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A Simulation Model to Accelerate the Learning

Process of Project Management Competencies.


Zoloxochitl Aquino Campos
1
; Luis Berges Muro

Mexican Petroleum Institute
1
; Zaragoza University
2
ABSTRACT
In the current business environment, where competition is a key element, the economic
survival of individuals and corporation depends upon their competence. The research reported
here explains how the theories on project management knowledge and practice, the learning
framework, the basis of simulation games, the results obtained from a intervention in a pilot
organi!ation and a survey of learning practices in "exican and #panish project$oriented
companies, have been translated into a #imulation "odel to develop %roject "anager &%"'
competencies and to speed up the learning process.
1 INTRODUCTION
%roject management has become a well$accepted way of managing organi!ations.
(orporations as )T*T, "icrosoft, +ell )tlantic, "otorola, ,#-, .ovartis, (itibank, #hell,
+%, and others, re/uire their employees and subcontractors engaged in project management
activities to be %"%0s. This means that the number of people with %"% certification around
the world increases every day. #ince 1234, over 32.456 %"%
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certificates have been issued
worldwide &%"I, 8994'; I%") has certified 6,:13 persons in level ( since 1223 &I%"),
8994'; and )I%" has a total number of 339 ;egistered %roject "anagers since the beginning
of the programme in 126< &)I%", 8994'.
%roject "anagers must demonstrate that they have enough competencies to manage their
projects successfully. They must be able to handle conceptual knowledge of methods, tools
and practices in this area, but also they must be able to apply this knowledge effectively in
complex operating environments. =fficient learning methods are re/uired to enhance project
management knowledge and to allow experimentation; by these means, %">s are able to test
their conceptual knowledge by applying it into specific situations.
This paper addresses this topic, explaining how the theories on project management
knowledge and practice, the framework of experiential and organi!ational learning and the
basis of simulation games have been translated into a #imulation "odel for a ;*?
organi!ation in the petroleum industry. It also presents the mechanisms and practices used in
the simulation process to obtain accurate knowledge and skills in project management and to
generate rapid learning in this area.
2 RESEARCH METHOD
This research has focused on an empirical study based in three fields@ a' theoretical
framework of the learning process, simulation games, learning laboratories and experiential
learning; b' general re/uirements of project management competencies and; c' learning
practices used in organi!ational environments to promote learning. These concepts are
blended to construct a #imulation "odel oriented towards developing project management
competencies and, in addition, towards creating a useful experimentation tool to accelerate the
learning process.
2.1 Theoretical framework
The purpose of this study is to explore practices and methods for rapid learning. It is based on
the analysis of simulation techni/ues, procedures which allow the learning process and
elements and mechanisms for fast learning. The main theories analy!ed are@ experiential
learning, learning style &Aoney and "umford, 8999', creation of knowledge through the
interaction and conversion between tacit and explicit knowledge &.onaka and Takeuchi
1222', and the basis of simulation games &,reenblat (. 1232'. The #imulation "odel has
been established within this framework.
2.2 e!eral Re"#ireme!t$ of %ro&ect Ma!a'eme!t$ Com(ete!cie$
There are several professional associations devoted to building up a body of project
management knowledge based on best practices, such as the International %roject
"anagement )ssociation, the %roject "anagement Institute and the )ustralian Institute of
%roject "anagement. These associations normally offer certification schemes for %roject
"anagers such as the I%")0s (ompetence +aseline, the %roject "anager (ompetency
?evelopment, and the .ational (ompetency #tandards for %roject "anagement. Bne of the
main features of these project management certification models is that they have focused on
the essential competencies, skills and knowledge, of a %roject "anager. Aowever,
competence re/uirements can be specific to each company, thus the general framework must
be aligned to the company0s values, culture, processes and practices. Brgani!ations must
therefore develop their own definitions of %">s (ompetencies, creating a customi!ed
