Classroom Stories & Tips
My Advice for Running an Effective Simulation

There are a lot of factors to consider when trying to make the most out of the simulation experience. Fortunately, we have a community of users who have fine-tuned their approach over the years.

Watch John Parnell, Professor of Strategic Management at the University of North Alabama, share his tips for success based on 7+ years of teaching with Capsim.

John covers everything from setting expectations and forming teams to student workflows and instructor aid.

Video Transcript

Hi, my name is John Parnell. I'm a professor of strategic management at the University of North Alabama. I've been using Capstone for eons now and I've learned a lot about some of the ways to make it a valuable learning experience and the ways that help students approach it the way they should think about Capstone and get the most out of the exercise. So, I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about some of the things that I found to be successful in the way that I execute the simulation.

I take a carrot and stick approach. I do, at times, perhaps threaten students about what they need to do to make sure they take the simulation seriously but also emphasize it can be a lot of fun. In fact, it's one of the things that students mention frequently that they remember from the class. They forget all of my brilliant lectures, but they do remember Capstone and how they ended up and who had what market share and so forth. So, if you take it seriously, it can be a really great learning experience.

But I try to focus a lot on the team environment that they have. One of the things I do is I permit the students to work alone if they choose to. Now, I teach primarily online classes, so that makes it a little bit of a different scenario, but sometimes you'll have students in unusual situations. Maybe they have a different time zone. I currently have an ER doctor who says, "I don't know when I'll be on call. I just need to work alone." So, I give them that option. I also give them the option to work with others if they want to propose a team. That gives them some buy-in on the front end instead of just assigning a team. Now, most students are okay with having a team assigned; that's fine. If they choose that, that's okay. But just for those who'd rather not or would like to make that proposal, allow them to do that.

I find the value in Capstone as being the cross-functional integration. You know that you have to line everything up. You might do your R&D well but if it's not lined up with your marketing or production or your finance, then the business just falls apart. For that reason, it's good to have students focus initially on one area of the business, but then they need to come together and work together as a cohesive unit to make those decisions. You can't just have one student upload the marketing and another upload the R&D; that just doesn't work. At the end, you have to have everyone come together, and I emphasize that early because a lot of students are used to that divide and conquer approach that really doesn't work well in a lot of other classes but it definitely doesn't work well here. So, you can do some work independently but you need to come together and make the end of those decisions and everyone needs to own those as a group.

I also emphasize checkpoints along the way. So, during the first couple of rounds of the game, if a team is not doing well, I will reach out to that team, say, "Hey, I can see you've got this whopping emergency loan or something seems to be not going well. Reach out, let's get this resolved early." Those of you who have used the game for a while know that if you really don't do well in the first couple of rounds, the recovery process can be very difficult. So, I try to do that for the first two rounds to make sure that they are involved. And I do tell them that after round five, I will not be providing assistance for the game and they won't get that assistance from our teaching assistant either. They'll have to reach out directly to Capsim. The reason why is, once you get to round six, seven, and eight, if you're still asking questions about positioning your products or what have you, it's usually too late. There are some ways certainly to turn around or improve your performance going forward, but often you have teams that just kind of fall off the wagon. So, I try to emphasize early on that, "Hey, there is no last-minute sort of revival in terms of getting your team back on order."

I will say overall, Capstone is a really valuable part of the class and students enjoy it. When they prepare and take it seriously, they can have a lot of fun, and it works out well for them. So, I would just encourage everyone to think through the whole notion of teams and how you organize teams, what your policies will be, and how you put that together, and reinforce that teamwork along the way. It will make the experience a lot better for everyone in your course.