The Project Case Work


(cover photo sourced from )


Many say that Training is a great art and science. Training innovatively – can be a challenge. Not all professors are good trainers. They also need to be trained, sometimes along with the “students”.

My good old friend Dr Guenter Tharun introduced me to his training technique– Project Case Work (PCW) – years ago in Bangkok.

PCW was Tharuns invention and a passion. I am glad today that I became part of the PCW legacy as a PCW writer and PCW trainer. There are not many PCW trainers around – at least in the environmental domain. We need PCW breed of trainers

What is PCW?

PCW is a method of training participants through a semi-real situation. Participants are divided into groups of 6 -8 and are supported by a facilitator. PCW is all about “problem solving” over 3 to 4 days working in a group, under pressure of time, competition and with limited information. Learning while doing is the principle.

PCW is conducted generally at a place remote from the buzz of the city, preferably at a resort on a residential basis. Idea is not to have interruption, no boundaries of time and give opportunities for intense and extended interaction amongst faculty and the participants. A PCW must put forth a new concept,  introduce a new paradigm or demonstrate innovative processes

PCW is generally triggered by an event e.g. a company receiving a notice from the Pollution Control Board. The notice could be about frequent violation of the effluent standards. This notice leads to an extraordinary meeting of the company’s management board. The Managing Director of the company chairs the meeting.

The participants are provided with a mock notice and transcripts of the management meeting. Sometimes, a video clip is created to make the situation look “real”.

The meeting discusses various options and arrives at a decision of revamping the effluent treatment plant (ETP) ASAP. This seems a logical quick fix!

Just then, one of the of the Board members asks “How about checking whether we are generating excessive amount of effluent? May be we are overusing rinses, not recycling water enough or missing opportunities for recovery of solvents” This question leads to a twist. An intense discussion takes place and the Production head who was earlier only listening – gets into a volley of questions. The Managing Director decides to mobilize a team to look into this “new perspective” immediately.

So each team working on the PCW is given the task of finding a “solution” for the company that helps reduce effluents, reduce cost of ETP, save water, recover heat and materials and increase profitability. The focus thus changes from “downstream” to “upstream”. To do this, participants need to be trained while they are “solving” the problem.

Training is therefore needed in a well-designed learning path. The problem solving process is divided into milestones. These milestones include preparing a plant layout, process flow diagram, setting material and energy balance, identifying focus areas, developing pollution prevention options using Ichikawa diagrams, conducting pre-feasibility, shortlisting and prioritizing options, carrying out extended cost-benefit analyses, preparing implementation plan, financing, monitoring and reporting etc.

These topics of the “learning path” are covered in not more than 20 minutes (so we call them as “lecturettes”) and are delivered through lectures spaced over 3 to 4 days. If faculty crosses 20 minutes, then the participants are asked to clap!

The faculty are essentially the facilitators.  Generally, they arrive night before and we conduct a faculty orientation workshop. A separate guidebook is provided to the faculty on PCW and the “solutions” – earlier. The faculty do not refer to the problem at hand. Through the lectures, the “students” are expected to understand the basics or fundamentals and apply the knowledge acquired to the problem that they are trying to solve.

The lecturettes are delivered in plenary mode where all participants sit. After a lecturette is done, participants move to separate rooms in groups for the PCW. Each room has a white board and flip charts. A central place is kept for tea and coffee.

After working on the PCW for say an hour and a half, participants reassemble at the plenary to listen to the next topic or the lecturette. So after the lecturette on “how to set material and energy balance”, the groups work on data provided for the case and attempt calculations. Learning thus goes in a structured way and the group work moves “up the ladder” step by step. It thus becomes a blend of progressive and retrospective learning. By working in a group, the participants learn how to express individually, how to work in a team and how to reach a consensus. At the end of PCW, new friendships are made. Thats the added value.

See below a diagram that shows the structure of PCW with four groups participating.