framework designed for the specific environment in which their projects take place.
In relation to this topic, an intervention was made in a ;*? organi!ation in the petroleum
industry that manages its operations by projects &)/uino C, 8994$8'. The intervention process
was based on the theoretical framework of )ction #cience &)rgyris (. et al, 1235', and its aim
was to identify the re/uired competencies for %">s in this particular organi!ation in order to
develop a customi!ed training tool. The "anagement (ompetencies "odel of this
organi!ation includes 85 units of competencies, aligned with its core business and strategic
activities, such as catalysis, geophysical, chemical, product development, etc. =ach of its
employees &about :,999' belongs to one of these units according to hisDher technical expertise.
In addition to their technical area of competence, :36 employees are %">s so they also belong
to the project management competence unit. This unit defines a standard for %roject
"anager (ompetence that is aligned with the three dimensions of competencies established
by %"I@ %roject "anagement -nowledge, %roject "anagement %erformance, and %ersonal
(ompetency. This standard also establish other specific re/uirements such as proficiency in
handling #)% system, subject$specific competencies, knowledge in specific legislation,
proficiency to manage /uality systems and knowledge of business processes. This unit of
competence is in charge of following up %roject "anager (areer prospects and providing a
method of identifying the critical aspects of this job. These two tasks provide an essential
framework to analy!e and identify project re/uirements, to establish performance
expectations, to assess career development, and to plan continuous training for %">s.
2.) *ear!i!' %ractice$ a!+ %ro&ect Ma!a'er *ear!i!' St,le
Today is widely accepted that competencies are sustained not only by knowledge, but also by
skills, attitudes and behaviours, that are normally obtained and reinforced through knowledge
application and experience. ) training process can be a valuable tool to apply knowledge in
specific situations, however, in order to be effective, a training programme must consider the
learning profile of trainees and their learning method preferences. In this context, a survey
was carried out in a sample of 64 %roject "anagers from 84 companies that manage their
operations by projects &)/uino C, 8994$1'. The purpose of this study was to investigate
%roject "anager learning styles, learning methods preferences and organi!ational learning
practices. Eith this information it is possible to assess and select the most suitable learning
methods for a particular learning style, such as, analytical reviews, lectures, reading, self
study, etc. In the survey, participants consider that Fformal methodsF such as seminars,
courses, congress, conferences, etc., are the most common learning tools in their organi!ation
to promote the learning process. Aowever the respondents also believe that Finformal
methodsF are more useful for their learning process. Eith regard to the learning style of
%roject "anagers, it has been found that the predominant style is clearly the ;eflector,
followed by the Theorist, the %ragmatist and, finally, the )ctivist. These data provide ideas
about the kind of exercises and the environment that could be developed in the #imulation
"odel, for example, interaction with colleagues, working sessions, working by doing, visual
and audio supports, etc.
) THE SIMU*ATION MODE*
The #imulation "odel is based on the simulation laboratory for the analysis of the change
process in industries &#med ;, 1223' and also on the project management simulation
laboratory &(ano G.H, 899:'. The #imulation "odel aims to integrate the re/uirements for
%roject "anager (ompetencies, but also suitable elements that promote an accelerated
learning process. +y means of an experimentation tool, this model expects %roject "anagers
to be able to apply their knowledge in an organi!ational environment, for a particular project,
so that they can gain an understanding of the whole dynamics of the company. The #imulation
"odel has been designed as a modular system. =ach of its four modules has a specific
function to support the learning process of project management tools and the best practices in
this discipline. The inputs identified in the empirical study are translated into every module as
re/uirements and specifications to promote rapid learning in the project management field,
see figure 1. This information is also useful to create a friendly environment that motivates
learning. The next sections provide details of each of the modules that the "odel comprises.

