Tips for Successful Practice of Simulation

Proceedings of the 2009 Winter Simulation Conference

M. D. Rossetti, R. R. Hill, B. Johansson, A. Dunkin and R. G. Ingalls, eds.

David T. Sturrock

Simio LLC 504 Beaver St Sewickley, PA 15143, USA


A simulation project is much more than building a model. And the skills required go well beyond knowing a particular simulation tool. This paper discusses some important steps to enable project success and some cautions and tips to help avoid common traps.


This paper discusses some aspects of modeling that are often missed by new and aspiring simulationists. In particular, tips and advice are provided to help you avoid some common traps and help ensure that your first project is successful. The first four topics dealing with defining project objectives, understanding the system, creating a functional specification, and managing the project are often given inadequate attention by beginning modelers. The latter sections dealing with building, verifying, validating, and presenting the model offer some insight into some proven approaches.


When you first think about conducting a simulation study, one of the earliest things to consider is the project objectives. Why does someone want to simulate this system and what do they expect to get out of it? To be more specific, you must determine who your stakeholders are and how they define success.

2.1 Who Are Your Stakeholders?

A stakeholder is someone who has an interest in the outcome of the project, someone who cares. It seems like "Who are your stakeholders?" has an obvious answer -- your manager or your client. But if you explore why someone would want to see the results of this study, you will probably discover additional stakeholders. Are you trying to improve plant productivity? If so, the manager in charge of day-to-day system operations will want to be sure it is accurate. Executives responsible for the bottom line will want to see the financial results. Worker representatives may be interested in work content changes. If staff changes are likely, human resources personnel may be interested in the study. Various other operations (maintenance) and staff (process engineering) functions might also be interested. Even the Marketing department may be interested in using the animation for promotion.

Every project will have different stakeholders and obviously some stakeholders will be more interested than others. And some stakeholders may be more important than others. While it is obvious that the most important stakeholders must be satisfied, do not ignore the others. Many times, the cooperation and satisfaction of the less important stakeholders can make or break your project.

2.2 How Do Your Stakeholders Define Success?

The Pragmatic Marketing group has coined a phrase "Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant." This is basically saying that the customer's (or in this case, your stakeholder's) opinion about project success counts much more than your own. Even if you personally consider the project to have been an overwhelming success, if your most important stakeholders consider it to be a failure, your project is a failure.

It is important to probe your stakeholders to find out what their needs and expectations really are. Do they want to reduce headcount or expenses? Improve profits? Improve system predictability or reliability? Increase output? Improve customer service? In all cases, you need to find out not only what they value, but how they measure it.