Simulation Games: A Way to Improve Communication in the Team

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Summary:
One of the hardest daily tasks developers, QA, ScrumMasters, and product owners encounter is effective communication with others. Sound implausible? According to many articles, research, and personal observations, the main cause of project failure is not technology or hardware, but inefficient communication stemming from lack of effective communication between team members, incomplete business analysis, imprecise requirements, and vaguely formulated business objectives.

One of the hardest daily tasks developers, QA, ScrumMasters, and product owners encounter is effective communication with others. Sound implausible? According to many articles, research, and personal observations, the main cause of project failure is not technology or hardware, but inefficient communication stemming from lack of effective communication between team members, incomplete business analysis, imprecise requirements, and vaguely formulated business objectives.

That's why so many people put a lot of effort in finding the holy grail—efficient methods of improving communication skills. The optimization of the communication process includes several phases:

  • analyzing the initial situation;
  • identifying weak points;
  • creating, reviewing, and evaluating new procedures;
  • and introducing changes.

To make each phase easier, we can use simulation games. These games are based on competition, in which rules are fixed and agreed on by the participants, which is an also an example of a heterogeneous simulation model, whose key elements are the participants and game mechanics.[1]. Game mechanics (i.e., rules) can be adapted to the specific needs of the team. Players have defined roles and goals—either private or shared with the team.

You must assume the goal is to optimize communication on your team. In the first phase, participants should use their current procedures. During the next stages, they should have a chance improve those existing procedures or design new ones. The aim of the final stage is to verify the new solutions defined in the previous stages. Participants will have the opportunity to look at selected issues from a different perspective (e.g., from the perspective of a person acting in a different role in the team). Using that information, the team has the opportunity to work out effective methods of communication and integrate the new solutions. 

Simulation Games
Simulation games are a powerful combination of drama and are one of the most effective education methods using the natural human tendency to get into roles, according to Anthony Dallmann-Jones. Participants play an active part in scenarios that are models of real situations. They also contain a competition-stimulating factor [2].

Games can be broken down based on their purpose/goal:

Affective, which enables the development of interpersonal skills, and cognitive, which supports the process of learning complex processes and models.

Games can also be broken down based on the impact of one player’s decision on the other players [3]:

Interaction games (single-player results are dependent on decisions made by other players):

  • Competitive—To win, a player needs to achieve a higher score than the other players.
  • Cooperation—The result of a single player depends on the outcome of the whole group.
  • Mixed—Contains both cooperative and competitive elements

Games without interaction (results are independent of the other players’ decisions)

In the case of simulation games used in the optimization process, we use cooperative and cognitive games.

Simulation Games History
The genesis of simulation games is closely linked to the military history of the world. The first games were used primarily to educate military commanders. During the game, apprentices learned military strategies and acquired practical skills. Simulation games gave them the opportunity to learn quicker and test new solutions in a "secure environment" (without high costs). One of the first games was Wei-Hai (Chinese Danger), created by General Sin Tzu [4]. In the next centuries, there were games like Czaturanga or Taroth. In the nineteenth century, people started using games in other fields such as economics and management (e.g., Money Game and Red Weaver [10]).

About the author

Monika Konieczny's picture Monika Konieczny

Monika Konieczny graduated from the Faculty of Computer Science in Poznań. Monika is a PhD student at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In her research she studies broad aspects of the soft project management, especially effective motivation and use of gamification and simulation games to make the team happier :) and more productive. She works as a Director of Engineering/Scrum Master at Archer, where she coordinates the work of the teams (distributed and on-site) creating tools necessary to run mobile adds campaigns. Monika is interested in traveling around the world, diving and photography.

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