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Don’t just read about DevOps culture, play-test it!

Dana Pylayeva devops

Don’t just read about DevOps culture, play-test it!

A lot of people talk about DevOps Culture. Yes, you can learn about a culture by reading a book or a blog post. A much more effective and fun way to learn about a culture is by experiencing it. This blog post is your invitation to experience DevOps culture through a simulation game!

My interest in DevOps originated from a very unlikely turn that my career took 7 years ago. An opportunity came up to push myself completely out of my comfort zone in a developer’s world. I’d taken on a job of DBA Manager and found myself in a harsh, alerts-driven world of pagers, disaster recoveries and escalation procedures. The sense of urgency and pressure was incredible and made me wonder why I never knew about it as a developer.

Fast-forward a few years to my next role as an Agile Coach. I came across “The Phoenix Project”. I read the book from cover to cover, re-living painful moments of the past years, yet growing fond of this new “DevOps” approach. How can I share the new learning and make it resonate as strongly with others? Why not try to make it into a simulation game? Equipped with Gamification course and “The Art of Game design”, I put together the first version of the “Chocolate, Lego and Scrum Game”.

Just like in DevOps, amplifying the feedback loop is extremely important in game development! Over the next two years, I’ve taken every opportunity to play the game with different groups, collecting feedback, modifying the game and taking it again into “production” for new rounds of play-testing and learning. What made this game unique was its focus on the DevOps culture and “close to real life” quality of simulation.

The game starts with showcase of a large organization with departmental silos. Development teams are using Scrum to manage their work, Operations have their own process. As in a typical bureaucratic culture, the flow of information is broken. Information is shared on the “need to know” basis. Each team has its own goals and the mission of the organization is unclear. During the game this fictitious organization transitions from silos to locally optimized silos to an organization optimized for a continuous flow of value.

Scrum Gathering Rio, Brazil - DevOps Culture simulation with Chocolate, Lego and Scrum Game Build your T-shaped skills! Agile Practitioners 2017, Israel - DevOps workshop with Chocolate, LEGO and Scrum game

Every player in the game gets a special role to play individually as well as a part of his/her team. Together players build products with LEGO and learn to respond to ever-changing market demand. They wait for environments to be built by Operations, get interrupted by security upgrades and even get attacked by a hacker! The game engages everyone to the extent that they forget about time. They experience a range of emotions as they go through their DevOps journey and transition toward a generative culture of collaboration and shared goals.

While this DevOps transformation is a gamified simulation, the lessons people learn are very real and can be applied to their actual DevOps transformations! Here are just a few examples of the “A-ha!” moments highlighted by the participants at Scrum Gathering Porto and at Lean-Agile practitioners of NJ meetup:

“Even after DevOps transformation some Ops people want to keep being gate keepers. Hard to give up traditional roles!”

“Potentially shippable” doe not equal ”in production.”

“Cross-training Dev and Ops streamlined the process of getting products to production.”

“Share skills! Bottleneck is formed when only one person knows it”

Curious about playing this game in your organization?

In a spirit of sharing skills and not being a bottleneck, I have documented detailed facilitation instructions, floor plans, facilitator scripts and the game cards in my new “Introduction to DevOps with Chocolate, LEGO” book recently published by Apress. Go ahead - develop your DevOps transformation muscle memory and experience teams’ behavioral patterns. Feel the difference DevOps culture makes in establishing trust and psychological safety in your organization. Have fun facilitating the game with your teams and please share your learnings.

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