The Project Scheduling Game (PSG): Time/cost trade-offs on a computer screen

The Project Scheduling Game (PSG) is an IT-supported simulation game that illustrates the characteristics of scheduling a real-life project with discrete time/cost trade-offs in the project activities as described in this article. The project is based on a sequence of activities for a large real-life project at a Belgian company. The participant (manager) of the game has to construct a dynamic project schedule for the discrete time/cost trade-off critical path method. By allocating nonrenewable resources (i.e. money) to a particular activity, the manager decides about the duration and corresponding cost of each network activity. The manager schedules the project with the negotiated project deadline in mind, focusing on the minimization of the total project cost. 

In this article, three CPM and PSG related topics will be discussed:
  • Critical path method
  • Game settings
  • Learning objectives

Critical path method

The Critical Path Method (CPM) is a project scheduling technique to analyze and represent the tasks involved in completing a given project. It assumes that the duration of an activity depends on the amount of resources assigned to it, and incorporates a trade-off between its duration and the cost of the assigned resources (see “The Critical Path Method (CPM): Incorporating activity time/cost trade-offs in a project schedule”).

Game settings

The focus of the game lies on the scheduling and control phases of the project life cycle, as illustrated in figure 1. More precisely, it is the aim of the player to follow an iterative approach, known as reactive scheduling, that compares the project baseline schedule with the current project performance (simulated during the execution phase) in order to control the project and take corrective actions in case the project objective is in danger.
The game consists of several phases which require periodic inputs from the game player.
Figure 1: The project life cycle used in the Project Scheduling Game
The initial project baseline schedule is proposed by the game developer and is based on an activity network which is accessible by the player of the game. A change in the project deadline requires an update in the baseline schedule which is the task of the game player. The actions that can be taken are known as activity crashing and lie in the heart of the CPM principle.
The game simulates periodic project progress in which uncertain events might occur. Changes to the original activity durations and costs lead to deviations from the initial baseline schedule and endanger the project objective. The player has to evaluate periodic review reports and re-baseline the unfinished activities of the project schedule in order to bring the project back on track. 
After a predefined number of iterative runs, the game reports the final project status, in terms of a total project duration and cost, and the project with the lowest total cost can be considered as the best project.

Learning objectives

Since PSG is used as an educational tool for project management students, project managers and/or project management software users, it can be used for a wide variety of project management topics, both on a basic as well as a more advanced level. 
Topics which can be discussed as a result of playing the game are, amongst others:
  • Network analysis: use of precedence relations, activity networks, and project network related topics.
  • Discussion of the meaning of critical path, including the calculation of slack, project deadlines and total costs.
  • The need for risk management and the trade-off between project scheduling efficiency and incorporation of buffers against risk.
  • The concept of activity crashing in the critical path method.
The game is a part of the ProTrack software ( and contains both a teacher version (with access to the project data) and a player version (with limited access to the original project data). 
Reference: Vanhoucke, M., Vereecke, A. and Gemmel, P., 2005, “The project scheduling game (PSG): simulating time/cost trade-offs in projects”, Project Management Journal, 51, 51-59.

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