What does it take to acquire deeper expertise in project management? To build wisdom beyond simply learning skills? Too often, this takes years of experience, often at significant cost to the enterprise when the wisdom gained by the individual comes at the expense of significant failure at the enterprise level.
One company – WTRI - has a proven approach to developing this expertise using virtual world technology, driven by an underlying engine that simulates complex business and real world events, and that is structured in accordance with principles from the field of cognitive science. The impact is to create a “safe-fail” environment wherein people can first un-learn the limitations of their current thinking and perspective and consequently try different approaches that measurably migrate them upward toward a level of “intuitive expert”. And all within a couple of months, not years, and with no real cost of failing, which is so cognitively necessary to this kind of learning.
How does this actually work?
WTRI has built its own proprietary virtual world, coupled to its proprietary event generator. The result is a virtual world as big as the world itself and one that embodies the dynamic economic models of the world and of companies. It can be as complex as it needs to be, without the typical constraint to online learning of highly scripted and overly simplified scenarios.
The projects are located in companies that – while fictional – are fully fleshed out in terms of their finances, products, history and technologies. The companies are located in a world economy that – while fictional – is fully fleshed out with the issues facing global and multi-national companies today, such as integrating supply chains and managing regulatory constraints.
It is just this kind of complexity that separates “expert” project managers from the rest. The Dreyfus scale of expertise, from Level One to Level Five, is well established scientifically and is widely used. With respect to project managers, Level Five accomplished veterans manage stakeholders well, and they know who the “real” stakeholder is. They manage projects in such a way as to provide the hoped for business benefits, even if the project plan, strictly executed, would not do that. They know when to make changes and have the ability to sell the changes to stakeholders. When difficulties arise – even major ones – they are able to look at these events as opportunities for greater results rather than as insurmountable problems or risks to be avoided.
Each team of participant learners gets two attempts at the exercise, in accordance with the cognitive science precept that failure is very important to accelerating learning. Participants who are not operating at the expert level will miss the big picture on the first try and will not achieve successful results. After a debrief, they are given a second chance, with some programmed additional challenges to the events within and outside the project.
In this second pass, by focusing on key relationships and ultimate business outcomes, they inevitably perform at a Dreyfus level which is measurably higher than where they began before the first pass, as assessed in three ways:
- The financial success or the business benefits delivered by the project; there were the expected business benefits, which were not easy to actualize given the complexity of the project, but which could also be exceeded if the project managers identified hidden opportunities
- The Seven Keys, a “project health” metric developed by PWC and IBM Global Business Services; both the team and the stakeholders rate the project multiple times on seven critical dimensions and discuss any discrepancies in their perspectives
- A set of 30 challenges that elicit “judgments” that measure the team’s Dreyfus level.
In documented outcomes, some participants who began at Level Two reached Level Four on the Dreyfus scale on many of the challenges. To put this in context, Human Resource data shows that moving from a Level Two to a Level Four in performance would normally take from 10-15 years, depending on opportunities, leadership and types of experiences.
There are many “distance learning” technologies and sponsoring companies, many of which are focused on project managers. None, however, have the measurable impact that WTRI achieves with its unique blend of virtual worlds, realistic and complex business simulation, and the application of the principles of cognitive science.
WTRI’s solution creates a significant shift - in expertise not merely skills, in months not years, without the cost of failure.
What is that worth?