Align To Learning Objectives Before You Customize a Business Simulation

Customization is cool.  In fact, it’s often an expectation and a key element of an outstanding customer experience.  But sometimes customization can be a mistake – and for business simulations, bespoke is not always becoming…

Some customizations can be extremely valuable, for example a “mass-customization” of a business simulation that mirrors the key dynamics of the insurance industry or the aerospace market.  And some company-specific customizations can also be a valuable part of participants’ experience (see our list below).  But when a simulation is over-customized, it can quickly become expensive, become distracting rather than clarifying, and create a “game” experience rather than a business acumen development experience.

The secret is to align any customization efforts to a specific, and vetted, learning objective defined for your course and program.  The focus needs to be on the learner and the objectives first, and the simulation second.  A pizza delivered by a Maserati tastes the same as one delivered by a Kia, and a Kia does the job just as well for a far lower cost.

At the highest-level, the real goal of any business simulation is to improve business decision-making.  From there, we design our simulations and classes at PriSim in alignment with four additional key learning objectives: improving business acumen, enhancing strategic thinking, increasing financial understanding, and building leadership and teamwork.  And as we work with our clients’ design teams on specific courses, we also ask several questions including:

  1. What are the Top 3-5 specific learning objectives for the course? After the objectives are clearly defined, categorize all the customization ideas under a specific learning objective.  If an idea doesn’t fit, consider tossing it out.
  2. Can the experience be customized in some other way besides a modification to the simulation? Are there aspects and decisions that could be added to the simulation that are actually better/more easily covered in a lecture or discussion, a guest speaker, or even a simple pen-and-paper exercise?
  3. Do the costs of making the modifications justify the benefit? And, equally importantly, does the cost fit into the development budget?
  4. Are the customizations truly strategic, or more tactical or even just cosmetic?
  5. Will a “mass-customized”, off-the-shelf version of a simulation work as well for this particular application or audience? To this point, some of our clients request that we run a simulation for them that is not even in their industry, such as an automotive simulation for an insurance carrier.  Sometimes using a simulation from another industry keeps participants focused on the business fundamentals being taught, rather than getting distracted by critiquing minor elements of a simulation of an industry in which they are experts.

So, when does a custom exercise actually make sense?  Here are 3 situations in which we believe it does:

  1. High Level of Change: When the external environment is dynamic and the organization needs to be able to respond quickly to change.
  2. Adaptive: When the business or financial model has changed and these changes need to be quickly introduced into the organization.
  3. Unique Dynamics: When various parts of the business are highly interdependent and coordination and communication are of paramount importance, or when a company’s dynamics are truly unique. However, tread carefully – is the company truly unique, or would a mass-customized experience actually fit the bill?

Regardless of the level of customization relevant for a particular objective, in business simulations the old adage “KISS” (not the band from the 70s, but for Keep It Short and Simple) really does apply.

Also see PriSim’s Simulation and Class Development Approach and for some of our Customization Design Considerations.