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4 Keys for Every Project


By Melanie Barker, Arena Simulation Consultant
Published: January 27, 2017

Categories: Consultant’s Corner

(that no one wants to talk about)

While the technical approach to creating a simulation project is documented and widely understood, there are very important aspects of the process that are not often discussed but which are critical to the success of the project.  Nancy Zupick and Melanie Barker, two of our expert engineers, share four key elements in this post that are imperative to conducting an effective simulation study and how they impact the progress of the study.  If you’d like to read the all of Nancy and Melanie’s thoughts on this topic, download the white paper linked below. 

In the ideal world, project steps would proceed in the order shown in Figure 1. We would define our project, create the model without any errors, validate it, and then analyze and present our results.

However, the real-world project cycle often ends up looking more like the one in Figure 2. Projects still move from one phase to the next, but often require revisiting previously completed steps before moving on to the next phase. Sometimes this occurs because project requirements have changed during development, but this cycle can also be greatly affected by making crucial mistakes at or during the project.

1. The Clue

Why is the project necessary and what will you need to know about the system in order to begin analysis?  Seems pretty simple, but often defining the purpose and objective isn’t easily done. Questions that should be asked as you look to use simulation are:

  • What do we want to improve?
  • Does the process being analyzed have variability? 
  • Is the system working as expected?
  • Are we expecting to stress the system by taking on more work?
  • Are we expecting a downturn?  Should we look at making this process work with less and how will it impact our deadlines?

Identifying the main objectives of the proposed simulation will provide the purpose for the project. If one of the objectives is to improve throughput time, then list some specifics that will be considered in the project that you or others suspect are having an impact on efficient processing. It is also important to share your thoughts with others at this early stage, as you are likely to find others who have similar concerns and perhaps have additional feedback that can enhance the value of the project. This is also a good point in the process to formulate an initial draft of the functional specification that will be used as the road map for the simulation project.

From our personal experience the lack of a functional specification is usually a death sentence for a serious simulation project and yet it happens more frequently than people would believe. There are many people who skip this step, so we’ve developed a functional specification template using our proven project framework that you should consider using on your next project.  Reach out to our team to learn more about the functional specification template.

2. The Cash

The next hurdle for any project is getting the go ahead to proceed, and that typically boils down to The Cash needed to obtain the resources responsible for accomplishing the project. Will the project be saving money and will the amount saved or realized more than make up for the time and effort necessary to conduct a simulation project?

The presentation of the proposed project needs to outline:

  • Objective: how and why it makes sense economically – what are the potential cost savings or productivity gains that the simulation might provide?
  • Schedule for the project: when will results and analysis be expected? 
  • Resources necessary, including the tools, people, and any outside sources of data or assistance
  • Cost: a summary of estimated costs
  • Value: Quantify the value of meeting your objective.  What does it mean to you? Your boss?  Other departments?  Our experienced team has created a calculator to analyze the value of a project.  Reach out to our team to work with the Arena Value Calculator.

3. The Commitment

Your presentation goes well, everything looks great and next thing you know, you are now going to work on the project. This is where your commitment to the project becomes paramount. Good project management is essential to the success of a project. Commitment isn’t just about completing the project; it’s about completing it the right way.  Follow our 7 Steps to a Successful Project.

4. The Courage

When we are not sure of our results, we are less likely to have the courage to report on them and more likely to bury the work or avoid it. For this reason, the validation and verification of the model is critical to having enough confidence in your model to use it for analysis. We are not always afforded the luxury of having historical data, and in the case of new or proposed systems this makes the validation process more challenging. For existing systems, running the model with historical data and referencing the results against what did happen is one method of validation. Subject matter experts and data from similar systems or processes will help to validate those systems that are being designed and perfected via simulation models.


As easy as Arena is to use, it is a tool. The work behind creating simulations requires that the humans using the tools be able and willing to commit to the building of a valid simulation model.  We hope this post shows a few of the key project management skills that aren’t often discussed, but are imperative to simulation projects.  We invite you to reach out to our team for guidance on the process, and to download the full, more detailed version of this paper that was presented at the 2016 Winter Simulation Conference.


Connect with Melanie on LinkedIn


The Author

Melanie Barker

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