Gamification and Simulation-Based Training in Project Management

Denis Solan and Avraham Shtub

The Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management

Technion - Israel Institute of Technology

Haifa 3200003, Israel


Gamification and project management

Who likes to play games? Almost everyone. It’s fun and can bring a lot of benefit.

Gamification is the application of game principles in non-game contexts in attempts to improve engagement, productivity, and learning among others.

In their book, The Gameful World, Walz and Deterding stated: “Today, it is not people escaping into the virtual world of games, but games escaping into everyday life”.

The Gamification Revolution book by Zichermann and Linder states: “Gamification presents the best tool humanity has ever invented to create and sustain engagement in people. And the world’s best organizations—including Nike, SAP, Pearson, Salesforce, Cisco, United Airlines, Microsoft, Target, Sporty, Siemens, GE, IBM, McDonald’s, and hundreds more—are increasingly using these techniques to challenge competitors, reimagine their strategies, deliver unprecedented loyalty, and recruit, retain, and drive exceptional achievers and innovators.”

Every year, numerous projects are finished late, over budget, have failed to deliver scope or have even cancelled due to bad estimates, change in environment, insufficient resources, change in strategy, imprecise goals among others.

The need for experienced, well-trained project managers and teams is growing fast.  The number of undergraduate and graduate programs that offer project management courses is a good indication, as well as the number of books on project management and the number of case studies and other teaching materials developed around the globe.  Like many other fields, lectures, books and case studies are not enough and on-the-job training is an important part of the development of project management teams and project managers.

In some fields, sophisticated simulators replace on-the-job training or reduce it to a minimum while ensuring that the quality of training is the highest possible. This is common, for example, in training pilots who spend many hours on advanced simulators to save the high cost of actual flights. The cost of on-the-job training in this case should also include the cost of risks associated with mistakes frequently made by inexperienced pilots.  In a similar way, training project managers and team members on the job is expensive due to the high cost of mistakes done by inexperienced managers.

This fast development of theoretical knowledge, methodologies, tools and techniques for project management was not accompanied by a similar progress in developing teaching and training tools. Traditional teaching based on textbooks, articles and case studies is still the backbone of most training programs in this area. 


The use of simulation in the learning process

Confucius said: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

This is the essence of Simulation-based Training (SBT). We must do things ourselves in order to really understand them.

Simulation has been used for training in a wide range of fields: In engineering, in management of quality, in supply chain management, and in process re-engineering. Empirical research expanded our knowledge of this training approach presenting new ways of understanding and implementing simulation for training. Today it is widely accepted that learning through simulation is based on three pillars:

1.    learning from content — the dissemination of new ideas, principles, or concepts.

2.    learning from experience — an opportunity to apply content.

3.    learning from feedback — the results of actions taken and the relationship between the actions and performance.


A well designed simulator supports a process of action-based learning. Instead of talking about different ways of doing things, simulators offer an opportunity to try different ways of doing things without risking the consequences of doing so in the real world.

Simulators create an environment that requires the participant to be involved in a meaningful task.  The source of learning is what the participants do rather than what they are told by the trainer.

Below are some of the advantages of using simulations as a learning tool:

1.    Simulators are characterized as tools enabling the acquisition of practical experience and acceptance of an immediate response of the learned system to the user’s decisions and actions.

2.    Simulators offer a realistic model of the interdependence of decisions that the trainee makes.

3.    Simulation-based training reduces the gaps between the learning environment and the "real" environment.

4.    Simulators facilitate training in situations that are difficult to obtain in the "real world".

5.    Simulations promote active learning, especially at the stage of debates that arise because of the complexity, interconnectedness, and novelty of decision-making.


As early as in 1993, it was noted that simulations develop critical and strategic thinking skills. It was claimed that the skills of strategic planning and thinking are not easy to develop and that the advantage of simulators is that they provide a strong tool for dealing with this problem.

Specific Example—The Project Team Builder (PTB) Training simulator:

The Project Team Builder (PTB) is a training aid designed to facilitate the training of project management in a dynamic, stochastic environment. The PTB provides high fidelity by supporting the simulation of any (real or imaginary) project. 

The PTB is based on the following principles:

·    A simulation approach — the PTB simulates one or more projects or several work packages of the same project.  The simulation is controlled by a simple user interface and no knowledge of simulation or simulation languages is required.

·    A case study approach — the PTB is based on a simulation of case studies called scenarios.  Each case study is a project or a collection of projects performed in a dynamic stochastic environment.  In some scenarios the projects are performed under schedule, budget and resource constraints.  The details of these case studies are built into the simulation while all the data required for analysis and decision-making is easily accessed by the user interface.

·    A dynamic approach — the case studies built into the PTB are dynamic in the sense that the situation changes over time.  A random effect is introduced to simulate the uncertainty in the environment, and decisions made by the user cause changes in the state of the system simulated.

·    A model-based approach — a decision support system is built into the PTB.  This system is based on project management concepts.  The model base contains well-known models for scheduling, budgeting, resource management and monitoring and control.  These models can be consulted at any time.

·    To support decision-making further, a database is built into the PTB.  Data on the current state of the simulated system is readily available to the users; it is possible to use the data as input to the models in the model base to support decision-making.  Furthermore, by using special history mechanisms the user can access data on his past decisions and their consequences.

