Simulations are defined as a replica of a real-world system or event that stays true to its essential precepts. Just like assembling a puzzle whose pieces come in different shapes and sizes, developing simulations involves co-ordinating a variety of activities between various resources that are inherently programmed to think differently. So, what links different activities and resources together towards a common goal? Enter project management and a project manager! In this article, we will articulate key issues in managing a simulation development project from a project management perspective.
First Things First: Subject Matter Experts
Any replica of a real-world system requires intimate knowledge of the system. For example, a simulation focused on conversation on handling objections in selling a product would require know-how about the objections and their resolution. Similarly, decisions involved in managing a loan portfolio would require know-how about the mathematics involved. This know-how is available with a Subject Matter Expert (SME). These SME’s, being experts, have great demands placed on their time and their availability is constrained. Therefore, a key task of managing a simulation development project requires managing necessary but sufficient SME interactions.
The details required for a simulation are generally gathered from the SMEs by instructional designers, modellers, communication designers, and/or programmers. These resources think very differently towards the same goal and serve a unique purpose in the project. An important task to ensure great cross-functional collaboration is to guarantee team synergies by selecting the resources appropriately, allowing open debates, focusing on resolving problems, and keeping the team together under demanding circumstances.
A key element involved in managing the scope for a simulation is to define its boundaries. For example, in a complex simulation, a project manager may define the level of depth required by classifying the simulation as requiring operational or strategic orientation. Such classification may help in determining the level of details that are needed and the details that can be assumed.
While all the information required for a simulation is being gathered, discussions about simulation’s design and its details can flow in several directions. It is pertinent that everyone involved in the process, mainly the client, is aware of all the evolving perspective and the need to iterate. The only way to do this is by being disciplined about ongoing documentation that culminates in a functional and design specification document, which provides an integrated picture.
Process and Risks
During system study, the approximations involved in simulation require ongoing clarity. By iteratively clarifying the suggested approximations, a reasonable structure and context can be derived. Iteration must be built at every step in the process: from design to production. Besides aiding the development process, it also helps contain and mitigate risks that may arise.
In summary, managing simulation development is about managing collaboration between people —including the experts and project resources—who think differently, defining boundaries, documenting the evolving perspective while aiming for a final goal, and doing all this iteratively to avoid and mitigate risks.
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