Saturday, 07 January 2017 10:11

Playing at Project Management

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A couple of years ago I started looking for a way to help more people gain an understanding of project management. Not everyone wants to buy one of my books, and seminars have a limited number of places. A contact in the publishing industry had the great idea of connecting me up with Totem Learning. Totem Learning are a leading, award winning developer of simulations and serious games, (see It was a great relationship to build, and some months later the result of our join work was Unlock: Project Management.


Unlock: Project Management, an interactive game aimed at a foundational level training in project management. This has just won first place for the best business game in the 2016 European Serious Games Award, awarded at the Game and Learning Alliance international conference in Utrecht.

Prior to meeting with Totem Learning I’d not thought too much about serious games. After a short initial conversation I was hooked on the idea.

It’s all in the game

Unlock: Project Management is a single-player interactive project management game, in which the player interacts and reacts to what happens and through this delivers a project. The game is based on a realistic scenario based on a disaster recovery. We wanted a topic which would be immediately appealing to all players, without being fixed on a specific industry setting. Everyone wants to help people in a disaster, so this seemed a great starting place. 

The game is played through 8 “rounds”. Each round represents a week of elapsed time on the project. In a round the player has do to different project management related tasks. Some are major tasks such as creating a project definition, developing a project plan or selecting resources. Other rounds require simpler, but no less critical tasks such as developing a progress report or interpreting conversations with stakeholders.

By performing these tasks the player builds familiarity with a range of core project management concepts. As in real life, the game has options, a few of which are red herrings, and some unexpected risks will arise. The aim is never to confuse the player, merely to represent the twists and turns of a real life project. At the end of the 8th round the game ends with a short lessons learnt. For a typical player the game takes about an hour to play.

The player receives a set of scores in terms the satisfaction of 3 different stakeholders, and the amount of money they have spent. Unlock: Project Management works brilliantly either as a standalone learning environment or as part of a course of learning. 

If all you want is an introductory level understanding of key project management terminology and concepts the game provides this. The game is aligned with the 2nd edition of Project Management Step-by-Step (Pearson, 2016), for those who want to use it as a springboard into more comprehensive project management education.

Learning how to play

Serious games are proving themselves to be a powerful aid to learning. For me, getting involved in the process of designing and developing a game was a great learning experience in its own right. Creating a game that was challenging enough, encouraging the learner to experiment and see the results, whilst remaining simple enough to be played in an hour or so, was a great challenge. It was also tremendous fun working with the experts at Totem Learning. I’d recommend considering developing a game for anyone with a serious interest in learning and development.

Want to know more?

If you would like to find out more about Unlock: Project Management see: or contact me directly.

If you want to find out more about Project Management Step-by-Step, you can find it in most bookshops. For example on Amazon in the UK, see:

Happy playing!

Richard Newton is a consultant, award winning author, speaker who helps clients improve their own change capabilities. His project management game, Unlock: Project Management was recently awarded the 2016 European Serious Games Award. Aligned with this, he recently published a second version of his best-selling introductory guide to project management – Project Management Step-by-Step.

Read 2817 times Last modified on Saturday, 07 January 2017 10:16
Richard Newton

Richard Newton wears many hats. Included amongst these are his work as a consultant, author, blogger, change leader, company director, and program manager. His most well known project management book is The Project Manager: Mastering the Art of Delivery. He is also the author of the best-selling Dream It, Do It, Live It which applies project management principles to achieving personal dreams.

His articles and blogs can be followed at Information about his company can be found at His books are available at bookshops and online sellers worldwide.

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