The professional body for whole life management of physical assets

The Institute of
Asset Management magazine

Playing to win

Lucy Hughes tells the story of Synergy: a game based on the unique asset management system at Sellafield Ltd.

Anyone who is engaged in promoting good asset management processes throughout their organisation knows just how difficult and complex that challenge can be. Just how do you go about doing this more efficiently and effectively – and so gain buy-in from your organisation more easily?

Sellafield Ltd is one of the most complex industrial sites in the world, dealing with hazardous nuclear materials and waste from previous generations of nuclear munitions production, power generation and nuclear reprocessing. It's a governmental organisation with an annual spend in the order of £2 billion per year and in excess of 10,000 employees. The site's mission is to deliver decommissioning as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, demonstrating value for the taxpayer. What happens at Sellafield Ltd is all asset management.

We've all been down the route of lengthy presentations, statistics and key performance indicators to inform and persuade people about asset management, but that doesn't always hit the mark. After reviewing training and communications on asset management, I chose to try something different, something that could move both hearts and heads: a table top business game.

Gamifying Sellafield

The problem is that simulated training for business processes, particularly role-playing, can all too often be demeaning to the participants, or naff, or fail to relate to what we do. Business games don't always get a good press and that's one of the first challenges you face when you embark on a project involving gamification.

A small team of managers road-tested an asset management game developed by Oxand, an asset management consultancy based in France. When we first arrived to play the game we were all as sceptical as could be, but to my surprise everyone, including myself, came out saying, “We need one of these for Sellafield.” The game worked because it was immersive, challenging and real.

“I don't feel as though I was taught about asset management – rather I learned through my own experience”

Player feedback

The biggest issue was that things at Sellafield Ltd are quite different to that original game. It represented the experience of most organisations: maintaining assets to gain income or benefits of one sort or another. In contrast, Sellafield Ltd is maintaining assets such as buildings, plant and cranes just long enough to remove nuclear waste and decommission plant. The aim is to avoid “gold plating” and not replace plant unnecessarily. At the other end of the scale, we need some assets to just sit there for another 150 years. A standard asset management game based on driving assets for income just would not suffice.

But what part of the process would we model in the new game? Some organisations go about modelling just one aspect of asset management, such as risk or data. We chose to model the whole of the asset management system. This was to make an enormous difference to the residual message players would take away from playing the game – that everyone is part of this process called asset management. It also allowed us to continue to mould and develop it further and further.

We spent a short but intensive period developing the game with Oxand. The Sellafield Ltd participants – Lucy Hughes, Richard Longman, David Blamire and Paul Leat – were all keen, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about how things work at Sellafield Ltd. Sander Sieswerda of Oxand and Simon Spencer of Vulcain Engineering came up with the solution for simulating the site operating model in terms of asset management and produced all the games materials.

After considerable debate, challenge and soul searching, we finally came up with something that hit particular targets for our unique situation. The soul searching is the most important bit: being honest about what you need to change, the blockers and the enablers, and how things really are at the coal face.

We modelled a game that connects real existing teams within the organisation, all with opposing yet related challenges and different missions. It involves maintenance, the replacement of plant, managing asset risk, system health, uncertainty, limited finances, you name it! There's money to spend wisely and lots of decisions to make. As the game progresses, more and more challenges take place and the players learn about asset categorisation, waste, efficiency, re-use, strategy, timelines and our own risk profiling. The more difficult and challenging you make the game, the more the players learn. Eventually they learn that they all benefit – and so the whole enterprise benefits – when they work together and support one another. It shows them asset management can improve cost efficiencies, risk mitigation and asset performance.

“This is a tool that helps us be better enterprise people”

Player feedback

Tactile stimuli

So word spread. The game is fun, realistic and immersive. Senior management got involved, using the game as a basis for team building and as an introduction to strategy away days. That was a sign to the rest of the organisation that even better asset management was to be implemented, removing any barriers, silos and tribes. Based on this, we named the game Synergy (The Sellafield Asset Management Game).

Synergy has been introduced into our formal training for new starters and people new into asset management, and is in the process of being rolled out across the organisation. It is a great team building event.

So what makes gamification work? First, if it's exciting in some way then emotions get triggered, and emotions trigger the parts of the brain involved with memory. It's a vast improvement to sitting through a slide presentation.

Second, good sensory stimuli also help – in particular, tactile stimuli such as moving counters and tokens in strong colours. And finally, we designed in “hold points” for discussing everyone's individual chosen strategy. In this way, everyone learns from each other. Experience is exchanged. The game gets more and more complex and faster and faster, and soon people are doing some amazing things that they would not have thought possible.

An additional benefit for the facilitators is that the game plays out differently every time. It's actually fun to facilitate, particularly as the players are doing all the work and thus the learning.

We've run it with apprentices, graduates, engineers… You don't have to have special knowledge to gain something from it.

It is likely now to be the first in a series of Synergy games developed by Oxand for various market sectors, such as hydropower.

“It brought out the complexities of what we are trying to deliver”

Player feedback

The final message the game delivers is that asset management is not a department, but a process that the whole organisation uses.

When a business game is done well, it is definitely an effective way to train people. With the success of Synergy, we are now developing another immersive asset management training game.

Synergy in action

The rules of developing a business game

Rule 1: recognise the unique qualities of your organisation and either pick the most appropriate existing interactive learning process, or customise a game for your needs.

Rule 2: if you are spending the money to customise a business game then it needs to be appropriate, otherwise you have wasted your efforts. Think big.

Rule 3: don't be afraid to make the game difficult (but not impossible). If it's too easy, there's too little learning.


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