Developmental challenges of global distributed simulation

The PPE project had many different stakeholders in many different locations, and project managing for the development team required us to work in ways completely new to the team.

The main people we were working with were based in several different parts of the UK, and a team of healthcare workers based in Liberia. English is the main language spoken in Liberia so this didn’t cause us any trouble, but obviously there were some challenges to overcome because of the distance between us. Early on the team in Liberia posted us memory sticks filled with images of their settings for our 3D designer to build, along with all the items of PPE needed for basic and enhanced protection. The post on this was far too slow however for such a tightly time-framed project, and so we moved to using dropbox for sending files between countries.

We communicated the progress of the project both with Liberia and our UK stakeholders regularly online, by updating project management software Asana to track our progress, with a back-up of email if the site proved too much for Liberia’s internet connection on some days! We also held 3x weekly online meetings where we were able to share screens to give a visual update of the project. We held these meetings on “Zoom” which allowed us to record each one in case our colleagues in Liberia were unable to connect at the time, they could easily catch-up later.

We also made sure from the outset that we developed the module keeping in mind that we will need to extend it to Sierra Leone and Guinea in the future. From the very beginning stage, the developers set up a database to contain all of the script of the module, including audio files and text, and we configured it so that we could easily add in any number of different language translations for each line.

Whilst the main language spoken in Liberia is English, they naturally have their own accents and dialects, and we felt that in order for people to connect more with the module it should be in their own accent, so the Alpha release of the module contains a voice over for English users (done by me!) and one for Liberian English (thanks for Vivian!), with the possibility of very simply adding in other languages such as Krio for Sierra Leone in the future.

Time zones across the two countries were another (only slight!) problem. When we began we were lucky because Liberia was on the same time zone as the UK so we were able to organise our 3x weekly online catch-ups very simply. Then the UK moved to BST and became an hour ahead of Liberia, which didn’t actually cause any problems, but we did need to remember to always specify which time we meant when scheduling meetings – something TELMeD hasn’t had very much of dealing with before!

Technology was the most major concern with working across the two countries. Many online meetings we held suffered or had to be missed altogether in Liberia due to poor internet connections, although we made recordings available afterwards for catch-up. We also made each test build we sent out to the stakeholders as small as possible, and split into Mac and Windows separately, to minimise download sizes and times in Liberia – and once downloaded, the module doesn’t require an internet connection at all to run, and is small enough to be transferred on a memory stick so it only needs to be downloaded once.

We also had to take into consideration the hardware available to users in Liberia as well as. At the beginning we really struggled to get a spec for the typical laptop our module would be deployed to, so we aimed it pretty much as low-spec as will run Unity programs, and we haven’t had any issues reported from Liberia to date.

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