Running Business Simulations remotely

This page explores the issues and practicalities of running a classroom based simulation with teams spread geographically.

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Although my business simulations are normally run with the whole group in one location they can be run with the learners in teams spread around the world! This page explores the benefits and problems with this, how you do it and the practicalities of tutoring.

Benefits and problems

Reduced Cost: Probably the major benefit is that this can reduce cost - both because the learners can work from their offices (saving travel and accommodation cost) and because they can work in spare time (at lunch or after work).

Less effective learning?: Against this the learning may be less effective. First because it may be difficult to coach and challenge the learners adequately and, secondly, it is possible that some teams and learners may withdraw from the simulation.

Use Practicalities

At or before scheduled times, learners will e-mail decisions to the tutor who enters them into the simulation as usual. The period is simulated with the results produced as PDF files that are then e-mailed to the learners.

E-mailing Decisions is quite straight forward as the decision forms are provided in Word format and all that is needed is for the learners to take a copy of the form and type in their decisions before emailing it as an attachment.

E-mailing Results is a little more elaborate. You will need a program that acts as a print driver to produce PDFs from the simulation output and you will need software to do this (for many years I have used pdfFactory). This is illustrated below.

Setting up the print driver

You can either set your default drive from the Control Panel or from the simulation. If you use the simulation you will need to access the Special Options in the Master Menu. Next select Configure Simulation and Change Printer Parameters. When you do this you will see the standard Windows Print Setup control. You should then change the default driver to your PDF driver (here pdfFactory). You will need to restart the simulation. Then when you run the simulation, instead of printing the results they are produced as PDF files that you can save and email to the learners.

Tutoring Practicalities

Here I explore issues associated with the Time Table, Coaching, Team Formation and the use of Local Coaches (Mentors).

Time Table
Although it is possible to run the simulation in one session, I have found it better to spread it over several weeks (as illustrated below).

Preparation - I suggest a longer initial, preparation period (double the normal to allow teams to ask questions by email and phone in questions (at agreed times).

First Decision Period - Also, I suggest that the first analysis period (from the first to the second decision) is longer than normal. This is for two reasons. First the learners might (will) misunderstand the decision form and you will need extra time to process them because you will need to get back to the learners to clarify. Second, the teams will need to more time for analysis and making the second decision.

Subsequent Decision Periods - These can be shortened to a week.

Schedule Questions - Although e-mailed questions can be asked at any point, it is advisable to schedule telephone questions as otherwise you will be constantly phoned!

Identifying Coaching Needs
Perhaps the major problem is that no-one may be available to identify who (learners and teams) needs coaching and challenging as the tutor will not be able to observe the learners and identify the ones struggling. However, my business simulations have a Tutor Support System to help the tutor identify which teams need support.

Decision Screen: As decisions are entered they are checked to see if they are unusual and if they are they are flagged. This may indicate that the learners misunderstand how they should complete the decision form or need coaching.

In the example to the right two issues are flagged

  1. The advertising has just been moved between the two products and may indicate that the learners have not analysed individual market needs and do not have a marketing strategy.
  2. The total production requested is greater than the current capacity. This, with the Capacity Increase suggests that the learners have forgotten that it take a year for capacity increases to take effect.
Shows a decision entry screen and comments on the decisions

Tutor's Audit provides a comparison of teams and hence indicates which need coaching or challenging.

In the example to the right three teams are compared. None have excess promotion or idle capacity. But A-team has significant Sales Losses because they are stimulating far more sales that they can supply - probably their sales forecasting and capacity planning should be challenged.

Team Commentaries provide detailed analyses of an individual team's performance that detail where the team is strong or weak.

The report to the right shows how total sales demand balances with the current production level and capacity. As demand is only slightly higher than production and inventory is low sales forecasting is reasonable. But as demand/capacity is less than 100% and there is some inventory, the mix of production is not quite right with too much demand for one product and too little demand for the other. Further, a 100% capacity use may cause problems next year if sales are growing and was no investment in (future capacity).

Team Formation
As normal, it is advisable to setup the teams with a good mix of experience and knowledge so that they can learn from each other. If this is impossible then you will need to consider how the teams differ and the coaching needs of individual teams

Further information about Team Formation.

Local Coaches/Mentors
It is a considerable help if there is a local coach/mentor at each location who is available to help the learners (but not tell them what to do). This is an ideal role for an experienced senior manager or recently retired senior manager.

These should be provided copies of their team's Team Commentaries and a copy of the simulations Tutor's Manual (Background Notes).

 

2012 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 08/01/15
Hall Marketing, Studio 11, Colman's Wharf, 45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA, ENGLAND
Phone +44 (0)20 7537 2982 E-mail
jeremyhall@simulations.co.uk