Last week during orientation, first-year master of science in project management candidates took part in an unusual and highly challenging simulation designed to teach project management skills, including planning, problem solving and teamwork. In the “Bridge Game” exercise, teams of participants work together to complete a project to exact client specifications (they literally build a model bridge), while planning for and coping with all manner of variables.
Denis Cioffi, associate professor of decision sciences, helped run the simulation. He said the exercise provides a common baseline experience for students entering the MSPM program and helps them “to start thinking academically about project management” and understand “it’s not about just solving the problem in front of them, but about solving a broader set of problems.”
About 60 MSPM students took part in the exercise. They were divided into 10 teams of five. Faculty members, staff and second-year students took on the roles of “suppliers,” “company officials,” “clients” and “super-clients.” Each Bridge Game team was provided a kit consisting of miniature beams, braces, nuts and bolts – it looks a lot like an Erector Set – and a single diagram. Teams elected project managers and then submitted estimates of how long it would take to complete project.
A number of unexpected twists were thrown at the teams. Project managers were promoted to “client representatives” and assigned to totally different teams. A “company official” appeared, saying he needed “a ride to the airport,” and pulled a team member off the project for several minutes. Surprise, half-explained – and ultimately phony – “design change” orders were delivered, leading unsuspecting teams down blind alleys.
“We are tough in the roles we play, and we make it extremely difficult for them to get things done,” Cioffi said. For example, during last week’s exercise, a “hurricane warning” was sounded and all players had to evacuate their “work sites” by leaving the room for a few minutes. While the teams sought shelter from the “storm,” game officials went from table to table, dismantling partially completed bridges to simulate hurricane damage.
“We build a lot of bureaucracy into the simulation,” Cioffi explained. For example, game runners removed pieces from the kits so players had to go to “suppliers” for replacements. The “suppliers” demanded that requests be put in writing and that various members of the client chain of command sign those written requests. Then they questioned the authenticity of the signatures.
These unexpected obstacles help teach the importance of preparation, planning, and above all, communication. Team members learn to not only to ask questions, but also to ask the right questions.
Cioffi said that participant reaction to the simulation is always very positive. Participants with the most professional experience usually report that the game demonstrates “exactly the way projects work.” (MSPM candidates entering the program this fall average 11 years of work experience; 25 percent already have master’s degrees). “One of the best comments that came back was, ‘well, I learned that you need to stay calm when things are going wrong.’ That’s a terrific lesson to get from this exercise,” Cioffi said.
Posted by gwsb on August 30, 2011 | Filed under: GWSB News.