BY: DAVID STURROCK
INDUSTRIAL ENGINEER – VOLUME 43 NUMBER 12
A solid process can make your models valuable now and beyond their lifespan
A simulation project is much more than building a model. The skills required go well beyond knowing a particular simulation tool. Simulation often is considered only when problems are encountered late in the cycle, perhaps shortly before final decisions must be made. Understand the system is to identify what you don’t know so that you can allow time and risk in the project for that effort. Goal of this stage is not to solve the problem, but to understand the problem and the system well enough that you can describe and estimate the work. Often a prototype model can address a large percentage of what the stakeholders say they need. But upon seeing the prototype, they remember complex situations and the other needs they neglected to identify earlier.
A functional specification clarifies the model scope and level of detail. And most importantly, it defines the objectives and determines how everyone will know when the project is complete. A functional specification should bring everyone to a common understanding of the deliverables. Topic should be:
- Level of detail
- Due date and agility
- Data requirements
- Assumptions and control logic
- Analysis and reports
Building a model is the process of creating a representation of the real system adequate to meet the stated objectives. The most important aspect is to add relatively small sections of model logic and verify each section before adding more logic. Although a model just approximates a real system, usually the modeler and the stakeholders want it as accurate and comprehensive as possible. To avoid never-ending, late and over-budget projects, frequently return to your functional specification document. Your goal is to build a model with just enough detail to meet the stated objectives and no more.
Validation determines if the model represents reality well enough to meet objectives. One common technique for validation is to start with a model of the existing system, assuming that the real system exists. Another validation technique is to use the experience of your stakeholders. They know the system well and should be able to watch an animation and provide some measure confidence.
Doing simulation project well is not easy. There are many ways that even an experienced simulationist can fail. But modeling and effective project management are skills worth learning. Following these suggestions will not guarantee a bull’s-eye, but it certainly will improve your chance of hitting the target.
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