Getting Into The Game

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Project management tools have been used for decades by industrial engineering in many industries, beginning with military and manufacturing applications. Effective project management can determine the success or failure of a project in any organization. It is important for an organization’s employees to understand and appreciate the complexities of corporate and department projects, as well as the best ways to avoid potential delays or problem. One challenge many corporations face is how to impart upon their employees new ideas, policies or changes to their daily workflows. A solution currently being explored is games-based learning. The study, cited by Sally Flood in “All play and More Work” in UK Technology News, Reviews and Analysis, revealed that games were the best medium for delivering complex information because they created better engagement and retention compared to lectures or verbal presentations.

One author, Alex Bohn, was commissioned to develop a learning-based simulation that would help a hospital systems clinical and administrative employees learn about project management. The “game” was to be paired with a corporate project management class designed to teach more effective project management to an entire organization. The principle behind the game was simple: simulate a project that had enough depth and difficulty to show how a lack of cooperation and planning between stakeholders could result in failure to meet deadlines and finish the project under cost. The other author, Terri Lynch-Caris, an associate professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering at Kettering University, teaches one class that spends an entire semester designing and modifying an assembly line for creating rudimentary locks out of Lego bricks. The class studies workload balancing, bottlenecks, ergonomic station development and design of universal instruction. The teams in the class even had competitions to show which assembly line could produce the most locks with the fewest defects.

The educational objective of the simulation was to enhance the understanding of project management tools and show, through application, how important such tools are to the outcome of a project. The simulation would be classified as a “cooperative education” exercise as opposed to a “competitive education” model. A cooperative structure is defined as one where every group member is rewarded on the basis of the quality of the group’s product. A study published in 2009 from Pennsylvania State University showed that “overall performance is greater under cooperation, that under competition” and that improvement in learning in a cooperative simulation is comparable to one in a “competitive” environment.

Once a working model of the simulation had been created, the simulation was demonstrated for Lynch-Caris’ students and hospital employees. The feedback has been positive and has shown that the game is accomplishing its goal. Player begin to get a real idea of how seemingly minor setbacks or decisions in ap project can have major, far-reaching consequences further down the road for themselves or other stakeholders. The simulation also was demonstrated for a group of professionals at the 2010 Lean Six Sigma Symposium. The audience included industrial engineers from various industries, healthcare administration and project managers all working together to accomplish a goal. Feedback from the group include comments that the game did an excellent job of representing a realistic albeit straightforward, corporate project. The game also shows employees or group members how each segment of an organization must work together to accomplish the big picture goal.