Last week, students on our full-time MSc Project Management programme undertook Prendo’s SPATIUM simulation. In the all-day workshop, students navigated the complex responsibilities of a Project Manager, from client relationship and financial considerations to last-minute changes and decision-making in complex scenarios.

The simulation truly brings to life the multitude of themes that arise in advanced project management, and who best to guide them than the MSc Project Management Programme Leader, Phil Thomas. He has vast industry experience and has run Prendo’s simulation in both professional and academic contexts. In this post, we sit down with Phil to introduce Prendo for us.

Hi Phil, let us start with your experience. What is your project management background?

Sure, I have 25 years industry experience in the construction and engineering sector, a career that includes 13 years overseas in various countries; Nigeria, Germany, America, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya. I then obtained a Masters in Project Management at what was then called UMIST, now the University of Manchester.

I went into academia with Northumbria University main campus in 1992 where I was actually involved in getting this programme, the MSc Project Management, validated back in 1994. I also launched this programme as an MSc International Project Management at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2000.

You have done Prendo simulations before, what can you tell us about your experiences with it?

Yes, so I have been using Prendo as a teaching vehicle for more than 10 years both professionally and academically, initially with Balfour Beatty and then with a university. It really is an excellent teaching vehicle because it replicates a real-life project situation in real-time that demands real decisions with real outcomes and consequences.

It compresses a 30-week project into 4 hours and a 24-month project in 8 hours, and gives the student exactly the same issues, pressures and demands that they will face in the real world. It is a brilliant teaching tool as it allows me to teach to an end, all of what we teach on the syllabus builds up to the simulation. The contract procurement element, the business case for a project, scheduling and specification, financial constraints and budgets, delivery and stakeholder engagement are all things taught in the semester that students then tackle in the simulation.

How do you think the simulation will benefit the students?

For many students it is their first practical experience of managing a project so the benefits that come with that are enormous. They’re in teams of 3 or 4 so straight away you have teamwork and delegation, who is the manager or coordinator and how they cooperate with each other requires a lot of discipline – this is the reality in the real world!

They learn valuable pre-planning skills, which is essential as it’s done under the pressure of a time constraint so it is stressful, but a bit of stress is good for students as it tests their ability to be agile in their decision making process. They get the results of their decisions in real-time, allowing them to see how they are progressing (or not!), receive stakeholder feedback and having to balance all the competing interests to ensure delivery – it is what a real life project is like so it’s hugely beneficial to students.

How did you feel the workshop went?

Very successful. As I have said, it was for many students their first opportunity to work together as a team on a real project and make decisions under pressure to achieve a positive outcome, receiving constant feedback and obstacles along the way. It was a bit stressful for students but they were relieved at the end of the simulation and they left with a real sense of achievement.

What advice would you give to prospective students or students who will be completing the simulation?

Just to make sure you read the briefing documentation in advance and complete all the necessary preparations. This may sound obvious, but this applies to real-life projects in industry where the behind the scenes preparation work is crucial for successful project delivery but to also win the contract!

Thanks Phil.

The Prendo simulation features in both the Full and Part-Time delivery of the MSc Project Management, please visit the course page for more details on the programme.

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