The Rock Pool Method™

This explores our design methodology and how it meets learning needs in a lean and agile manner. This methodology won the best paper award at the 2005 ABSEL Conference.











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Developing business simulations for management development and business training presents particular software design problems. On one hand, like all software development, there is a need for a rigorous, structured approach. But, equally, creating business simulation that deliver learning in an effective, efficient, consistent and engaging way is a creative process.

The "rock pool" metaphor was chosen because my design process can be likened to exploring rock pools on a beach after the tide has receded.

Each rock pool represents a stage in the design process and the design involves moving progressively from rock pool to rock pool. Within each rock pool, individual rocks represent elements of that stage's design. But, the sequence of movement within a rock pool depends on learning needs and business issues and so varies from simulation to simulation. Also, as the design evolves and develops, an individual pool's rocks are visited and revisited several times.

The rock pool method™ provides a means of rigorously structuring the design process while retaining and ensuring the necessary creative freedom.

This approach is documented in a paper that won the best paper award at the ABSEL (Association of Business Simulation and Experiential Learning) Conference, Orlando Florida USA March 2005. (see
File size 153 kBytes

The Rock Pools

Needs Definition

Specify Target Audience(s)

Define Learning Objectives

Settle Duration

Define Manner of Use

Simulation Specification

Define Issues

Decide Simulator Type

Decide Delivery Mode

Decide Version(s)

Decide Business Scenario

Simulation Design

Decide Decisions

Decide Results

Create models linking models & results

Create validation & quality assurance support

Develop preliminary documentation

Simulation Development

Test Models

Calibrate Models

Ramp Workload and Learning

Create Learning & Tutoring Support

Refine Documentation

Validate Simulation

Pilot Simulation

Refine & Modify Simulation

Refine & Modify Documentation



Finalise Documentation

Finalise Tutoring Support


The methodology embraces the project management issues explored in the Lapre & Van Wassenhove Project Matrix [1] as discussed by Andersen [2] in the context of agile software design. Here Andersen suggests that appropriate methodology depends on the dimensions of Operational (know-how) and Conceptual Learning (cause and effect understanding). The Rock Pool paper extends this to simulation design with Operational Learning becoming Design Experience (in terms of the number of business simulations designed and the experience using business simulations for training) and Conceptual Learning becoming Design Difficulty (in terms of the complexity of the business simulation (model size, number of decisions and calibration) and the novelty of the business simulation and simulator (industry/organisation type and type of business simulation):


Design Experience





Method [3]



Rock Pool

[1] Lapre, Michael A, and Van Wassenhove, Luk N., Learning across lines. The secret to more efficient factories, Harvard Business Review, October 2002

[2] Anderson, David J. (2003) Agile Management for Software Engineering Prentice Hall.

[3] Allwood, Julian M., Cox, Benita M., Latif, Syed S. The Structured Development of Simulation-Based Learning Tools With an Example for the Taguchi Method IEEE Transactions in Education, Vol 44, No 4 November 2001.

© 2005 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 01/04/12
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