Sharing the experience of DevOps is not easy, especially when you have only limited time and no technical environment available. In many workshops at conferences, I’ve used gamification techniques and simple LEGO® bricks to teach the most important aspects of DevOps culture.
The LEGO®4DEVOPS workshop can be used successfully by anyone to prepare the organization for change and to start your DevOps journey!
Gamification and learning DevOps
In his book, Homo Ludens, the Dutch historian and cultural theorist Johan Huizinga suggests that play is primary to and a necessary condition of the generation of culture, as play is older than culture. Even animals did not wait for man to teach them their playing.
He argues that without the spirit of play, civilization is impossible.
When one wants to educate culture, the C of the CALMS model of DevOps, it is not a surprise that gamification can be used to transfer the experience.
What is the LEGO®4DEVOPS culture game?
The LEGO®4DEVOPS game (the game was developed by Sébastien Fauvel, Cécile Especel and Didier Drouin under Creative Commons license) is a 90-minute session, simulating the work environment of Dev and Ops teams.
While Dev team receives the rules of development, and the set of user stories (the backlog) they need to develop, Ops get instructions on how to build a platform, and how to deploy the received “applications” on top of it.
All of this using common LEGO® bricks! (I usually use this classic set with 1500 pieces. It can be used for up to 20 participants.)
You can start with a short introduction, and a quick Agile development basics refreshment discussion, to set everyone on the same level of knowledge.
The most important part is to describe (if needed), how the teams communicate with the stakeholders, what is an iteration, a backlog and a user story, and why do we need to improve through regular retrospectives.
Then the teams can start working in short iterations of 5 minutes, followed by measurement of success in 2-3 minutes, and a 3-minute retrospective to discuss how to improve. After 4 or 5 iterations, with the help of one or two facilitators, the teams realize what behaviour, work methods and processes help them to excel, and beat their previous results.
There are no slides, no theory presented, but the experience and the aha! effect is worth more than any literature!
What makes a good facilitator?
Anyone can facilitate the workshop as the instructions are available as a Github project. Preparations, materials to print, and iteration level instructions are described with the main tasks and facilitation points. Of course, the more you practice, the better you will be at seeing the little differences between each team, and can guide them unnoticeably to find the right ways (or just a different way), the right behaviors and practices.
Experience in facilitation comes in handy, especially during difficult times, as really anything can happen!
Once, an overheated player started to yell at me, pointing out some ‘mistakes’ in the rules. It is wise to warn the audience in advance that everything happens for a reason!
Throughout the game, it is important not only to play the facilitator and the customer roles, but also to listen, and take notes on what is happening when. This will help to give feedback to the teams during the summary at the end of the session. For example, you could state who comes up with a disruptive idea and when, to move the teams towards a more successful way of working.
Witnessing DevOps through the game
I really love to see how the participants go through the change curve: they start with getting to grips with the instructions, their roles, and what to do, just like in a real project.
At the end of the first iteration, hardly anyone delivers anything useful for the customer. (Oh yes, Dev teams might be happy to be DONE with some user stories, but typically these do not get into the customers' hands. Ooops!)
By the 2nd iteration teams start to excel in their processes, get used to it, follow some common rules, thus the overall scores improve. This is where I usually mention how much better some teams were by the end of the game! This typically serves as a shock, and with proper facilitation, initiates a disruptive behavior to beat the hidden competition. As teams change, they usually recognize that performance decreases, as is also predicted by many change models.
During the later iterations it all starts to work better and better. On some occasions, even all possible user stories were delivered with an astonishing 90% uptime (so the first user stories were deployed already at the very beginning of the iteration)!
At the end of the session it is wise to have 10-15 minutes to discuss the key experiences, to let every participant share what was their role, and how they had to change to excel as a team! I usually guide this summary talk around the following topics: culture, processes, roles, disruptions, and feelings (happiness, anger, and more).
More aha! moments
- LEGO® bricks are like containers, so start using them like that
- When you are told to be self-managed it is very hard to start thinking out of the box
- LEGO® is like open source SW: you can take it, you can share it, and you can build it together
With every occasion I facilitate, I also learn new things that can be applied in large scale DevOps transformations.
- Some people are not ready to give up their role. They can ruin the whole change if not handled properly
- You will see who are servant leaders (a leadership philosophy where the main goal of the leader is to serve). Make sure you work with them
- Change comes with anger, even during a game. Be ready to handle emotions in a bigger transformation. The people aspect is one of the most important ones
- Sweets helps the brain to get some extra energy during a workshop. In a large scale transformation program the teams just need to let off steam from time to time, to have a chance to re-energize themselves
The LEGO®4DEVOPS culture game is a great way to have a deep dive into DevOps, and start your transformation journey. You can facilitate the game, or ask our help to run the show for you, relying on our experience and DevOps transformation legacy.