In this second part of our series on best modelling practices, we look at the issue of stakeholder participation. As usual, we follow the definition given by Dave Sturrock on the Simio blog:

Stakeholder participation: Adequate access and cooperation must be provided by the people who know the system both in the early phases and throughout the project. Stakeholders will need to be involved periodically to assess progress and resolve outstanding issues.
— Dave Sturrock, Simio blog
Avoid separating yourself from the stakeholders.

Avoid separating yourself from the stakeholders.

As before, this is a very brief statement on a big topic so let me expand a little. First, we will define what we mean by a “stakeholder”. Next, we will briefly expand on stakeholder duties as described above before we focus on how you can support the stakeholder in supporting you!

So what is a stakeholder in a simulation project? As you can imagine, it … depends. Here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Usually, there is a company, team or person that requires you to employ modelling to answer a question for them.
  • This includes your direct contact, the person immediately responsible for the project.
  • It includes those who can supply you with data and system information that you need to build your model.
  • Usually, there is a boss behind your direct team who wants to know the answer as well

The list could be expanded to include those affected by your model but this is not relevant for the argument of this post.

Now that we know what is meant by stakeholders here, let’s get back to what the ideal stakeholder does for you. According to the quote, he provides “adequate access and cooperation”. I find it is rare to meet a person actively trying to *not* provide this for whatever reason. Usually, though, stakeholders have their own busy schedules and no time to be there for you to introduce you to every last piece of information about the system in question. Which brings us to the third part of this post: how you can help the stakeholder help you:

Like pilots, form a team with the stakeholders and fly the project home.

Like pilots, form a team with the stakeholders and fly the project home.

  1. Build good personal relations with all stakeholders. This little piece of common wisdom will help you get that answer on a Friday afternoon when you need it most dearly.
  2. Explain the conundrum of your situation: you need to extract as much useful information as possible from the stakeholder while putting  minimal additional workload on his table. Try to make them understanding for the clash of interests here.
  3. Adopt an agile approach to modelling: agree a fixed weekly meeting to review previous work, discuss any issues and agree on next week’s steps.
  4. Agree clear communication channels. If you use a company intranet tool, try to get you stakeholder an account so you can communicate without the pain of E-Mail. Instant messaging can help resolve minor problems very quickly without burdening everyone too much.

The last two items come back to the original statement “Stakeholders will need to be involved periodically to assess progress and resolve outstanding issues”. This is best done under an agile umbrella, in my experience. These days, most businesses are comfortable with agile methodologies and their advantages. hopefully, it’s not too hard to convince stakeholders of your approach.

As Peter Block puts it in his book Flawless Consulting: "It's easy to fall into a service mentality [...]. The reality is that you have needs as well and you are entitled to have them met". Communicating your need for regular access to data, information and people is very valuable to achieve simulation success.