Using Role Play to Teach Complexity in IT Project Management

Amy J. Connolly, James Madison University
Daniel Rush, Boise State University
Leigh Mutchler, James Madison University


In this paper, we describe a study involving a role play exercise situated in a project management class that is designed to create an emotionally ambiguous setting that helps students recognize, adapt to, and critically reflect on the constellation of complex events that can happen on a project. This activity is designed to overcome the difficulty of reliably developing soft skills in the classroom. Soft skills (e.g. empathy, emotional intelligence, communication, conflict resolution) are complex, developed through practice, and involve ambiguity, and are highly sought-after in industry. Based on the teaching principles of adult learning theory (andragogy), we illustrate how the role play approach can enhance learning in the IT project management course. We then propose a method to measure students’ perceptions of the class exercise to gauge its effectiveness. This study contributes to research on IT project management, IS pedagogy and social inclusion.