Project Management Simulation: Modeling Tradeoffs in a Scenario

Sometimes, branching scenarios need to do more than model possible interactions in a conversation. For some complex skills, we’re training people to make tradeoffs between different factors. For example, if you’re buying a house, you have to weigh the tradeoffs of cost, location, space, and other features.

Similarly, if you’re managing a project, you have to weigh the tradeoffs of cost, time, and quality. A high quality product with a large scope will cost more and take more time to develop. This project management balance isn’t a question of being right or wrong. If someone has a strict limit on their budget, the best option may be to reduce the scope to match the available resources. Some organizations tend to prioritize one factor over the others, but it’s always a balance.

In this project management simulation, I model the tradeoffs between those factors. The choices aren’t right or wrong (at least mostly); it’s mostly a question of your priorities. You can choose to prioritize reducing the cost and time, or you can choose to prioritize providing the highest quality solution possible. You can also try to land somewhere in the middle, balancing all of those factors. You also have to keep your client satisfied with your choices. There are a few traps where certain decisions can create additional challenges down the road, but it’s more focused on how you weigh those different factors.

Try the project management simulation

Try the simulation yourself now. Pay attention to the project status dashboard at the bottom and how it changes based on the decisions you make.

Note that the formatting works best on a tablet or larger screen (something I plan to adjust in a future version).

Project status dashboard

Screenshot of the Project Status dashboard in the project management simulation

Multiple aspects of the project are shown in the dashboard.

Total Days to Completion: 60
Elapsed Days: 0
Days Remaining until Completion: 60
Total Cost: $50,000
Quality: A red to green gradient meter, about half full
Satisfaction: A red to green gradient meter, about half full

At the bottom of the branching scenario is a simulated project status dashboard. The elapsed days increase as you continue through the scenario, showing the passage of time. The total days to completion, days remaining, cost, quality, and satisfaction increase or decrease depending on your choices. These are all dynamically controlled with variables.

This dashboard provides feedback to the user at each step in the process. There’s no explicit instructional feedback until the very end, right before you can restart the scenario. It’s all the intrinsic feedback of showing the consequences of your choices and how that affects the project.

Simulation, branching scenario, or both?

This dashboard (and the variables and calculations behind it) is what makes it a simulation rather than just a branching scenario. The terminology can be confusing because we don’t use these terms consistently in the field.

I view a “branching scenario” as any interactive scenario with a nonlinear structure where users make a series of decisions, see the consequences of their choice, and continue on a path depending on their earlier decisions. This meets all of those requirements: it’s nonlinear, has a series of decisions, and the consequences and available options are dependent on your earlier choices.

However, this is also a subset of branching scenario where it’s also a simulation. The choices and consequences are also modeled through variables rather than just by progressing through the path.

Clark Quinn defines the terms this way:

Scenarios can be implemented in actual simulations (where the world is actively modeled, and the consequences are calculated), or in branching scenarios where the relationships are hard-coded in the consequences attached to a decision.

You can have simulations that aren’t branching scenarios, and branching scenarios that aren’t simulations–but I think this example overlaps in both categories. It’s light on the simulation, but this is more than just a branching scenario with fully hard-coded choices.

Branching structure

This scenario uses a branch and bottleneck structure. Most of the challenges encountered in the scenario (like the client requesting an additional feature) will happen regardless of what choices you make. You branch out in the conversations and decisions somewhat, but you also reach certain milestones as the project continues.

A branch and bottleneck structure in Twine

How I used AI to create this simulation

I used AI for both the text and images in the scenario. I drafted the text with Claude, and then I did some editing throughout. Claude did a good job at coming up with plausible distractors, but its dialogue is a little heavy-handed.

For the images, I used Midjourney’s new option for consistent character creation. I found that Midjourney did pretty well at maintaining consistent facial features, but details like earrings changed unpredictably. I’ll write more about that process of creating images in a future blog post.

Thumbnails of character images created in Midjourney

What do you think?

This is the first iteration of this project management simulation, and I’d like to do more improvements in the future. Let me know what you think and what revisions you’d recommend.

I’m also curious about your own work. Do you create training for a skill involving these kinds of tradeoffs? Could you use a similar kind of branching scenario or simulation to provide opportunities for practice with feedback?


Upcoming events

Gathering SME Stories to Craft Relevant and Engaging Scenarios. Tuesday, October 22, 3:00 PM ET.

This webinar will focus on a common sticking point in creating scenario-based learning: working with SMEs. In it, you’ll learn how to ask focused questions and techniques to probe SMEs for additional details such as mistakes and consequences. You’ll learn ways for getting “unstuck” while working with SMEs, and why it’s better to interview SMEs rather than have them write scenarios themselves. You’ll leave this session with tactics to help you get the concrete examples and stories you need from SMEs. Register for this free webinar through Training Mag Network.

BYOD: Mini Is More: Create One-Question Scenarios for Better Assessment. Thursday, November 7, 3:00 PM PST. In this hands-on session, you’ll learn how to create mini-scenarios with just one question. These mini scenarios can be used for more effective, higher-level assessment than traditional multiple-choice questions. One-question mini-scenarios can provide relevant context and measure decision-making rather than simply recall. Plus, they don’t require much additional time, effort, or resources once you learn how to write them. DevLearn, November 6-8, MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas.

BYOD: Mini Is More: Create One-Question Scenarios for Better Assessment Thursday, November 7 Register Now DevLearn 20th Anniversary Christy Tucker Learning Experience Design Consultant Syniad Learning, LLC

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