Decision Entry Engine for Business Simulations

The Decision-Entry Engine manages and speeds decision entry and checks the decisions to ensure that they are legal and sensible.

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Central to a business simulation are the decisions that impact results. My Decision-Entry Engine not only ensure rapid and easy data entry and by creating the decision-entry template from a database saves development time and allows the decisions to evolve as the simulation progresses.

Decision Entry Process

The Simulation Manager passes a decision-entry report number to the Decision-Entry Engine that uses it select format data from the Report Database and uses this to create a decision-entry template. Next the engine populates the template and displays it in a window. Then the learners or the tutor can change decisions. When the decisions are confirmed, logic checks it to see that the decisions are legal and whether they are unusual. If decisions are illegal or unusual, they are commented on using data from the Comments Database. If decisions are illegal, the user is returned to change them. If decisions are unusual, the user has the option to return to change decisions. Finally, control returns to the Simulation Manager to enter more decisions or simulate.

How the decision entry engine creates, formats, gets decisions and checks them.-

Number of Decisions

My award winning empirical research showed that duration is highly correlated with the number of decisions. The number of decisions range for decisions range from three (for a very short, simple simulation) to a dozen or so for a one day business simulation to several dozen or more for complex business simulation lasting for several days.

Download the research paper.

Decision Evolution

Except for entry level business simulations, it is likely that the decision made will change and evolve during the simulation.

My Training Challenge simulation illustrates (to the right) how decisions evolve and in doing so introduce new issues and focus learning on different things at different times..

Example the planned evolution of decisions as a business simulation progresses.

Here, not only does the workload change as decisions change, but in Quarter 4 there is a focus on Capital Investment and I Quarter 5 a focus on pricing. The way this impacts workload is shown below.

An illustration of how workload evolves

Learn more about designing the Learning Journey

Decision Templates

To the right is an example of the decision entry template for the first quarter of my Training Challenge simulation. The top two rows allow the learners to change on a client-by-client basis the number of days they spend on selling to existing clients and prospecting for new clients. Below this learners can change the number of days they spend on updating courses, creating new courses, improving their business and professional development.

Example of decision-entry template

In the example above, the template is pre-populated with the previous period's decisions. When changed, the entry colour changes to red (as is the case for Group 4 Selling and Group 3 Prospecting). The current, active cell (Professional Development (days)) is highlighted (in blue).

The introduction of new issues and a changing business situation meant that for Training Challenge there were 26 separate decision sets (each represented by format data records in the Report Database.

For simple or intermediately complex simulations it is possible to use a single template. But where the simulation is complex or where screen size is limited it may be necessary to have several decision templates accessed from a menu.

Decision Entry Needs

It is important that decision entry is easy, simple, quick and error proof.

Ease of Use
Even if the simulator is being used by the trainer, ease of use is important and it is vital if the simulator is being used by the learners. Making use of a decision-entry template in a window with help and decision checking means that decision-entry is easy.

Speedy Entry
Time is always an issue and thus saving time is crucial. In the example to the right, decisions are entered using a template that was initially populated with prior decisions (shown in black) meaning that it is only necessary to enter changed decisions (shown in red). Further, to save time, movement between cells can be done using the mouse or using the arrow keys.

Minimising Mistakes
Parsing & decision checking minimises mistakes and helps ensure that decisions are entered correctly.

Parsing is the first step and based on the format of the decisions that predefines what can be entered. For example, when the decision is a number all key presses except numbers and, depending on the format, the minus and decimal point keys are ignored. Further, where the number can be negative (like a loan repayment), the minus key is only accepted if it is the first key pressed. Likewise, for decimal numbers, the decimal point can only be entered once. Beyond this, parsing limits the range of decisions (the number of sales and prospecting days in the example are limited to a maximum of 99 and it is impossible to enter negative days or decimal days for these decisions).

Decision checking is the second step and occurs after decisions are made. It checks whether the decision is legal or unusual. If illegal, the decision is rejected and must be corrected. If the decision is unusual (as in the example) it is commented on and there is an opportunity to change it.

Unusual decision entry being commented on

Decision Help
Clicking the Advise Button (bottom left of the screen) provides help with the decision entry task. And, clicking the Explain Button (bottom left of the screen) provides help with the currently highlighted entry.

Design and Customisation Issues

Each Decision-Entry Template is defined by records in the Reporting Database. The templates above were defined using three records thus:

Decision Records from Report File

The first record (#2) shows the template as consisting of two blocks of variables - selling (record #4) and development (record #5). The selling decisions record (#4) consists of two items - selling (variable #12) and prospecting (variable #13). The development decisions record (#5) consists of four items - updating courses (variable #0), creating new courses (variable #1), business improvement (variable #2) and professional development (variable #3). The variable names, values and formats are held in the team data file.

Driving the decision-entry engine from data rather than having to program (code) the reports (as was the situation in the early days) saves time and provides flexibility. Instead of spending days coding the decision entry in to the simulation model, a decision-template can be defined in the time necessary to type the records in the Report Database - minutes rather than days.

Design Art Issues

Here I've explored decision-entry in terms of the Decision Entry Engine, but beyond this there are artistic design issues described here.

2012 & 2015 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 21/07/15
Hall Marketing, Studio 11, Colman's Wharf, 45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA, ENGLAND
Phone +44 (0)20 7537 2982 E-mail
jeremyhall@simulations.co.uk