How effective is your organisation’s training?

TrainingHow effective is your training?
Are you achieving the target ROI for your training budget?

I have been a consultant and a certified instructor for over 10 years delivering certified training in ITIL®, Quality Management Systems and more recently, qualified as a Capability Maturity Model Integration for Service (CMMI-SVC) instructor. These types of training courses are focused on the use of processes to improve services. So, to be quite honest, if the student attending these training courses is not someone who works with processes, or within a process development/improvement area, with some technical background, they could at times, find these classes a bit dry, complicated, and overwhelming!

Based on my experience, there are several types of students that usually attend the kind of process-based, ITSM training courses that I deliver. I’ll Just discuss here three of those types, the ones that are more relevant to the message I’m trying to communicate.

There are students that are only there because they were ‘told’ by their management to attend! As such, some of these students come to the class having already created a psychological barrier that hinders their ability to learn and jeopardize their learning experience. They don’t always want to be there, they may even consider this training as irrelevant to them or a waste of their time. It takes some work from an instructor to get them on board, but a good instructor will most of time succeed.

Then there is another category of students, technical people (I usually joke with them and call them propeller heads J) who want to learn, but find it difficult to understand the abstract that exists in some of the concepts being taught. They are used to accepting tangible things that they can see and touch, so to get them to wrap their head around and to understand intangible concepts such as ‘what is a service’, ‘what is the value of a service’, or ‘how is the value of a service created’ could sometimes be a challenge for them and for their instructor. Some of those students consider this training as too theoretical given their focus on technology rather than on the business and marketing aspects of the service they are part of delivering on behalf of their organization. Again, a good instructor will most of time succeed in getting them to understand those types of abstract concepts.

The third category of students are young, high achievers, enthusiastic and keen to learn! These, while usually a delight for instructors, also come with their own challenges. Because they get the concepts real fast, they could be impatient, and in their over enthusiastic attitude could take over the review and Q&A sessions. They will be racing to answer every question the instructor formulates including those questions aiming at recapping a certain topic of learning. As a result, they end up not giving time to other students to digest and process the questions in their heads or not giving them the opportunity to answer any of these questions. It is up to the instructor to manage their impulsive behavior without affecting their ego, and enthusiasm for the topic!

One of the best achievement that instructors experience during a class, is the ‘aha’ moment! The ‘aha’ moment is that moment when the penny drops for a student; when the instructor sees that student’s eyes light up because they had an epiphany, made a link between what they just learned and how this could help them back at work, or because they uncovered the mystery of that concept. Even though they happen, these moments are not as frequent as one would like!

So, how could we make these moments happen more frequently? Because the more frequent these moments, the more effective is the training being delivered. The more effective the training, the higher is the organization’s ROI on their training budget because it means that the topic has been assimilated by the students which could lead to actual improvements in the workplace, which really is the whole point of sending employees to training!

Many organizations invest a good part of their budget in training because in some countries they get grants for that, or because the standard they have to adhere to, requires them to up-skill their workforce. Some organizations invest in training because they want to align their processes with best practice so that they increase their organizational maturity, their service quality or their level of customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, in a lot of the cases, this investment does not always yield the ROI they expect in terms of service and process improvement, increased customer satisfaction or a reduction in service costs.

The main objective of training is for the students – usually part of a larger community within their own organization – to take the newly learned concepts back to their workplace and start applying them in their day to day activities. The problem is that in a lot of cases, especially in process-related training, establishing a relationship or a link between what students learn during a training course, and the application of the information they acquired in their daily activities, does not occur at all or not as frequently as it should. There’s often a disconnect in many students’ minds between the two environments: The learning environment, and the actual workplace. This situation is exacerbated when communication within the organization is not effective, so the purpose of the training is not understood by the employees/students and when the training goals are not identified and measured.

Another problem that occurs when the information acquired during training is not put into practice straight after the training is completed, is that it gets forgotten! This information needs to be converted to knowledge as soon as possible, through doing, if it is to result in training effectiveness and in good ROI. That’s why just in time (JIT) training is also very important.

