Business Simulations for team-based experiential learning on Agile and Business Agility

Article by Ken Thompson, 16 Aug 2020

Photo by Austin Distel 

THE MANY DOMAINS OF AGILE

The publication of the Agile Manifesto officially launched the discipline of Agile Software Development although many of its core practices can be traced back to the 1960s. As an experienced software engineer, I think the founders of Agile deserve great credit for the systematic Agile packaging and terminology they created rather than for inventing the underpinning practices of Agile (which to be fair, they never claimed). 

The practices and terminology of Agile are now being widely applied to the building of non-software products (Agile Product Development) which in the spirit of Agile, can also encompass the promotion/adoption of these products to/by their B2B customer (or B2C consumer) communities. 

In addition some key practices within Agile, such as Agile Leadership and Agile Teams, are seen as valuable disciplines in themselves within organisations.

Finally some businesses are now applying Agility to transform their enterprises as a whole (Business Agility / The Agile Enterprise).

MANY DOMAINS BUT ONE SET OF VALUES

The common theme is that all 5 of these different “domains” of Agile share the same set of 4 underpinning values: 

  1. Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools 
  2. Working Solutions over comprehensive documentation 
  3. Customer Collaboration over contracts and specifications
  4. Responding to Change over following a plan 

Source: agilemanifesto.org

BUSINESS SIMULATIONS FOR AGILE 

In this short article I will suggest how different types of business simulation can be used to enhance and accelerate learning and development across these 5 domains of Agile:

  • Agile Software Development 
  • Agile Product Development (and Adoption) 
  • Agile Leadership 
  • Agile Teams 
  • Business Agility (The Agile Enterprise) 

(Some people may take issue with the way I have categorised Agile into these 5 neat domains. I would agree it is an over-simplification however I think it is a helpful classification for starting to think about Agile and Business Simulations.)

BUT FIRST - A WARNING.......

If you looking for  “detailed training” in very specific Agile domains, practices, structures and taxonomy I would suggest simulation may not be the best way to achieve it. However if you want to foster experiential learning and self-discovery of the key principles and behaviours needed to succeed in these specific Agile domains then simulation may be just exactly what you need. 

In other words, business simulations may be better at supporting Agile values rather than detailed Agile practices, artefacts and structures!

5 DIFFERENT AGILE BUSINESS SIMULATIONS 

Below I give an example of a business simulation for each domain of Agile. “Off-the-Shelf” simulations are ready to run (but may be configured) whereas “Configurable Simulations” are general frameworks which you may need to refine and pilot before you roll them out to large groups (in the spirit of Agile, of course.)

Domain 1: Agile Software Development 

Simulation : Crew, focus: software teams, type: configurable

The Scenario:

In this simulation, built using the CREW simulation engine, you are the scrum master of a team of 6 software developers of varying abilities, experience and attitudes working on an important new product in 2-week sprints. 

The simulation lasts for 4 rounds and each round you must make the right interventions at the right time at a team, team member and product level to keep everything on schedule as well as keeping your team happy, effective and learning and your product manager satisfied. 

There are 6 virtual members of your team and it is played with 6 participants each of whom must adopt one of the virtual personnas in the simulation. Each round, in keeping with Agile, your team must work together to collaboratively resource the sprint to best use their skills and abilities.

Domain 2: Agile Product Development (& Adoption) 

Simulation: Spread, focus: non-software product teams, type: configurable

The Scenario:

In this simulation, built using the SPREAD simulation engine, you are the Product Director for the launch of an exciting new food snack in a national consumer market. In keeping with Agile principles, your team have a minimally viable prototype (MVP) and have just 12 months get a successful product released, adopted and earning sales in a competitive market. 

Each week/month you must select the right activities in the right sequence and manner to develop a product which is not only right for your target consumers but also addresses the concerns of key stakeholders including regulatory bodies and channel partners. You are also responsible for all market research and promotion activities required for the successful launch of the product. The degree to which you base your product development, adoption and project management on agile principles and the results you achieve are totally at your discretion. 

Domain 3: Agile Leadership 

Simulation: XSim, focus: senior teams, type: off-the-shelf 

The Scenario:

The term “Agility” has been in common use in business long before the software community co-opted it. Agility can be defined as “the ability to react well to unexpected change”. In the XSIM simulation your team are the senior leadership team of a global enterprise in a dynamic and highly competitive consumer market. As you run your business over 4 quarters you will encounter many unexpected events (problems, threats and opportunities). Some of these events will be internal and others will be external. You will get some early warnings for some events but others will be totally unexpected. Some events will require a strategic response but others will be more operational and urgent.

Domain 4: Agile Teams 

Simulation: Chapter, focus: high performing teams, type: off-the-shelf 

The Scenario:

A key aspect of Agile is Self-Organizing, Cross-Functional Teams which many organizations see as crucial whether they are an Agile organization or not. In the CHAPTER simulation you have taken over a team and you must lead and exemplify the necessary change management and process improvement activities to lead them to high performance in a short time period. 

Domain 5: Business Agility (The Agile Enterprise) 

Simulation: Dilemma, focus: senior teams, type: configurable 

The Scenario:

In the DILEMMA simulation you are the leadership team of a business battling for market share against up to 5  competitors. The business can be configured to be any industry and any scale and the period can be days, weeks or months. As well as making operational decisions on pricing, product mix, strategy, execution and marketing each round you will also encounter 4 challenging situational dilemmas covering the 4 key values of Agile:

  1. Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools 
  2. Working Solutions over comprehensive documentation 
  3. Customer Collaboration over contract and specifications
  4. Responding to Change over following a plan 

These dilemmas will be encountered as part of an evolving story which will be fed to your team incrementally via an electronic in-box within the simulation as your team operate under considerable time pressure.

SUMMARY

There are many domains of Agile and Business Simulations can be highly effective in providing highly engaging, experiential learning in any of these but to be successful you will need to:

  • Be Clear which Agile domain you are focusing on
  • Know Exactly what you are looking for in terms of target learning community and what they need in terms of skills and behaviours
  • Be Ready to use an Agile approach to test, pilot and adjust your chosen simulation until it is a "fit for purpose" product with its key customers

Crew Simulation

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More about Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Managing Director of Business Simulations Ltd.

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