Inputs
ExperimentationModule
PIP PIF
Memory Result
Module
Memory Result
Module
Analysis
Analysis
Training
Requirements
Training
Requirements
I
P I O
O
SPO
O
Outputs
P K P
P K P
Implementation
Module

Learning
Performance
Evaluation
Learning
Performance
Evaluation
Simulation
Assessment
Simulation
Assessment
Assessment
Module
Project
Management
Knoledge
Project
Management
Knoledge
!earning
Simulation
T"eories
!earning
Simulation
T"eories
Project
Management
Knoledge
Project
Management
Knoledge
!earning
Simulation
T"eories
!earning
Simulation
T"eories
!earning Style
!earning Style
Organi#ational
Practice
Organi#ational
Practice
!earning Met"od
Pre$erence
!earning Met"od
Pre$erence
Organi#ational
Practice
Organi#ational
Practice
!earning Met"od
Pre$erence
!earning Met"od
Pre$erence
Requirements Requirements
Specifcation Specifcation
I = Instructor
P = Participant
O = Observers
PKP = Participant Knowledge Profile
PIP = Initial Participant's Profile
PFP = Final Participant's Profile
SPO = Simulation Performance Outcomes
??
-i'#re 1. Sim#latio! Mo+el
=xperimentation "odule@ The main element of this module is an interactive simulation game,
named sIMProj
%
; this game is a customi!ed computer$based experimentation tool for the
;*? organi!ation. This game incorporates project management competencies &general and
organi!ational re/uirements', %">s learning style and learning methods. The sIMProj
%
includes scenarios, a situation booklet and solutions. It also integrates some elements and
methods that promote an accelerated learning process, such as Flearning by doingF, visual
supports, and case study &Hyinn, ,.# et al 899:'. It contains the description of several
situations showing the key aspects of particular projects for this kind of organi!ation. ?uring
the simulation, the users play the role of %roject "anager; they must analy!e the booklet
information and take the best decision according to their tacit knowledge and experience. The
sIMProj
%
creates opportunities to experience the dynamics of strategic issues normally found
in real projects, so that %roject "anagers can demonstrate and practice their knowledge and
behaviours.)ll the situations are grouped into nine fields related to all knowledge areas
identified in %"+B-. The topics are explored using various teaching techni/ues, which
include lectures, and case study analysis. Eith these clusters the performance results can be
obtained in a global report or by fields of knowledge, in order to identify the areas in which
participants have improved their performance and those in which they do not show any
progress.
Implementation "odule@ This module establishes and defines the didactic mechanisms. It
describes how to use the sIMProj
%
. It also presents the objectives, the answer sheet, and the
scoring key. The game is designed on the bases of the learning laboratory that provides an
experimental environment in which users share their knowledge and obtain insight into
project management practice.
)ssessment "odule@ In order to measure the learning progress &knowledge and skills
ac/uired', the #imulation "odel uses two sources of information: the performance of
participants during the simulation, obtained from their individual score, and the Iser0s
-nowledge %rofile, based on the results of an assessment test applied to participants before
and after the simulation &-irkpatrick ?.H, 1222'. In order to improve the sIMProj
%
, this
module also includes its evaluation as a didactic tool. Jor this purpose participants respond to
a /uestionnaire that is designed to evaluate its usability, verisimilitude, playability and
educational value &,reenblat (. 1232'.
"emory ;esults "odule. )ll the outputs of the simulation process are integrated in this
module; this information is analy!ed to establish conclusions about the learning process as a
whole. Eith these data the Iser -nowledge %rofile$I-% is generated to identify Training
;e/uirements$T;, when contrasting actual knowledge profile with competencies
re/uirements.
)dditional elements@ Bbservers@ They monitor the development of the simulation by
appraising various pre$defined performance parameters, regarding the behavior of participants
during the simulation, such as group dynamics, communication, and the decision$ making
process. Instructor@ Ae facilitates the learning process by teaching project management
theories and providing instructions on the simulation game. Ae usually leads the briefing
session &before the simulation game' in which instructions and objectives are set, and also
leads the debriefing session. %articipants@ They are the core of the #imulation "odel. They
assume the project manager role during the simulation.
)ll the elements mentioned above take into consideration different theories and approaches
to@ knowledge creation, individual and organi!ational learning, accelerated learning, learning
style, simulation, training evaluation, as well as project management.
/ CONC*USIONS AND -UTURE 0OR1
The development of competencies for %roject "anagers re/uires an appropriate holistic
training concept which should include at least two objectives@ the ac/uisition of knowledge
and skills re/uired by their organi!ation and by the project management associations, and the
understanding of their tasks and responsibilities.
The #imulation "odel proposed in this paper considers both aspects and hence provides a
suitable method for enhancing competencies in a fast and efficient way. This paper explains a
#imulation "odel that brings together all the aspects of competency development,
establishing a methodology and a practical experimentation tool, sIMProj
%
, in order to obtain
accurate knowledge and skills in project management and to generate rapid learning in this
area. This kind of tool, when properly designed, allows experimentation within a carefully
controlled educational framework.
;esearch into the use of simulation games as a training method indicates that these tools
improve participant knowledge levels as well as their ability to apply that knowledge. The
#imulation "odel described in this paper is a customi!ed, interactive learning tool, which
offers the possibility of more effective learning than other didactic methods. )t the current
time the experimentation process and model validation is under way. ) pilot group has been
identified in the ;*? organi!ation in order to test the model as a whole. ) few experiments
have been conducted with some of the components, such as the simulation game, obtaining
reasonable results in terms of its effectiveness in developing project manager competencies.
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