I came across the following two infographics by Neil Beyersdorf and Dale Edgar a couple of days ago and I found them to be very relevant to the topic. They highlight the relationship between how we learn and how much we remember.


According to Dale Edgar’s Cone of Learning (infographic below), passive learners who contribute to their learning experience through hearing and seeing will only remember up to 50% of the information learned.


So, unless organizations adopt new approaches to learning and development, that lead to an increase in training effectiveness, they will always miss the L&D budget’s ROI target. “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got” (CMMI saying).

Neil Beyersdorf says “seeing is believing, doing is knowing”! For organizations to increase training effectiveness and as a result, achieve their required L&D ROI targets, they need to endeavor to get their students to the ‘knowing’ level of learning where the retention level gets up to 90%. This is when students establish the link between what they learned in class and how to apply it in specific situations.

That is no easy task; in addition to the required cultural change to empower those students to make changes when they get back to their workplace, it is important to motivate them to make those changes. It is also crucial to support and to guide them in translating these learned processes and/or topics into real life activities that they could use both, in their workplace, as well as in their personal life. It is also important to do so in a controlled and safe environment that will reduce risk, stimulate their creativity and give them the required confidence in their newly acquired abilities and capabilities sometimes prior to applying them in real life situations.

There are several ways to achieve these results, this article discusses one of them: Simulation. I hope to be able to discuss another approach related to support and guidance, in a future article.

For those who are not familiar with the concept, simulation is used to master a skill by performing/doing the related tasks and activities in an offline setup. Simulations replicate real life conditions and business rules, within a controlled environment. This setup is to enable participants and apprentices to learn and make mistakes in a safe environment prior to executing those activities in real life situations where the impact of errors could impact lives or damage organizations’ reputation and/or financials including share price etc.

In addition to being used in some post-graduate Business courses to convert theoretical knowledge to application, simulations are used to train pilots, doctors, astronauts, drivers, divers and many other skill-based professions that involve high levels of risk to life and limb.

If simulations are used as a method of training in high-risk professions there is no reason why they wouldn’t be used to train professionals in different aspects that could affect the business profoundly. It makes sense to also use them following process-related, governance or project management training courses to increase training effectiveness which will add value to the business in the form of increased know how, improved design leading to speed to market, cost reduction, improvement of services and processes as well as an increase in customer satisfaction. The use of simulation workshops/games following this type of courses will cement the knowledge acquired by those professionals, the students, and will allow them to have a dry run at using the processes and techniques they learned prior to using them in the workplace. If anything, the use of simulation will increase training effectiveness which will lead to increased L&D budget ROI.

The effectiveness of using simulation in IT has already been proven; people working in Availability and Capacity Management for instance use simulations to troubleshoot situations or to try different ‘what if’ scenarios to ensure sound designs are in place. Tools supporting such activities have been in existence for a long time and have proven effective.

GamingWorks is one of the very few organizations that have matured in the industry of developing IT Service Management (ITSM) and other business-related simulation games . They have simulations in different fields such as ITSM, organization management of change, DevOps, Agile, teamwork, project management, Business and IT alignment, governance, just to name a few.

In this article, I’d like to introduce the Apollo 13 simulation game developed by GamingWorks as an example of going from being a passive listener to an active contributor, leading to an increase in training effectiveness and training budget ROI.

There are several reasons why I chose this game as an example:

  1. It is based on actual events that have occurred during the 1970 Apollo 13 mission to the moon, so it is a retrospective reality, it’s thrilling, interesting and very engaging.
  2. I actually have the privilege of facilitating it so I have first-hand experience how running this game following an ITIL Foundation class, for instance, makes a big difference in the effectiveness of the training delivered, in the increase in the students’ interest in the topic, as well in their competitiveness to outperform themselves round after round. They have fun and they enjoy the workshop during their learning experience
  3. It’s a great opportunity for the students to apply and use the processes they learned and have the required support and guidance even if it’s only for a day.
  4. It establishes their belief in processes. In the fact that processes could make our life a lot easier, if effective and efficient and that the quality of the process affects the quality of the service being delivered.
  5. It also helps them decipher the process language into steps and tasks that need to be documented, communicated, published and followed.
  6. It highlights the importance of documenting and understanding roles and responsibilities, communication, teamwork just to name a few.
  7. Due to the movie that was created based on the actual events, people in general and students, in particular, relate to the game, which makes their buy-in to using that scenario to frame their learning experience even greater!

