Project management simulation – a critical component of PM education?

Published on Thursday 2 July 2015 by in News with no comments

SME’s from our partner network, representing Consulting companies, training organizations and Higher education institutions from Russia, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands got together at our latest open Train The Trainer program for the Challenge of Egypt Project management simulation. The objective was not only to learn how to use and facilitate the latest edition of business game but to identify key issues with project management behaviors and capabilities that a simulation game can help improve.

Why a simulation game?

Despite the heavy investments in Project management training such as Prince2 and PMI industry  reports still reveal that something like 70% of IT projects are over time, budget or fail to deliver the right results. A recent APM report ‘Conditions for project success’ reveals that ‘while the key to success is known… practice is often not applied’. As a result ‘nearly 80% of projects fail to wholly meet their objectives’. It would appear that traditional forms of theoretical certification are not enough. We need to ensure that training programs enable people to translate theory into practice and embed behavior in the organization. This is what a business simulation game is designed to support and enable.

The Challenge of Egypt business simulation game.

Scenario:  We are in ancient Egypt. The Pharaoh (Played by the facilitator) asked the high priest to create a project to build a Pyramid to secure his journey to the afterworld. The priest assigns a Project Leader and a project team to execute the project. The team has to identify requirements, and then plan and execute the project. Events and set backs occur and must be dealt with to keep the project within Scope, Quality, Budget and Time. This requires managing work packages, managing risks, managing tolerances and all those other best practice project management processes and procedures. But be prepared. The Pharaoh comes with other issues and has other ideas which may impact the project.




These are some of the Impressions and experiences within the game:

  • Pharoah explained  his 2000 year vision.  “I Want a high quality Pyramid…I expect in 2000 years time that tourists will pay ticket money to come and visit my Pyramid”.
  • “What Sphinx”??? asked the Architect. “That wasn’t part of the scope for the Pyramid!”
  • “Why was the statue built there…..did anybody involve the quality manager”? More rework.
  • “……..did anybody agree the acceptance criteria with the Pharoah”?
  • The Pharoah insisted on another entrance…….”certainly” was the answer…the quality manager and architect were not involved or notified.. “why did all these stones collapse?” asked the build team later. “We now have rework delays and additional costs”.
  • People not following procedures, using the correct project instruments or circumventing agreements were not signaled as a Risk, yet these types of behavior lead to rework, poor quality, extra costs.
  • Issues were raised by the build team, issue were logged. “How come I didn’t know”? asked the Project manager and the pharaoh. “I kept saying it but nobody listened or did anything” said the build team as more delays occurred. There was no effective escalation or exception mechanisms and issues were not analyzed to identify risks and countermeasures.
  • “The Pharoah requested a statue for his wife -‘ you must build the statue first or my wife will kill me’ said the Pharoah, ‘if she is going to kill you then we must build the Pyramid first!’ said the priest”.
  • PMO was capturing lots of data and making various reports and spreadsheets, however this was not used to support decision making or steer the project.

It is one thing to know the theory, but something else to apply it in a practical situation”

Fortunately these types of mistakes and the associated impact on time, budget, quality, satisfaction were all experienced in a safe environment….and all in 1 day, rather than weeks and months of pain and frustration in a live project environment!.

The simulation is played in a number of game rounds which gives the team a chance to review and improve their procedures between game rounds. At the end of the simulation the team ‘hopefully’ has built a Pyramid to support the Pharoah’s goal.

At the end of the day lessons learned and actions to take away are captured. A critical role of managers is to now facilitate the transfer of the learning and the improvement actions into the workplace.

Unfortunately many organizations don’t want to do a simulation as part of their training. Just give me the theory and the certificate….they consider a game a nice-to-have fun addition to the Project management training…….but don’t forget only 22% of projects are wholly successful.

At the end of the TTT session we asked the Subject Matter Experts – ‘Based upon what you just experienced, how can a simulation be used to help solve real life issues that you recognize?’ The answers were given free format. I have coupled the answers with the top 5 recommendations from the APM report.

Effective application of a simulation… APM condition for success
  • Can be used to help people assess and improve their current project management practices…..together. As a team they must collaborate, discuss, agree and plan and execute changes to the way they manage projects.
  • Can help team design processes that are ‘fit-for-use’ and ‘fit-for-purpose’ then test them end-to-end in the game.
  • Can help them learn to Review as a team. Throughout the game they must review and improve and at the end of the day they captures lessons learned to take away and apply.
  • Can be used to demonstrate the critical role that PMO can and should play for helping   support decision making and planning.
Project Planning & Review: pre-project planning should be thorough and considered, with monitoring and review throughout the project.
  • Can help demonstrate the need for and the Role of a steering committee for effective project governance.
  • Provides an environment  for business executives to learn. Often they do not have the right PM understanding, do not attend the PM courses and do not understand the importance of Project Governance.
Effective Governance: The project needs to have clear reporting lines and regular communication between parties
  • Can be used to kick-off a new project, bringing project team members together for one day. It helps foster ‘team working’, ‘recognize each others strengths and weaknesses’ and agree how they want to work together.
Commitment to project success: All parties involved must be, and remain, committed to project success. …and.
  • Can help confront people with a need to understand the overall goal. In the simulation the team is constantly confronted with the ‘goal’ and must continually use this to drive prioritization and resources allocation.
Goals and objectives: The overall goal of the project should be clearly specified and recognized by all stakeholders involved in the project
  • Can help as part of Foundation or practitioner allowing people to translate theory into practice in a safe environment.
  • Can be used to help focus on the job roles, responsibilities of the PM including soft skills. Focusing on behavior and communication.
  • Can be used to support a masterclass for newly certified project managers’.
Competent project teams: The project prforessionals leading or forming the a core team, need to be fully competent.

If you are looking to enhance YOUR Project management training, to get more practical value then ask one of our Certified Delivery Partner ATOS for more information about using a simulation or contact us directly.

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