Prof. Dr. Stephan Form from Hochschule Bremen – City University of Applied Sciences (HSB) has been using TOPSIM business simulations in his teaching since 2012. With bachelor students in the 7th semester, he plays our challenging management simulation Mastering Business Operations. Before the students take over the management of a company in the simulation, they evaluate data sets from previously completed “Mastering Business Operations” games at HSB using business intelligence tools. As a result, the students develop a feel for business variables and interrelationships. They recognize what they can expect in the course of the business simulation and how they can apply and link the knowledge they have acquired from the other curricular modules.
General Conditions and Procedure
Three cohorts of 35 students each from the undergraduate Degree Programme in Business Studies and the Cooperative Degree Programme in Business Studies take part in the module course “Informationssysteme im Controlling” (Information Systems in Controlling) each semester. The special feature of the module is that the students act in two parts. In the first half of the semester, they act as business consultants and develop a BI application. In addition to “Microsoft Excel”, business intelligence tools such as “Microsoft Power BI”, “Corporate Planning” or “QlickView” are used. With the help of the software, the participants evaluate the data from business simulations that have already been carried out. From the empirical data, they look for correlations between business variables. In expert groups with five to six students per team, they work on a solution for the departments Strategic Management, Marketing & Sales, Procurement & Production, Human Resources, Finance as well as for the department Costs, Revenue & Success.
In the second half of the semester, the students draw on their BI application to support their decisions in the business simulation. They form new teams, with each team member coming from one of the expert groups. In the role of the company’s board of directors, they make decisions in the various departments that the experts have already dealt with intensively in the first half of the semester.
Goals of the Module
“Mastering Business Operations” is characterized by the fact that participants are confronted with an enormous overflow of information and a high degree of decision-making complexity from the very beginning. The structure of the module course enables students to work up the necessary business knowledge that the challenging management simulation requires. In accordance with their department in the board of directors, the students define their strategic goals themselves and obtain the necessary information that they will later need for their participation in the business simulation. This trains them in the use of BI solutions and ensures that the participants subsequently make informed decisions when managing the company rather than relying on gut instinct.
By analyzing previous “Mastering Business Operations” games, students internalize the numerical framework, recognize overarching relationships within different disciplines, and learn to assess the responsiveness of variables to one another. Students realize that everything is interrelated. The business simulation helps them combine the skills they have learned in the previous modules and apply them in a practical way.
The Advantages of the Business Simulation
Due to the high complexity of “Mastering Business Operations”, students are often disoriented and overwhelmed in the beginning. The more intensively they deal with the contents and challenges, the more successful they become in the further course of the business simulation. They begin to explain the facts to each other, function better as a team and achieve their goals. After the first simulation periods, the company usually starts to grow, becomes profitable and records economic successes. In addition, according to Prof. Dr. Form, students learn during their participation in the business simulation seminar with a clearly recognizable correlation between effort and success – they realize that it pays to perform. Their learning successes are reflected from period to period in the increasingly positive results in the business simulation.
For 7th semester students majoring in controlling, I would not choose any other business simulation than “Mastering Business Operations” as it is suitable for them to the highest degree. It has the highest and most suitable business depth for this purpose. It wonderfully demonstrates the interrelationships of the various business sub-functions of revenue, cost, profit and finance.
Participation in the module course “Information Systems in Controlling“ is assessed on the basis of two examination performances. In a group presentation, the students first present the results of the BI application they have developed. Among other things, they explain the underlying business model, which data sources they used, what the data model looks like, and which key figures they used. They also present the dashboard they developed and the evaluation of their analysis.
The second examination component is based on the results of the business simulation. At the beginning, the students set their own goals as company directors. They set values they would like to achieve for the five variables of sales, net profit, cash flow, employee satisfaction and ecology index. In the course of the business simulation, they then work on achieving the goals they have set themselves. In doing so, they must constantly adapt to economic changes and to the actions of the competing teams. Using tolerance thresholds in relation to the percentage deviation from their goals, their performance is measured after the last simulation period.
The students’ reactions to the presentation of the second examination component are mostly statements such as: “How are we supposed to know that?” or “What are we supposed to orient ourselves by?”. However, as the simulation progresses, they realize that they can actively control and intervene. Many set their own goals very moderately to counteract their uncertainty. I caution against this, however, as it often leads to luxury problems. It is not uncommon for them to generate an annual surplus that is much higher than the goals they set themselves.
In the coming semesters, Prof. Dr. Form will continue to use “Mastering Business Operations“ in the module course “Information Systems in Controlling“ to offer bachelor students in the 7th semester the opportunity to combine their business knowledge from the other curricular modules and to apply it in a practical way in the business simulation. As part of an event organized by the STARS EU Alliance of truly engaged Universities, he is also currently preparing a seminar using our Startup Essentials business simulation, in which nine European universities are expected to participate.
The HSB is also planning a cooperation project with an institution for continuing education. Young academics will play our beginner-friendly management simulation Management Essentials together with experienced professionals without academic qualifications. It will be interesting to see how the participants harmonize with each other and make joint decisions in this innovative constellation. We thank Prof. Dr. Form for the insights into his teaching and wish him and his students a lot of fun and further sustainable learning experiences with our management simulations!
¹ Was ist Business Intelligence (BI)? (2023, 11. Juli). Tableau Software, Inc. https://www.tableau.com/de-de/learn/articles/what-is-business-intelligence