Risks are part of every project and no amount of planning can anticipate every contingency. Risk management, a major component in any project management training program, is the systematic identification, monitoring, and mitigation of risks so that projects have the best chance of success.
Risk management training has traditionally been taught in a class room setting, but this method can be expensive, slow and rigid. Business games— interactive learning environments in which players explore all the components of a complex situation— are a simple and efficacious alternative.
This project aims to develop a business game, Simsoft, that has a particular focus on project risk management. Simsoft will help users to identify risk events and their impact; to develop risk response and contingency plans; and to have ready the resources necessary to deal effectively with the risks that do materialise. Simsoft will be unique in that it is dynamic, interactive and user-friendly.
The engine behind Simsoft will be a system dynamics model which embodies the fundamental causal relationships of a typical project. Java will be used to build the user interface and to save the results of each iteration of the game so that the project can be replayed and analysed. Pre- and post-game questionnaires will be used to assess Simsoft’s effectiveness so that improvements can be made based on users’ experiences.
2.1 Domain Theories
The game scenarios will be based on accepted risk management theories and will used by Simsoft within a problem-based learning framework. Problem-based learning encourages participants to collaboratively work towards a resolution for the scenario and in this way reinforces the learning objectives of the course.
2.2 Design Framework
Risk Management Scenario Design
Prof. David Baccarini and Dr. Jianhong(Cecilia) Xia will develop a range of risk management scenarios for their classes. These will be in the form of case study descriptions, tasks, and decision rules and will be based on real-world examples.
Prof. David Baccarini and Dr. Jianhong(Cecilia) Xia will run Simsoft during their tutorial classes. The classes include:
GIS Management 381/581 (10722/12452)
Total students: 20-30
Risk Management 641 (10898)
Total students: 50-60
Participants will work in small teams. Based on the starting scenario of the game, information provided during the game, and their own real-world experience, the teams make decisions about how to proceed— by deciding what risk event is relevant for the current stage of the project, what the likelihood is of the risk eventuating, and what the consequences of the eventuated risk may be.
Based on the teams’ responses, the game will provide a commentary on whether the risk decisions were good or bad and the reasons why. The game is now in a new state which the players must interpret from the reports the game provides. A fresh set of decisions is entered and the life of the simulated project continues.
The game will be overseen by a tutor whose role will be to:
Explain the learning objectives to the participants. The participants will be made familiar with the decision-making environment created by the game, the type of decisions that will be required, and the quantifiable indicators of effective decision making.
Provide the participants with feedback and technical assistance during the decision rounds.
Interactive Game Survey Design and Implementation
Pre- and post-game questionnaires will be designed based on problem-based learning theory and these will be used to assess Simsoft’s effectiveness so that improvements can be made based on users’ experiences. A teaching and research professional will be involved in designing questionnaires and formulating a data analysis method (partially Prof. Shelley Yeo).
The following scenario was developed as the basis of the game.
Project Title: Broome North Land Development project
Background: Broome is experiencing major population growth and there is there severe shortage of residential lots. A land developer owns land in Broome North and will be developing 700 hectares of land into 8,000 residential lots, with related infrastructure e.g. roads, utilities, retaining walls, landscaping. The development is in the Shire of Broome, 4km north of the town centre.
Milestones / Phases
The main milestones of the project are:
Jun-Dec 2011: Community consultation and preparation of master plan.
The main phases are: (Comments on the right side show our feedback to each choice)
Planning & Approvals & Design
Phase 1 - Planning & Approvals & Design
The design must be sensitive to the culture of the traditional aboriginal owners and must have overall strong connection to country. The support of these traditional owners is critical to the smooth implementation of the project. Recent similar projects conducted by the same developer in the North West of Western Australia have had some difficulties in meeting traditional aboriginal owners’ requirements. Any problems with obtaining traditional aboriginal owners’ acceptance may result in extensive negotiations and adverse effects on project cost and time
Which of the following could be a possible risk event during the design phase, based on the information above?
The construction industry in Western Australian is very strong, with a great deal of construction work occurring. So construction companies are very busy. This project is in a relatively remote location with few locally established construction companies, as most companies are based in Perth. The developer has undertaken similar projects in the past in this area and successfully procured a construction company to do the work
Which of the following could be a possible risk event during the procurement phase, based on the information above?
The participants completed one of two online SurveyMonkey surveys during April (GIS Management 381/581) and May (Risk Management 641).
During this semester break, we will write a number of papers describing our experiences in designing and implementing Simsoft Risk. These are the current targets:
JournalComputers in Human Behavior. Working title: “The effectiveness of a problem-based learning tool in achieving learning outcomes”
A conference paper for the Teaching and Learning Forum 2012. Working title: “Development of a Simsoft Game for Project Risk Management”.
Future Research to Improve the Game
I sent the game to Josh Whitkin - Lecturer, Games Art & Design, Murdoch University, He provided some constructive suggestions on how to improve the game. Here are his comments.
Aethetics: Use multimedia, not text, as the game foundation. An “animated comic book” - Concept art with text subtitles and voiceover is fairly cheap, simple, and effective, and much more gripping than text. For example: http://www.jenniferann.org/2010-game-first-place.htm
If that feels to “fantasy” style, you could also use stock video and voiceovers to make a more movie-like experience. This is equally quick and cheap, and gives a much more immersive feeling than the text. Even embedding photos in the text would help a lot.
Interactivity Aesthetics: The user interface design could be a lot more graphical. Imagine a slider, instead of the dropdown list, for “likelihood of risk”.
Redesign: This is the big one. Right now you’ve got a single path through the answers, with hints in the questions that tell players which is the “good” answer. I would label this an interactive quiz, not a game. I’d be interested to see how your quiz results changed if you were to simple change the name from “game” to “quiz”. I predict students will enjoy it more.
To design a more ambitious learning game, we must create a series of interesting decisions for the player to make, and ideally a decision space they can explore freely, yet whose outcomes lead to winning and losing. SimCity is a decent model for the overall approach you are taking now, but there’s lots of good design mechanics that might be better, depending on your learning goal. Here’s some ideas to get started:
First, “find the fun in the learning”. That means, think about what you’re trying to teach, and identify a core game-play action that embodies that idea purely (e.g. for “pure” random risk, look to betting games like Poker and Blackjack; but for strategic decisionmaking that involves risk, look to board games like Risk or Monopoly). Then think about adapting that mechanic to fit videogaming (within your budget!).
Or, find a game that exists already, rather than building something yourself. If your goal is to get players to undertstand and demonstrate skill in balancing risk and reward in complex, somewhat realistic real-world historical scenarios, you might look at existing games like Civilization; SimCity; perhaps even ‘sim’ games like Zoo Tycoon. You could also use business risk/reward games like the age-old Lemonade Stand.
For gathering feedback from players, I suggest doing “talk aloud” play session over quizzes: the game designer sit with a player (student), and ask them to explain their thoughts as they play the game. Record sessions with 3 students. Take notes of any major design problems they encounter. Fix those, and repeat. It’s quick and cheap, and VERY effective at getting to the truth of the design problems.
Our actions based on his suggestions:
Increase the complexity of the game scenarios.
Run “talk aloud” game sessions in Project Management 443 unit, the second semester, 2011.
Improve the fun part of game, such as integrate a board game in Simsoft Risk game (Budget $5000).
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