Case simulation 2

Yesterday a case study I wrote was used for the first time by a group – with lots of learning all round. It ran for the whole day in five rounds with a debrief between each round – an unplanned mode of running it.

The original was planned with six rounds running over two eight-hour days. Because of participants' travel arrangements which we only found out when we arrived here we made a snap decision to cut out one round and run the whole thing over one ten-hour day.

That was the first thing I learned – either design a simulation that is modular or make it plain to people that they are expected to stay for the duration of the program (the latter is impossible to enforce).

Lesson two relates to the question of pre-read or read on the day. The simulation involved some background reading that was programmed into the original day. Again, because of the sudden decision to run it over one day the preparation element was also cut. Participants suggested the background be sent out in advance – a reasonable suggestion but I've typically found that some people do pre-read and others do not so the preparation time is still needed.

Lesson three is about field testing before 'going live'. This was recommended in the book on case study development that I mentioned yesterday. Unfortunately the course was not flagged as a pilot or field test so participants were only aware on day one that they were the 'guinea pigs'. For the most part they were comfortable with this but in my view it would have been much better to have a small group test ahead of the program.

Lesson four is similar – writing a case simulation based on a company similar to the client company's risks people making too close a comparison and objecting to things that their own company could not or would not do. By forcing participants into a very close to home situation they asked for the information they would normally have access to. This makes sense but requires an insider with the access to the information to co-write the simulation in order to get it completely accurate. Going the other way and running a case unlike their company risks the participants saying 'that's all very well but it's not like us' – which is in fact what they did say to examples presented in the theory sessions of the program.

Lesson five is about simplicity and complexity – working with line middle-managers – meant pitching the simulation at their level of sophistication and experience. They felt the simulation would be better targeted at executives or senior managers as they would be the ones developing the strategy and designing the entry to a new market. The middle managers felt what they were being asked to do was 'unrealistic' for their seniority level in the organization. I did not feel very sympathetic to this because learning is about meeting challenges, personal development for the future, or thinking beyond one's immediate experience. However, I do think that expectations about the case approach, and giving much more guidance on how to tackle it – to allow for lack of confidence and imagination would be helpful.

So armed with these lessons I am about to re-write it ready for the next go-round in December.

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