PMT--the project management trainer

 

Stephen and Sharon Seiden Professor of Project Management
Industrial Engineering and Management
Technion - Israel Institute of Technology
e-mail: shtub@ie.technion.ac.il

Introduction

The need for experienced well trained project managers is growing fast. The number of new Project Management Institute (PMI®) members and the number of new Project Management Professionals (PMP®) are an indication that Project management is a fast growing discipline. The traditional approach for developing new project managers is to teach the appropriate body of knowledge and to train the new managers on the job. For example the PMP accreditation requires passing an exam and accumulating enough on the job experience in project management. Since on the job training is expensive and time consuming it is important to save the time and cost of on the job training. In some fields, to minimize on the job training sophisticated simulators are used for training in a lab like setting. This is common for example in training new pilots who spend many hours on advanced simulators to save the high cost of actual flights A new approach to the training in project management is presented – an approach aimed at training new project managers and project teams by a simulator that simulates the dynamic stochastic nature of modern project management

This paper presents an approach to teaching and training in project management based on a software tool that combines an interactive, dynamic case study and a simple yet effective Project Management System. This tool, the Project Management Trainer (PMT), applies recent developments in the area of learning histories in simulation-based training. The PMT is designed to support training and to provide an environment for practicing teamwork in managing dynamic stochastic multiple projects.

The Project Management Trainer (PMT) has a simple yet effective interface with commercial project management software. The user can use Commercial project management software to plan the project to monitor and to control it by transferring information from the Project Management Trainer (PMT) and analysing it on the commercial project management software.

The Need for Training

During the last decade the need for better project management has been widely recognized by researchers and practitioners alike. In a series of articles the poor performances of Information Technology projects is analyzed. Extensive effort in this area resulted in the process approach to project management promoted by PMI in the Guide to the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

Modern project management systems combine models (in a model base) and data (in a database). These systems are based on an enterprise-wide approach that supports comprehensive management of projects in a stochastic dynamic environment across the enterprise. Extensive use of the Web enables group decision-making and collaboration. To utilize these capabilities managers have to understand the models and to implement the methodologies, i.e., to gain some hands-on experience.

This fast development of new methodologies, techniques and software packages for project management was not accompanied by a similar progress in developing teaching and training tools. Traditional training based on static models and case studies is still the backbone of most teaching and training programs in the area of project management. In this paper a new tool for teaching and training in project management – the Project Management Trainer (PMT) is presented.

The Use of Simulators

Simulations are recognized as an efficient and effective way of teaching and learning complex dynamic systems. Efficiency is gained by reducing the time it takes to reach a specified level of learning, and effectiveness is gained by achieving better results in performing the tasks learned. In particular, simulations are becoming an integral part of management and engineering education as students learn by using and building simulations of complex systems and processes (Canizares, 1997; Jones & Schneider, 1996; Lu et al., 1996; Nahvi, 1997).

Simulation-based training environment with a built-in learning history recording and inquiry mechanism is a new concept. Based on this concept, the user gets access to past states and decisions in the simulation and to the consequences of these decisions. The effectiveness and efficiency of the history recording and inquiry mechanism was tested in a controlled experiment. The findings show that with learning history recording and inquiry available to the users of a simulator, there was a significantly better learning process.

These results are in line with (Carroll et al., 1996; Guzdial et al., 1996) who suggested that reviewing past states and decisions in the simulation and the consequences of these decisions can encourage meta-cognitive processes; encourage students to monitor their behaviour and reflect on their progress. It also enables analysis of the decision-making process as opposed to analysis of results only.

The Project Management Trainer (PMT)

The Project Management Trainer (PMT) is a training aid designed to facilitate the training of project management in a dynamic, stochastic environment. It is based on the following principles:

  • A simulation approach - the Trainer simulates one or more projects. The simulation is controlled by a simple user interface and no knowledge of simulation or simulation languages is required.
  • A case study approach - the Trainer is based on a simulation of case studies. Each case study is a project or a collection of projects performed under schedule, budget and resource constraints, in a dynamic stochastic environment. The details of these case studies are built into the simulation and all the data required for analysis and decision-making is easily accessed by the user interface. A user-friendly case study generator facilitates the development of new case studies as required.
  • A dynamic approach - the case studies built into the Trainer 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 Trainer. 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 data base is built into the Trainer. Data on the current state of the simulated system is readily available to the users. Furthermore, it is possible to use the data as input to the models in the model base to support decision-making.
  • An integrated approach – several projects can be managed simultaneously on the PMT. These projects share the same resources and a common cash flow.
  • User friendliness and GUI - the Trainer 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 are simulated, and the decision support tools are sophisticated, a typical user can learn how to use the Trainer within an hour.
  • Integration with commercial project management tools - the Trainer is integrated with commercial project management software so that the users can analyze the scenario on the commercial project management software and support its decisions with tools that are actually used in his organization.