As you may be aware, this NASA mission was labeled “the most successful failure”. The success of the mission relied heavily on identifying the correct sequence of activities (processes) to bring the astronauts back to earth after the Apollo 13 disaster, as well as mission control’s ability to deal with changes and resolve issues that kept on occurring throughout the mission. Further, what makes this simulation also very effective is the fact that it is fun, interesting and as dynamic as one’s day at work: Crazy J!

If run following a training course, the simulation game enables the application of the newly learned concepts and processes in a hands-on scenario-based experience, resulting in a consolidation of knowledge and in a practical application of this knowledge that will cement it in the students’ minds. Embedded in the simulation are some activities that entice participants to review and assess how they did things in each round, and how they could improve their services in the following round.

One thing about simulation games is that they force all participants, reluctant learners (types 1 or 2) or not, to contribute and to be involved (just like in a normal work condition). Each participant has a specific role with specific responsibilities and authority that he/she must understand and enact during the different rounds of the simulation workshop. Typical feedback that I get at the end of the Apollo 13 workshops includes: “I enjoyed the simulation more than the class”, “This has been a great hands-on experience in these processes we learned in class in the last few days”. This type of feedback is expected as the workshop is an active, engaging and fun learning workshop!

I have been running the Apollo 13 simulation game for one of my customers following their ITIL Foundation training course and have been amazed at how excited, how interactive, talkative and open some of those ‘reluctant’ students become during the simulation. It breaks the psychological barriers discussed previously and I believe that it’s a great tool to support organization management of change activities which are embedded also within the workshop through the appropriate distribution of duties, use of leadership, communication, training just to name a few.

Issues associated with process gaps, communication, roles and responsibilities, authorities, leadership styles, delegation of responsibilities, teamwork, and other organization management of change activities are discussed as part of the lessons learned module at the end of each round. Starting from round 2 of the game, these lessons learned are used to implement improvements before the simulation restarts; so, embedded within the simulation is also a continual service and process improvement component.

I’m quite sure that these students continue talking about their roles and their interactions during the simulation, long after the workshop! It’s one of those memorable workshops one can attend. In my humble opinion, it is the second-best thing to learning by shadowing in a traditional work environment.

The Apollo 13 one-day workshop developed by GamigWorks is versatile and could be used to achieve different goals. During the workshop planning activities, the facilitator agrees with the business to what these goals are, and what the focus of the workshop should be. The focus could be technical, related to the processes that were taught prior to the simulation, or it could be related to soft skills, such as teamwork, communication or other.

Apollo 13 could be offered as a stand-alone service offering or following a training course in ITIL, CMMI or in any ITSM process related training or awareness sessions. In addition to offering Apollo 13 game facilitation, and in its capacity as a GamingWorks partner and reseller, E2E ITSM Consulting also offers other GamingWorks simulations such as Carworks which focusses on process management, Agile, Lean, Lean Six Sigma, Grab@Pizza which focus on Business/IT Alignment, Service Management, Business Relationship Management and Governance.

If you have participated in an Apollo 13 or in other simulation games, please share your experience. If your organization has collected actual metrics that support the concept of increased training effectiveness or training budget ROI due to the use of simulations, I would also be very interested in talking with you, and would appreciate it if you could contact me on LinkedIn!

Should you wish to learn more about these simulation games or should you wish to schedule a workshop for your organization/department, please don’t hesitate to send me a LinkedIn message or contact me on my mobile. My contact details are at the end of the summary section of my profile which is here: Nevine Iskandar’s LinkedIn profile.

Good luck and enjoy your training!