7 Tools for designing your own Business Simulations

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated February 2021

Imagine the Scenario: 

"To meet your organization’s unique needs to enhance skill development in your leadership and manager community it has been determined that  a custom business simulation is required. The problem is such a simulation needs to be ready to use in 8-12 weeks time and you have a limited budget. On the plus side however,  you have some excellent internal people available with great knowledge of the business and strong content development skills. You have a dilemma - you need a custom simulation but you just don’t have the time nor the budget to build one"! 

The Business Simulation Engine Option

A solution to your dilemma could be a Business Simulation “Engine” (BSE).

Our “What Leaders Do: 7 Design Metaphors for Business Simulation Engines” Infographic below summarizes what you need to know about BSEs.

7 BSE Design Metaphors 

Each Business Simulation Engine takes a key aspect of what leaders do in organizations and focuses on making it possible for a designer to be able to model that aspect comprehensively in a design-friendly way. Its just not possible to have a general-purpose simulation engine which non-programmers can use. Thus BSEs are simulation frameworks where certain design decisions have been made and certain constraints accepted to facilitate rapid design of simulations which fall within their target domain/metaphor.

Let us look at each of these metaphors in a little bit more detail.

Metaphor1 - Deploy management resources

In this metaphor the designer models the organization as a system where the top team must optimize how it allocates its very limited time and governance across a number of competing areas to get the best results.

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Metaphor2 - Hold skilful conversations

In this metaphor the simulation facilitates key conversations between the computer and the players (team or individual) in the form of role plays. The computers responses and knowledge are codified by the designer using a state transition model and the player’s conversational “moves” are scored accordingly.

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Metaphor3 - Deliver major projects

In this metaphor the players (teams or individuals) must deliver a major project (or programme) which can be totally defined and configured by the designer.

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Metaphor4 - Situational Judgement (e.g. Crisis Management)  

In this metaphor the designer constructs an on-going scenario (defined using simple powerpoint slides). As the scenario is revealed to the players, slide by slide, they are invited to answer multiple choice questions about how they would address different aspects of the situation. The results are show instantly on a dashboard of key measures based on what the designer thinks is important. There is also a leaderboard and graphical analysis of the choices by question.

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Metaphor5 - Succeed in competition

This metaphor represents the organization as an entity which is competing in real-time with others for market share. The designer can specify the industry, the market size, the financial and the market conditions each round. 

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Metaphor6 - Resolve multiple dilemmas 

This metaphor is an extension of the previous one which also allows the designer to create a custom developing backstory which presents 4 dilemmas to the players each round. Their answers impact their organization’s reputation, health and commercial results. 

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Metaphor7 - Influence and convince

This metaphor, which is appropriate for major organizational projects and programmes, focusses on the key stakeholders and how their support can be won. The designer can change the power, influence, relationships and attitudes of each stakeholders. 

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Choosing your Business Simulation Engine

First you should decide what key activities/learning points you wish to be part of your business simulation. 

Next you need to select candidate BSEs which focus on those specifics. You may find that what you need seems to require two or more BSEs. This is a clear warning that your focus and scope may be too broad and you need to reduce it and eliminate anything which is nice-to-have but non-essential.

Finally you need to use an incremental design, build and test model where you develop your initial version, expose it to target users and refine/extend based on their feedback. Don’t try and eat the elephant in just one bite!

If you follow these three steps carefully you can quickly and economically design a valuable custom simulation which your organization will benefit from for many years.

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Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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