What is Project Simulation?

Mary McMahon

Project simulation is a process in which a proposed project or idea is run through a simulation to get an idea of what might happen if it was put in action. Simulation plays an increasingly common role in project planning, providing opportunities to experiment with variables which would be difficult to manipulate in the real world. A number of software companies make project simulation software for various industries which is designed to streamline the simulation process.

A big part of project planning involves anticipating potential problems with the project.
A big part of project planning involves anticipating potential problems with the project.

A big part of project planning involves anticipating potential problems with the project, and ways in which these problems might be addressed. Whether a project involves the construction of a new high rise building or the enactment of a new public health policy, project simulation can be used to identify hiccups which may occur along the way. People can also use project simulation to test out several approaches to the same problem to see how well these approaches might work in the real world.

Some simulations are performed in the real world. Health care responders, for example, use simulations to experiment with their abilities to respond to mass casualties, public health emergencies, and other issues. In this type of project simulation, people may sit around a table and work their way through a scenario, or they may actually simulate the events with the use of actors and props, giving people an opportunity to work in a simulated high pressure environment so that they can identify weak points in a response plan which will need to be addressed before a real emergency happens.

Computer modeling can also be used for project simulation. Using a computer model, it is very easy to manipulate variables which could influence the outcome of a project, such as delays, bad weather, unexpected changes in parameters, and so forth. Simulating the outcome of projects has become an expected part of project planning in many regions of the world, as teams developing new projects show that they have thought carefully about every aspect of the project before beginning.

When developing a project simulation, people may draw upon the experiences of people who have been involved in similar projects. These experiences can be used to shape the direction of a project, and to provide examples of potential issues which may arise. Even with careful simulation, however, it is impossible to predict everything which can happen along the way, and sometimes catastrophe strikes despite the most careful thought on the part of project planners.

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