Computer Simulation and Organizational Change Essay examples

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Journal of Change Management
Vol. 11, No. 2, 207– 221, June 2011

Organizational Development Goes
Digital: Applying Simulation to
Organizational Change

Air Force Research Lab, Wright-Patterson AFB, USA, ∗∗ Air Force Institute of Technology, WrightPatterson AFB, USA

ABSTRACT Organizational change initiatives are challenging for both researchers to understand and for practitioners/organizational leaders to execute. This article takes a conceptual approach to describe organizational simulation technologies as one of many approaches for use in organizational development activities while also providing two examples of how simulations have been applied to real-world scenarios. Scenario 1 involved a process re-engineering effort within a manufacturing organization where a manufacturing process was modeled to explore how numerous factors (e.g. product inputs, organizational structure, manpower allocation) influenced the simulated output. Scenario 2 included an organizational change initiative involving organizational design modifications in a command and control center. Here, two organizational design alternatives were compared and contrasted. Simulation technologies may provide organizational development (OD) professionals with the opportunity to experiment with alternative organizational designs, an inherent strength for generating potential return on investment estimates. Researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory have used simulation technologies as one element of an overall organizational development strategy within two different projects, albeit as one aspect of a larger change management strategy. This article discusses these applied examples in the context of a conceptual discussion on the merits of simulation as a tool to support organizational change.
KEY WORDS : Organizational change, simulation, organizational design, process improvement


Owing to increased globalization, the introduction of advanced technologies, wavering markets, a shrinking pool of applicants and omnipresent competition

Correspondence Address: Joseph B. Lyons, Air Force Research Lab, 2698 G Street, Bldg 190, Wright-Patterson
AFB, 45433-7604, USA. Email:
1469-7017 Print/1479-1811 Online/11/020207–15 # 2011 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14697017.2010.501022


J.B. Lyons et al.

at the organizational level, change is ubiquitous in contemporary organizations
(By, 2007; Karoly, 2007). Organizations must adapt to their present conditions through change management interventions in order to maintain effective levels of performance, and the military is no exception (Barlow and Batteau, 2000).
The military is faced with the current demands of the Global War on Terror
(GWOT) which is taxing its ability to operate effectively. The high operations tempo characteristic of the last decade has been shown to affect soldiers’ wellbeing and commitment (Huffman et al., 2005). Complexity in demands must be met with complexity in organizational design (Galbraith, 2002). Yet, this is easier said than done. Recent estimates posit that the majority of change initiatives fail to reach the goals they set out to accomplish (Pellettiere, 2006). This fact is exemplified in the following quote from a prominent organizational change practitioner, ‘The typical twentieth-century organization has not operated well in a rapidly changing environment. Structure, systems, practices, and culture often have been more of a drag on change than a facilitator. If environmental volatility continues to increase, as most people now predict, the standard organization of the twentieth century will likely become a dinosaur.’ (Kotter, 1996, p. 161). Researchers and practitioners alike must seek novel techniques for use in organizational change initiatives. This article discusses organizational simulation methods as a mechanism to evaluate and support organizational change