Playing games and rescuing rockets – a personal view from 10 years of playing Apollo 13

Who wouldn’t love the chance to work for NASA! I wanted to work for NASA when I was growing up, loved space and everything that went with it. Then I got into IT and IT service management. But that love of space never went away. The idea of running the Apollo 13 mission using IT service management processes and principles has always resonated because of that. The idea that learning through a game could be more beneficial than straight classroom learning wasn’t new, but running a NASA mission would be something else.

Over 10 years, one thing that was true then and is still true now is this: Apollo 13 is a ‘helluva story’ to base experiential learning around.

I’ve been playing quite a bit of Apollo 13 with our customers lately and that has led me to think long and hard about what I’ve seen when running that exercise, not just lately, but over more than 10 years of delivery for our customers.

Apollo 13 ‘Then’

Apollo 13 ‘Now’

Key part of ITIL training

Part of ITIL training but no longer the be all and end all

Behavioural work is an afterthought rather than the main reason for the booking

Behavioural considerations are a prime reason to book the game

Encouraging team-working was a nice to have

Encouraging team-working is a key ingredient for the customer

Developing a quality incident management process is a major critical success factor (CSF)

Developing an incident management process through good leadership, quality engagement in the team and communication is a major CSF

Delegates don’t take the time to understand the roles, knowledge and process to succeed.

Delegates don’t take the time to understand roles, knowledge and process to succeed

Delegates don’t always listen and then wish they had, realising this is often the behaviour they display on the outside

Delegates don’t always listen and then wish they had, realising this is often the behaviour they display on the outside

Delegates don’t think enough about the needs of the team and other roles and only see this after failing to deliver in the game

Delegates don’t think enough about the needs of the team and other roles and only see this after failing to deliver in the game

 

Business’ may have got better at ‘doing IT’ but inter and intra-team behaviours are at least as challenging today as they were then. Themes of communication, breaking down siloes and knowledge sharing still cause the same headaches they did then.

What has become apparent through bookings for Apollo 13 is that organisations are increasingly aware that it’s not ‘what people do but ‘what they do together’ that really matters. The way that a business game compresses time to show real behaviours and the safe environment to learn in and improve those behaviours are really key. The improvement in a team’s ability to rise to the challenge so quickly because of this time challenge remains really instructive.

 

Some areas that were important then and still resonate for me to this day include:
 

  • Getting the Tasks, Roles and Responsibilities right, understood and observed.
  • Delegates that don’t work together don’t succeed together. In fact, they generally don’t succeed at all.
  • Getting ownership from the team can be really challenging. Personal and team accountability remain key themes.
     

If these themes are resonating then you’re not alone. In 10 years, almost regardless of the initial reason for playing Apollo 13, the benefits that come out most are the improvements in behaviours that teams demonstrate. When I ask for individual’s personal ‘Continual Service Improvement’ logs it’s the communication and team-working elements that are at the top of the list.

 

In many respects, I think my time delivering Apollo 13 has been some of the best I’ve spent here working at Quanta so far. Ideally firms would have cracked these challenges and I wouldn’t still be doing it. But I am, which shows how important it is we continue to try and address these challenges. Maybe I’ll write about how nobody needs to play Apollo 13 any more in 10 years from now because all these challenges have been cracked. I bet I’ll still be doing it though. Anybody want to take me up on that bet?

 

If you think that saving the crew of Apollo 13 can bring about these benefits for your organisation and would like to know more, please enquire for more information.