The Harvard Project Management Simulation Game

Introduction

The success of a project mainly relies on the competency of project managers. Project managers are assigned with the duties of planning, managing, organizing, and controlling the available project resources. Organizational challenges or other forms of uncertainty when managing projects mostly exist because of the budget, resources, and time constraints. For instance, a survey conducted by Hwang and Ng (2013, p.272) indicates that project managers are responsible for 34-47% success of projects. As a result, many project managers carry the weight of the project because they are supposed to be good decision-makers consistent in identifying opportunities, gaps, managing workers, and identifying and handling arising problems.

A hands-on approach is essential in equipping students with project management skills. One strategy that enables students to interact with real-life scenarios of project management is the use of simulation-based training. This form of training is an effective and efficient approach to teaching and learning complex business and engineering curriculum (Salas, Wildman and Piccolo, 2009, p.561).

Students take the role of project managers and prepare a plan, such as configuring the model elements and relationships that are followed throughout the simulation scenario until a set goal is accomplished. In this study, I used the Harvard project management simulation game to run a project to design a printer. The simulation explores the critical issues experienced by project managers.

In this project, I took the role of project manager at Delphi Printers & Peripherals. The requirements of the project included assembling and directing a design team to develop a new and innovative consumer printer. The simulation is broken into five scenarios, A to E, and each had varying difficulty because of the project expectations. The simulation is designed with the typical challenges and uncertainties faced by project managers in their work. This exercise explored the relationship between the project scope, resources available, and the schedule. My responsibilities included regulating the teams, the budget, setting realistic objectives, and managing the team to ensure proper morale.

These factors are essential in project management. According to Ramazani and Jergeas (2015, p.51), softer parameters such as critical thinking and interpersonal skills are necessary for the project manager because they are useful in analysis, resource allocation, and outsourcing abilities. Therefore, this simulation exercise equipped me with hands-on experience in project execution and management skills.

Project Management Issues

This exercise had five scenarios in which I had to make the right decisions to meet the set goals. Scenario A had a recommended project scope, cost, and schedule. In the first scenario, I began with a team of four employees with extensive outsourcing, prototypes in every four weeks, and hosted stand-up meetings every two weeks for the first six weeks. Niazi et al. (2016, p.1554) indicated that organizations prefer to outsource services in developing countries because the costs are typically one-third less than the in-house operations.

Some of the critical issues I encountered mainly in project management are project selection, defining project goals and tasks, estimating the project time, selecting the appropriate team, and assigning them with responsibilities. The first scenario focused on the trade-off between efficiency offered by high skilled teams and the cost reduction obtained by using less experienced people as well as project schedules. As indicated in Hazır (2015, p.2), understanding the cost and schedule variance in a project is essential in evaluating the progress and predicting the total costs and duration of the project. Every choice in this scenario had various possible outcomes, expressed in the form of budget and schedule.

Scenario B and C introduced project uncertainties. In week 5, two team members left, resulting in changes in project deliverables, the team’s responsibilities, and meetings. Project success factors relate to human resources and communication knowledge areas (Niazi et al., 2016, p.1563).

Therefore, with the reduction of team members, I increased the number of meetings consisting of two coaching sessions and a daily stand-up meeting every second week. The regular meetings I held aimed at improving discussion on new ideas and streamlining the activities performed by each team member with the hope of finishing the project on schedule. I also recruited one employee and cut down the meetings to improve the production in the final week of the second scenario.

In scenario C, the competitor released their printer five weeks ahead of schedule. As such, I was under a lot of pressure to speed up the project and deliver it by week 12. The concept of increased competitiveness is captured in Hu, Cui, and Demeulemeester’s (2015, p.2) study that noted it leads to numerous disruptions that threaten the completion of the project on time. Hu et al. (2015, p.2) indicated that one way of meeting the deadlines is increasing skilled labor, adopting technology, and substituting equipment. These trade-offs significantly affect final project costs and completion time.

Therefore, I opted to grow the team members to four, revised the project scope to 4, and provided coaching for the new team member for one week. These changes enabled the project to run smoothly until week 13, where I switched to three team members then later to two team members in the final week. Overall, the team morale during the project remained at 75%. As noted in DuBois et al. (2015, para.12) article, transformational leaders inspire and develop others to achieve high levels of performance and morale. Regular one-on-one meetings with new members aimed at equipping members with crucial skills of running the project and empowering them to perform at the absolute best.

The last project scenario was different from other scenarios in terms of schedule and scope compliance. The final situation tested the student’s comprehension levels on the problematic management targets and risks, as well as the importance of making critical decisions intended to increase project performance. In the final scenario, I applied the concepts I learned in class, which is part of the simulation project’s benefits because it increases knowledge retention and project management skills. At the beginning of the project, I had four team members with four coaching sessions, three prototypes planned, extensive outsourcing, and no overtime.

By the seventh week, I dropped all coaching sessions because the team was heading in the right direction. As indicated in Marić (2017, p.2), critical elements of project management are the fast flow of information and efficient communication as they improve the decision-making process. In the seven weeks, I focused on educating and reminding all the team members of the project scope, schedule, resources, and responsibilities. Therefore, each member understood in advance all the expectations, and I hosted a stand-up meeting every two weeks to ensure all members were on the same page.

Broad Conclusions and Lessons Learned From Simulation

The success of a project is as good as the people involved in plan, design, management, and implementation. The commitment and the skills that each team member brings goes a long way in planning a project that leads to effective use of resources available and time. The right people will accelerate the completion of the project without compromising the quality. However, high skilled employees might lead to increased costs, but the project would be completed before the schedule. Conversely, when a team lacks all these aspects, there is a likelihood that the team will fail in meeting project goals and deadlines. Therefore, group composition is essential for the success of any project.