·    User friendliness and GUI — the PTB is designed as a teaching and training tool.  As such, its Graphic User Interface (GUI) is friendly and easy to learn.  Although quite complicated scenarios can be simulated, and the decision support tools are sophisticated, a typical user can learn how to use the PTB within an hour.

·    An integrated approach — several projects can be managed simultaneously on the PTB.  These projects can share the same resources and a common cash flow.

·    Integration of processes: planning processes, executing processes and monitoring and controlling processes.  All these processes are performed simultaneously in a dynamic stochastic environment.

·    Integration with other project management tools — the PTB is integrated with Microsoft Project so that the users can export the data to Microsoft Project in order to analyze the scenario and to support its decisions with tools that are commercially available.

More information and videos on the Project Team Builder simulator are available at




Research based on the PTB™ was conducted at different universities around the world among them are: MIT, Technion, Pennsylvania State University, Drexel University and Australian National University.


SBT in a basic Project Management COURSE

In the basic project management course at the Technion, students attend lectures on project management best practice methodology, tools and techniques, take project management e-Learning course and manage simulated projects using the Project Team Builder training simulator that models the project’s planning, analysis and execution processes. 

The project management course covers fundamental aspects such as scheduling, budget, scope, quality, tradeoffs, planning, bottlenecks, resource allocation, cash flow, risks and decision-making to improve students’ project management skills.

Using the Project Team Builder training simulator, students, face questions regarding available resources, time management, and project goals. The students learn how to develop and test an efficient project plan.

Through the Project Team Builder training simulator, students can take risks without suffering the consequences they could face in the real world. Students can analyze trade offs within the Project Team Builder training simulator, in order to see what challenges they may face and how one decision can impact project results.

Uncertainty is typical to the projects. This uncertainty leads to risks (and opportunities) and to the need for proper risk management. Simulation-based training presents a unique approach to the teaching and training of the management of the projects in a risky environment where the cost of mistakes is negligible and offers an opportunity to try different ways of project planning and executing without risking the consequences of doing so in the real world.


In the advanced project management course for systems engineers at the Technion, a new approach was developed and tested: Using a gamification-based exercise in addition to SBT, a game was developed to practice the principles in project management in a competitive environment.

Based on the students' survey analysis, combining simulation-based training and gamification methodology, had a positive impact on student's project management learning, and students perceived the method of teaching as more innovative than a personal on-line course exercise.

Following are the advantages of the gamification and SBT in project management:

1.    Doing the gamification methodology exercise in project management gives students a better understanding of project management methodology and challenges (personal and group learning).

2.    It seems that doing a gamification methodology exercise in project management increases the level of a student's achievement, interest, and engagement.

3.    Doing simulation and simulation results debriefed in class gives teachers a better understanding of the student's difficulties and learning styles and provides teachers immediate feedback for student’s project management methodology learning.

As part of the course, students take an e-Learning course (including videos and assignments). The e-Learning course reviews project management principles and how project management principles are implemented in the Project Team Builder simulator.

The course contains several exercises in which the student's task is to plan and execute a single project based on scenario information. For each project the following data provided: target cost and duration of the project, the distribution of the duration of each task (deterministic or stochastic), the predecessors of each task, resources and their availability.

The final session is a competitive game in which the students are introduced to a market with limited size, they are competing with other students (competitors), using tradeoff between project cost, duration and performance (value). Their task is to maximize profit by getting the product to the market as early as possible with maximum benefit and minimum cost. The market share of each student (and his profit) is a function of the time in which he finishes the new product development project, the scope and quality of the new product developed in the project and the results of the competition.




Feedback from students

Early on in the course students received predefined project information and had to decide on a strategy and an optimal project plan using a tradeoff between project’s cost, duration and performance and to execute the predefined project in a non-competitive environment using the Project Team Builder training simulator.

During the gamification exercise in class, students received the same predefined project and had to decide on a strategy and project plan and to execute the predefined project in a competitive environment given the market size while competing with other students, using the Project Team Builder training simulator.

The results of the simulation measured the following project performances, under a predefined objective function:

1.    Project profit (final cash).

2.    Project time duration.

3.    Project value.

We collected data from three sources:

1.    Students’ project strategy, plan and results in a non-competitive environment.

2.    Students’ project strategy, plan and results in a competitive environment.

3.    Students' surveys.

Based on the students' survey analysis (see Appendix), majority of the students’ thought that gamification-based exercise in addition to Simulation-based Training had a positive impact on learning the project management tradeoffs and challenges. Almost half of the students' thought that competition had a positive impact on improving project’s plan and results, and almost one third of the students' thought that competitors’ results influenced other students’ decisions, project’s plan and results.


Project management is a combination of art and science. It is the art of dealing with people in a dynamic, frequently uncertain environment and the art of riding the learning curve in a non-repetitive environment. It is the science of solving hard combinatorial, stochastic problems of project planning, monitoring and control under resource and budget constraints. Simulation-based Training supports training in both aspects of project management. By adding gamificationto the course using the simulator that was used for SBT, the art of project management can be practiced, and the science of project management is mastered to plan, monitor and control projects.

Based on the project management course at the Technion, a combination of Simulation-based Training and gamification improves student’s engagement, productivity, and learning of theoretical knowledge, methodologies and techniques for project management.

A combination of simulation-based training and gamification can be used as substitute to on-the-job training to advance project management education and practice, the development of project management teams and project managers and to improve project management knowledge, experience and skills.



Students’ answers to the questionnaire