|Simsoft: A game for teaching project risk management
Jianhong (Cecilia) Xia
[ Refereed papers ]
Risks are part of every project and no amount of planning can anticipate every contingency. Risk management, a major component in any project management education program, is the systematic identification, monitoring and mitigation of risks so that projects have the best chance of success. Risk management education has traditionally been taught in a classroom 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.
Keywords: Game, project risk management, Simsoft
This paper reports on the preliminary stages of a project to design and develop a game that can be used to teach students about some of the dynamic aspects of project risk management. Based on a scenario developed from a real land development project, students must apply project risk management processes. They identify different risk events during the each phase of the project, analyse these risks and develop risk responses. To guide the students, the game provides feedback as decisions are made, and at the end of the game, they have a chance to reflect on their decisions. Pre- and post-game questionnaires will be used to assess Simsoft's effectiveness so that improvements can be made based on users' experiences.
Games naturally come in many forms. In an authoritative work in the field, Man, Play and Games, Caillois (1961) proposed a classification that depends on whether the role of competition (agôn), chance (alea), simulation (mimicry), or vertigo (ilinx) is dominant. Agoôn are those games "that would seem to be competitive... like a combat in which equality of chances is artificially created in order that the adversaries should confront each other under ideal conditions" (Caillois, 1961, p. 14). Football, billiards, or chess fall into this category. Alea are games of chance such as roulette or a lottery; games of mimicry involve the players becoming other characters, such as cowboys and Indians; while ilinx are "those which are based in the pursuit of vertigo and which consists of an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind" (Caillois, 1961, p. 23).
The game that this research project is concerned with are a subset of Caillois's ag™n classification and they use an adjective - serious - to show they want for more than simple amusement and that they are designed to educate, train, or inform their players (Abt, 1970; Michael & Chen, 2005; Schrage & Peters, 1999).
Figure 1: The project's decision-making framework
By the time they come to play Simsoft, students will have covered the project risk management processes in class and will have detailed risk management notes and templates that they can refer to during the game session.
The students work individually or in pairs. 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 provides 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 project reports the game provides. A fresh set of decisions is entered and the life of the simulated project continues.
|Bloom's Taxonomy||Learning Objectives for Simsoft|
|Knowledge: remember previously-learned materials by recalling specific facts, terminology, theories and answers|
Comprehension: demonstrate an understanding of information by being able to compare, contrast, organise, interpret, describe, and extrapolate.
|Objective 1: to describe the process of the project risk management.|
Students understand concepts of project risk management.
Simsoft engages students in active learning and facilitates their understanding of the value and challenges in risk management.
|Application: use previously-learned material in new situations.||Objective 2: to apply the project risk management knowledge and skills in the scenario provided.|
Students apply the knowledge and skills they learned in the lecture and game to manage specific risks in the designed scenario.
Simsoft allows students to gain hands-on experience from real life scenario and interactive feedback provided by lectures.
|Analysis: decompose previously-learned material into parts in order find patterns and to make inferences and generalisations.|
Synthesis: use existing ideas in different ways to create new ideas or to propose alternative solutions.
Evaluation: judge the validity of ideas or information with a certain context.
|Objective 3: to assess students' own answers based on established criteria.|
Students take more responsibility for their own learning to evaluate their own answers and reflect on how a risk should be managed and what has been achieved in the survey.
|Objective 4: to skills of effective interpersonal communication and collaboration skills.|
Students work as a pair to learn from each other and develop communication and teamwork skills during game sessions
The game is overseen by a tutor whose role is to:
|Learning or activity logs||The game has a tool to record all the learning activities and assessments for students and generate a final report at the end of the game for students' self-reflection.||Formative||Objectives 1, 2 & 3|
|Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)||This method is used to test students' risk management knowledge and skills. Immediate feedback is provided to students on why their choice is correct or incorrect and which one is correct answer. How much score and money they can gain from this decision.||Summative and formative||Objectives 1, 2 & 4|
|Questionnaires and report forms||Structured and open-ended questions are developed to evaluate student's learning performance after a game session. These questions focus on risk management content, game design and their profiles.||Formative and summative||Objectives 1 & 2|
|Short answer questions||These questions are designed for measuring analysis, application of knowledge, problem-solving and evaluative skills. Immediate feedback is provided to students to improve their learning.||Formative||Objectives 2 & 4|
|Self-assessed questions||They are open-ended questions. Students are asked to assess their short answer questions in a designed online survey after they finish the game.||Formative||Objective 3|
A descriptive and statistical analysis of the data will follow.
Figure 2: Simsoft welcome screen
Simsoft follows a wizard design pattern (Tidwell, 2005, pp. 42-44) in which the player is stepped through the phases of the project in sequence. At each phase, the player reads the latest project status report and considers what action to take. For example, in Phase One - Planning, Approvals, and Design, the players first have to decide which of a set of possible risk events are likely to occur (Figure 3).
Figure 3: The possible risk events during Phase One of the project
There is only one option that makes sense: that the traditional owners do not support the project. The second option is relevant only during the construction phase and the third option is unrealistic; if the players select these options, they receive feedback about why their choice is incorrect.
The players next need to assess the likelihood of the risk event occurring (almost certain, likely, possible, unlikely, or almost impossible), what the consequences might be (catastrophic, major, moderate, minor, insignificant), and how they will manage the risk if it occurs (ignore the problem, consult and negotiate with the traditional owners, or terminate the project). Based on the responses, immediate feedback is shown in the activity log.
Figure 4: The feedback provided for a set of decisions made in Phase one of the project
For example, in response to the selections in Figure 4, the activity log recorded the following feedback:
In response to the question: "Based on the above project report, which of the following could be a possible risk event during the construction phase?" you selected: "The traditional owners do not support the proposed design."
Feedback: Correct. You score 10 marks. Please continue on to evaluate the likelihood and consequences of this risk event and choose possible methods to manage this risk.
In response to the question: "What is the likelihood of the risk event occurring?" you selected: "Unlikely".
Feedback: Incorrect. As this is a culturally sensitive project, you would reasonably expect a strong likelihood of some problems. You lose 10 marks.
In response to the question: "What are the consequences of this risk event occurring?" you selected: "Minor".
Feedback: Incorrect. If the Aboriginal community do not support the design, extensive negotiations are reasonably expected to lead to adverse time and cost consequences. You lose 10 marks.
In response to the question: "What are the consequences of this risk event occurring?" you selected: "Ignore the problem".
>Feedback: Incorrect. This risk's overall rating will be moderate or higher. In this case, the risk has eventuated and the Aboriginal groups protest against the design. You now have to pay $20,000 to Aboriginal consultants to manage these dissatisfied stakeholders. You lose 10 marks.
Note: Under a good risk management plan, extreme, high, and moderate risks must be actively managed.
After reflecting on this feedback, the players move onto the next phase of the project.
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|Please cite as: Xia, J. C., Caulfield, C., Baccarini, D. & Yeo, S. (2012). Simsoft: A game for teaching project risk management. In Creating an inclusive learning environment: Engagement, equity, and retention. Proceedings of the 21st Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-3 February 2012. Perth: Murdoch University. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2012/refereed/xia.html|
Copyright 2011 Jianhong (Cecilia) Xia, Craig Caulfield, David Baccarini and Shelley Yeo. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format, provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.