The Trainer provides a supporting setting for training in Project Management and for developing, evaluating and testing the managerial process adequate for today's competitive environment.

A new concept of a simulation-based training environment with a built-in learning history recording and inquiry mechanism is employed in the PMT. Based on this concept the user gets access to past states and decisions in the simulation and to the consequences of these decisions. The effectiveness and efficiency of the history recording and inquiry mechanism were tested in a controlled experiment. The findings show that with learning history recording and inquiry available to the users of a simulator, there was a significantly better learning process.

The PMT can be used as a stand alone system as it contains models for scheduling, budgeting, resource management, cash management, monitoring and control. Some of these screens are described next:

• The network model

This screen depicts the project activities and the precedence relationship between these activities in a network form. Detailed information on each task is accessible by clicking on the activity in the network – see exhibit 1.

The network model

Exhibit 1: The network model

• Task details

This screen depicts detailed information on the selected project activity including the modes in which the activity can be performed. The optimistic, most likely and pessimistic duration of each mode, the cost associated with the mode, and the resources required to perform the activity in that mode – see exhibit 2.

Task details

Exhibit 2: Task details

• Resource histogram

This screen depicts information on the resource requirements for a selected resource. By comparing requirements to availability infeasibilities in task requirements can be identified – see exhibit 3.

Resource histogram

Exhibit 3: Resource histogram

• Cash flow

This screen depicts information on the cash flow of the project negative and positive cash flows are shown as a function of time are shown – see exhibit 4.

Cash Flow

Exhibit 4: Cash Flow

• Actual Performance – project monitoring

This screen depicts information on the actual progress of the project including the status of each activity, the mode in which it was performed, its planned duration and its actual duration its planned cost and its actual cost – see exhibit 5.

Actual Performance – project monitoring

Exhibit 5: Actual Performance – project monitoring

In addition to its stand alone functionality the PMT can be use commercial project management for scheduling, budgeting, resource management, cash management, monitoring and control. The PMT is integrated with the commercial software and information is easily exported form the PMT to the software.

Summary – Initial findings and future research

To test the effectiveness and efficiency of the PMT a controlled experiment was conducted. Two groups of students participated in the experiment. All subjects had no previous experience with the PMT. A group of 120 forth year Industrial Engineering students participated in the first experiment phase. The age of the students (both male and female) ranged from 21 to 31. A group of 36 graduate Industrial Engineering students participated in the second experiment phase. The age of the students (both male and female) ranged from 25 to 40.

An introduction to the Project Management Trainer was given prior to the first session. The introduction included oral and written instructions on how to use the simulation, explanation of the scenarios and a discussion on the performance measures used. The students were motivated to achieve best possible result as the profit was used to calculate part of the final grade in the Project Management course in which they were enrolled.

In both phases we found that the PMT enhanced the learning process significantly. Both graduate and undergraduate students reported that by using the PMT they got hands on experience with the dynamic stochastic environment of project management.

Based on the experience gained so far a multi factorial controlled experiment is planned in which the defferent history saving mechanisms built into the PMT will be evaluated and an effort to find the best way of integrating the PMT into project management courses will be made.

References

Canizares, C.A. (1997). Advantages and disadvantages of using various computer tools in electrical engineering courses, IEEE Trans. on Education, 40 (3), 166-171.

Carroll, S., Beyerlein, S., Ford, M. & Apple, D. (1996). The Learning Assessment Journal as a tool for structured reflection in process education, Proc. Frontiers in Education'96, IEEE, 310-313.

Guzdial, M., Kolodner, J., Hmelo, C., Narayanan, H., Carlso, D., Rappin, N., Hubscher, R., Turns, J. & Newstetter, W. (1996). The collaboratory notebook, Communications of the ACM, 39 (4), 32-33.

Jones, P.M. & Schneider, K.J. (1996). Learning environment for magnetic resonance spectroscopy (LEMRS): Supporting apprenticeship learning in operational environments, Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 5(2), 151-177.

Lu, G.B., Oveissi, M., Eckard, D. & Rubloff, G. (1996). Education in semiconductor manufacturing processes through physically-based dynamic simulation, Proc. Frontiers in Education'96, IEEE, 250-253.

Nahvi, M. (1997). Dynamics of student-computer interaction in a simulation environment: Reflections on curricular issues, Proc. Frontiers in Education'97, IEEE.

© 2005, Avraham Shtub
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings - Singapore

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