respond to changing business needs (Risk Optimization). The Business team has developed a set of strategic initiatives to bring the sales and profit back on target, retain and grow customers and Franchise outlets (Benefit realization). Existing IT capabilities are poor, resources are tied up in ‘Keeping the lights on’ rather than supporting and enabling new innovations. The IT department must ensure the appropriate capabilities are in place to execute the strategic plan and to ensure both benefits realization and risk mitigation( Resource optimization).


From theory to practice

Execution then failed as people did not follow the process, roles were unclear. The business was not happy, they had no insight and were not kept up to date. IT had a false impression of how well or badly things really were. IT roles gave answers they ‘thought’ the business wanted to hear rather than honest and direct feedback. There was a lack of ‘Transparency’ meaning both IT and Business were unable to make effective decisions. There was no understanding of the business impact and priority of outages. (With ‘Safety’ being a core value within Nawah, it is critical that both Business & IT stakeholders work together to understand the criticality and impact of all IT products and services to the organization, to society and to the environment, certainly with relation to supporting the core Nuclear operating capabilities).
The business insisted their new projects had priority and were not balancing investment decisions and resource prioritization between ‘Benefits Realization’ and ‘Risk Optimization’ such as removing damaging technical debt that was causing outages.

Improving your work IS your work

At the end of the round the BRM (Business Relationship Manager) helped facilitate a Continual Improvement session. Teams were given a copy of COBIT process controls for their processes, including the business. The reflection session was an End-to-End to walk through of Strategic-Tactical and Operational processes to identify weaknesses. The team then prioritized small iterative improvements.


Grab@Pizza: From Simulation to Accountability

At the end of the day one of the actual Nawah BRMs facilitated a final reflection, asking ‘What did you apply today that you think we need to take away and apply in our organization’?

  • A better understanding of, and alignment with the business strategy.
  • Use of Business language, and understanding what the business considers as important, when and why.
  • The right steering committee members (and sharing steering committee output).
  • Better understanding of business impact to help prioritize (balance between Benefits Realization and Risk Optimization).
  • Improved communication (about goals, status) and transparency (e.g reporting on what matters).
  • Clear alignment and understanding of roles and expectations, end-to-end. This also includes business responsibilities for Governing IT.
  • Clarity of process (end-to-end) and integration of processes (what does 1 process NEED from another), communicating the process (and responsibilities) to all.
  • Working together (end-to-end) towards a common goals.
  • Better consideration of the costs element associated with service delivery and consumption (Now it is not an issue, later when IT is driven by budgets and controls this may become relevant).
  • ITIL helps improve and streamline our processes and improve business processes (we need to understand how the process delivers value and mitigates risk and demonstrate this).
  • Continual Improvement Life-cycle works. End-to-end, and in small iterations. (Don’t try too much in one go).
  • Accountability (define, agree and enable people to take responsibility and accountability).
  • Clear Tasks, Roles and Responsibilities so people know the scope of what THEY need to do.
  • Education (How & Why), also the (When and Who).
  • Start trend analysis and better reporting to enable better forecasting.
  • Conduct a CAB as soon as possible.

One of the key discoveries from the teams in each of the session was the ‘People’ factor. ITSM and Governance processes are important but ‘Team Work’, ‘Accountability’ and ‘Desirable behavior’ is critical for success.
Another critical learning point was that it is everybody’s responsibility to suggest and improve the way we work. Continual Service Improvement is a CORE capability, no organization can implement ALL of ITIL or COBIT in one go. Organizations must start from where they are (in terms of process and organizational maturity) and progress iteratively in a pace that people and teams can deal with.

A final key discovery was a need for better understanding of the business and business goals and priorities, this needs to drive not only the daily work (e.g. which projects, changes, incidents) but also the prioritization of improvements. This also requires a change to the way that IT is Governed. If the business does not apply effective Governance mechanism then they themselves will be a business risk.


This training gave me a much better appreciation of COBIT5 and how ITIL fits within its framework. Since we recently implemented the Business Relationship Management Function it was very good to see that how we are envisioning it to operate was in line with best practices. I look forward to attending the formal ITIL and COBIT Foundation classes which are scheduled as these simulations have given me a practical understanding and holistic picture of them

Hanan Khamis: Manager of IT Governance and Projects, Nawah Energy Company

Having Paul and the SMCE team help me deliver these simulations was a huge win. Having the staff and managers approach me afterwards and express new found appreciation for our efforts to adopt and adapt COBIT5 and ITIL processes helped the team turn the corner and establish a common understanding of what are our drivers, where we want to be and where we are now. Our success on this initiative feels much closer now

Zain Khan: Head of ICT Governance and Strategy, Nawah Energy Company

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