Communication is also very essential in a project. A project consists of several suppliers, team members, and subcontractors, all managed by a project manager. Miscommunication from any of the stakeholders leads to the collapse of the project. Also, information overload on the side of the project manager would lead to an apparent decrease in performance due to the confusion that may arise, such as failure to assign members with well-defined tasks. Matthies and Coners (2018, p.1) indicated information overload occurs because of extensive document collection and lack of systematic procedures for the implementation of project knowledge.

During information overload, project managers lack critical information that prevents them from performing their duties effectively. Additionally, Roetzel (2019, p.480) indicated that information overload directly or indirectly contributes to yearly worldwide losses of about $650 million. I observed that regular communication informs of stand-up meetings and coaching sessions increased productivity and morale amongst the team members. These meetings allow the members to brainstorm ideas and choose the appropriate strategies to undertake a project successfully.

I learned some lessons when undertaking this project. First, I learned that soft leadership skills, such as critical thinking, are essential for the project manager (Ramazani and Jergeas, 2015, p.46). Additionally, a transformational project manager is more successful than a transactional leader. DuBois et al. (2015, para.10) indicated that transaction leaders focus on rewards and punishment on their subordinates, which negatively impacts employees’ morale and motivation. On the other hand, transformational leaders focus on inspiring and developing their juniors, which increases confidence around the teams, and individuals can perform at the highest level. Empowering the staff members is one way of ensuring team morale is high, which in turn increases team performance and productivity.

There are several steps that a project manager should take to improve the performance of the team. The first is ensuring that the group has defined principles and guidelines that clearly explain the responsibilities of each member and the objectives of the team. These members should also be critical thinkers with adaptive management skills, which enables a project to run smoothly. Each member should have unique skills, experience, and knowledge that lead to a diverse working environment enhancing creativity. Also, a junior member should be willing to learn from their seniors, and the experienced members should be open to suggestions from their peers and juniors.

Members should trust, support, and cooperate to ensure the growth of a project. Such principles safeguard the continuity of a project and the growth of the team members. Ultimately, the project would not halt as conditions change because the members evolve as time changes. All such attributes would happen if the project manager is understanding, supportive, and attentive to the needs of the team and sets an excellent example for others to follow.

Conclusion

The Harvard management simulation game is an exciting and fun way of learning and applying the project management knowledge gained in class into practice. Throughout the simulation project, I faced difficult questions like what would happen to the project schedule if I changed the team size, outsourcing level, team skills, and resources. The simulation was curious to find the results for the decisions and actions I took because of the provided feedback.

The simulation was also an exciting experience because I learned how to apply the knowledge I gained from class by running a virtual game with all features and challenges experienced by project managers in the real world. These challenges helped me to understand how risky it is to handle a project because one wrong decision disrupts the whole project. Therefore, I will be keener in the future, especially when managing projects dealing with strict deadlines, tight budgets, and external pressure.

In this simulation, I experienced tension coming from top officials and external pressure, such as the changes in schedule and staffing issues in scenarios B and C. The simulation allowed me to explore how various factors influence project outcomes. For instance, I learned that altering the team size significantly affects the budget as well as the project schedule. Additionally, I learned that the level of skills possessed by team members, target completion time, budget, degree of outsourcing, and reliance on overtime, and other elements in project management are intertwined. More so, I noticed that time spent on meetings and manager’s decisions significantly affects the team’s stress level, morale, and rates of mistakes.

Reference List

DuBois, M., Hanlon, J., Koch, J., Nyatuga, B. and Kerr, N. (2015) ‘Leadership Styles of Effective Project Managers: Techniques and Traits to Lead High Performance Teams,’ Journal of Economic Development, Management, IT, Finance, and Marketing, 7(1), pp. 30-46. Web.

Hazır, Ö. (2015) ‘A review of analytical models, approaches and decision support tools in project monitoring and control,’ International Journal of Project Management, 33(4), pp. 808-815. Web.

Hu, X., Cui, N. and Demeulemeester, E. (2015) ‘Effective expediting to improve project due date and cost performance through buffer management,’ International Journal of Production Research, 53(5), pp. 1460-1471. Web.

Hwang, B.G. and Ng, W.J. (2013) ‘Project management knowledge and skills for green construction: Overcoming challenges,’ International journal of project management, 31(2), pp.272-284. Web.

Marić, A. (2017) ‘Comparison of project management frameworks and tools and their impact on project success,’ 2nd International Scientific Conference LEAN Spring Summit 2017. Šibenik, Croatia. Web.

Matthies, B. and Coners, A. (2018) ‘Double-loop learning in project environments: An implementation approach,’ Expert Systems with Applications, 96, pp. 330-346. Web.

Niazi, M., Mahmood, S., Alshayeb, M., Qureshi, A., Faisal, K. and Cerpa, N. (2016) ‘Toward successful project management in global software development,’ International Journal of Project Management, 34(8), pp. 1553-1567. Web.

Ramazani, J. & Jergeas, G. (2015) ‘Project managers and the journey from good to great: The benefits of investment in project management training and education,’ International Journal of Project Management, 33(1), pp. 41-52. Web.

Roetzel, P. (2019) ‘Information overload in the information age: a review of the literature from business administration, business psychology, and related disciplines with a bibliometric approach and framework development,’ Business Research, 12(2), pp. 479-522. Web.

Salas, E., Wildman, J. and Piccolo, R. (2009) ‘Using simulation-based training to enhance management education,’ Academy of Management Learning & Education, 8(4), pp. 559-573. Web.

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