T&D: My 1st Learning Game Design 1987

The Game Was a Series of Simulation Exercises for New Product Managers

They needed to learn about Planning & Management their Product/Product Family through the 1) Life Cycle via their 2) Product Teams.


Real Product Management’s Planning & Management was focused on these 8 Functions/Areas of Performance – regardless of the Business Unit one came from – and there were 5:


The 5 Phases of the Life Cycle were:

  1. Concept Phase
  2. Justification Phase
  3. Introduction Phase
  4. Growth & Maturity Phase
  5. Decline & Discontinuation Phase

These mirrored the real life cycle phases – that were unnamed/different at each business unit and within each business unit – as we uncovered in the Instructional analysis efforts of the Curriculum Architecture Design effort of 1986.


This course – 8 Days in length – was the last blue box in the 1000 Series.

All of the other blue boxes of the 1000 Series would be called Micro Learning today – as most were 5 to 15 minutes in estimated touch time/learning time – and most were not needed as some were unique to one of the 5 Business Units that the Attendees/ Participants/ Learners came from.

There were 5 Products being managed in the Game/Simulation Exercise:

  1. Camera
  2. Recorder
  3. Editing Deck
  4. Cables
  5. Tapes

There were 5 Product Teams/Role Sets – each with 2 Trainees/Participants/Learners sitting in the seats around the table:

  1. Product Management
  2. Bell labs/Engineering
  3. Manufacturing/Distibution
  4. Sales
  5. Service

Each 2 person team changed roles with each product – until everyone had a chance to sit in the shoes of each Team/Role Set – 5 times.

THAT was eye opening for the experienced Product Managers who attended – for they got to see what issues and needs existed for each Team – something that was not quite clear to them prior.

We ran the Game/Exercise with two Groups of 10 … in parallel – necessitating 2 Facilitators. I ran/co-ran 31 sessions including 5 in The Netherlands.

There were 25 Datapaks that I wrote – each with the information for each Role (set) for each Phase of the Life Cycle. A letter from The Boss set up what was important and points of contention with other Team members – who had their own letter from their Boss.

Then there other letters (this was 1987 – and there was no email or Apps at the time) from all of the other real functions that the Role/Team had back in the real world. Sales had Sales, Marketing, Sales Support, etc. to get data from and contribute – when asked – to the Planning efforts.

On a lighter note – in the midst of all of this immersive/intense Training Session – was this video produced by my client – the Marketing function – where they made fun of their own SMP Sales Management Process. It’s a hoot – if you’ve got the time for it…

And there was the Game Board … and pieces and dice – whose only function was to cause most to land on “The Breaks Cards” spots (Think: Community Chest and Chance in Monopoly) which would change the Datapaks’ information in some Team’s Datapak – so that no two classes experienced the same set of data to work with.

Some were worried that the “answers” would be shared one class to the next – so we ended that. The Answers were in the form of a Product Plan and Financials.

2/3rds of the Breaks were bad news and 1/3rd were good news – to the Data in the Datapaks provided. They be marked up by the team affected so as to change the game.

The Data had to be uncovered by the 2 people playing the Product Manager Roles – and if the other teams simply gave it up without being asked explicitly – the mean old Facilitators stepped in to stop that nonsense. The goal was to learn how to plan for THIS LIFE CYCLE PHASE and then learn what to ask for – from each of the other Teams, asking probing questions to elicit the data from those who were instructed to “Role Play” and who were also instructed to extract concessions for their Teams’ benefits – and then Plan with the data accordingly.

The goal was to take the data as is – Create a Plan along with that Plan’s Financials – and then determine (Plan) what needed to be done to improve the numbers – and by whom/which Team – to get the numbers where they needed to be – regarding schedules, costs, and sales – leading to profitability (or not). Of course some PMs tried to just change the numbers from what they were given – to game the game – and we Facilitators would call them out.

Sometimes to get sales to agree to a better Sales forecast – Engineering and Manufacturing would have to agree to a different Feature Set – but that would change Cost forecasts as well. And Warranty Cost forecasts (from the Service Team). Whack-a-Mole wasn’t around then – but it would be a familiar concept to the attendees after this session.

Everyone sat in each Team (Role Set) 5 times – for each Phase of the Life Cycle – so that by the end they were better PMs and knew much more about the real-world issues their Teammates had for each Phase of the Life Cycle. And they understood the Financials much better.

They had to calculate them by hand – with hand held calculators – but not a laptop – which were coming on the scene by the end of our run (1994). Some grumbled about that – but we Facilitators and our clients and many of the prior students all agreed much learning would be lost if spreadsheets were used instead of paper and pencil – so to speak.

They also learned how to not be buffaloed by Bell Labs – or anyone else – when given a load of technical details beyond their knowledge set – and besides THAT was not their job.

That gave the new and experienced Product Managers much greater confidence in playing their roles back on the job – as the evaluations of the attendees and their supervisors attested to 3 and 6 and 9 months out.

I had been greatly affected during the analysis phase of the CAD effort the year before – by people who had been in their jobs for 3 or more years who confided in me that they were unsure that they even understood what their job was, were doing it – and were greatly intimidated by the Bell labs folks on their Team.

I had then – what we’d call Empathy in a Design Thinking mode today – that I simply saw as a Performance Barrier – and like any rock in the road had to be eliminated or mitigated.

Internal Communications helped sell the 8-Day course – the length of which everyone in management hated – except for my clients who went from Hate to Love – so to speak. And the word of mouth about what the experienced made it a popular course.

I didn’t want to be a Facilitator for this year after year – but my client promised me additional design/development work if I would continue post-Pilot Test in October/November 1987.

Between 1988 to 1994 I co-delivered this 31 times to classes of 20. After that I handed it over to Corporate Training who trimmed it to 5 days and then 3 days – removing most of the rounds of the simulation – until no one wanted it any more – and it died (as reported to me by former students) who had my email address.


There were even internal communications about this “very different” course for the Training Community.


We had stressful fun – and during the Awards Dinner – a Pizza and Beer outing in Chicago (Lisle) or Atlanta (Buckhead) or Boston (Framingham) or New Jersey (Somerset) or Amsterdam (Hilversum) on the last night before the Last Day – we gave out both Serious and Silly Awards – primarily based on voting of the Classmates – but a few were based on the sole discretion of the Facilitators.

The Pilot Test session in the fall of 1987 was 10 days in length – and the Event was cut back to 8 days after the extensive evaluations of/from both the Rookies and the Master Performers was taken out.


The effort for this course alone – was submitted for an NSPI Award of Excellence in 1989 – where we “placed” having met all of the criteria. I was upset when we were told we would have won – except that AT&T had won the year before – soooooooooooooooo….

That led me to join the NSPI Awards Committee the next year to revamp the Awards from a Norm Referenced approach to a Criterion Referenced approach. That effort took 3 years. And is still mostly in place at ISPI.


I’ve posted on this effort before. Search this site using “Product Managers” to see the many Blog Posts.

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