To do the PCW, data on the case work is needed. This data is provided in an implicit form (like field notes, pages from annual reports, water and electricity bills etc.). The data are often incomplete, forcing the participants to make assumptions or do surfing on the internet. Sometimes, a separate room is created as a knowledge room where “data” is kept for “purchase”. Each team is given a budget to purchase data or get information – This is an important facet of learning about what data or information to buy and what not. Sometimes, a resource person moves around with a hat. This person provides “knowledge” at no cost but the advice provided, may or may not be correct. The groups need to take a call. So it can be a challenge.

At the end of the 3 to 4 days of learning while doing, the groups get ready to present their “solution”. PowerPoint presentations are prepared by each group. Presentations are made to the Jury consisting faculty and some external invitees. A winning group is then declared and generously rewarded (like bottles of black label whisky).

The program for the 3 / 4 days is full. After the day long sessions, additional sessions are conducted with games, karaoke, short films etc. Sometimes coaching is provided on how to make PowerPoints, How to use Excel efficiently etc. In some cases, a field trip is organized in one of the afternoons depending on the location.

Each PCW is customized to the topic and the participants.

I remember we ran a PCW for the students of Environment, Energy, Industrial Engg and School of Management at Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok at Khao Yai resort over 4 days. The topic was cleaner production. Here the professors from these schools also participated. This PCW gave students an integrated perspective on “production and pollution”. The faculty from the four schools got “indirectly” trained.

A PCW was run on ISO 14001 EMS at Tagaitay near Manila targeting the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). At the end of PCW the SME were both motivated and capacitated to implement ISO 14001 in their companies. A PCW on community based action plan was run in Laos. This PCW was based on the principles of Green Productivity. I trained 25 directors of National Cleaner Production Centers (NCPC) in Berlin using a PCW approach. The theme here was how to establish and operate Cleaner Production Centers.

PCW can be assisted by providing easy to use software tools. These tools help in making quick scenarios and get into discussions. Examples of such tools are SimAir, Wisewater, and SimWaste etc. Write to me if you are interested in these tools.

Sometimes, PCWs are created on a real situation. In Hong Kong, I created a PCW by spending a week at an electroplating workshop. When this PCW was conducted, owner of the electroplating workshop attended the final presentations as a member of the Jury! Later, participants visited the electroplating workshop to see the “real” situation. The owner rewarded the winning team by plating their wristwatch bands at no charge!  Sure he got some bright and shining ideas from the PCW! And that was the deal.

I love the PCW approach. It’s by far the most effective way I have come across for training simultaneously on concepts, processes and tools that we often look for in environmental management. Kudos to Dr Guenter Tharun.  I fondly remember the numerous beer sessions I used to have with him at “Papa’s shop” in AIT in the 90s.


(See Dr Tharun at the Centre)

Let me know if anyone is interested to know more on PCW. I will be most pleased to help, conduct or participate.

You may like to sample a typical PCW content from the link below[1].%20EMA%20Training%20Scenario.pdf

Pasted below is the PPS file prepared by Professor C Visvanath on the Khao Yai PCW Workshop. Highly recommend you to view



6 thoughts on “The Project Case Work

  1. Very interesting approach, Dr Modak. I wonder how to use it for training in conducting LCAs; I noticed that the example you provided in your article did use the impact characterization from LCA though the application was for cleaner production.


  2. Dear Prasad.
    Nice to read your mail. My erudite comments are below:
    Just back from Notre Dame university after delivering a talk on Fuzzy logic in Gynecology and opened mail box ( could not do so as Chicago airport has no free WiFI). Teaching is an art and some times it is inherited. . In my view, not amount of formal methods are adequate to be be a good trainer/ teacher. I have and many others have not learnt teaching methods from any one. My father ( died in poverty) was brilliant and highly communicative school teacher similar is the cases with my elder brother and son. As guest faculty as UC Berkeley, student evaluation for me was ” excellent teacher”. You can check about my presentations in Environmental Statistics course with your colleague Fundamental from application view point should be clear and this is the key.. .In July 2015, was invited at not out 75 at Essen University, Germany to deliver a talk on Fuzzy logic Applications which was received with a standing ovations.The outcome was a request to be in Essen as Visiting Professor in March 2016.

    Training the trainers is welcome idea but may not be adequate to become a good communicator.
    In summary, to be a good teacher, one should try on his/her own for ” Out of the Box” ways.. And to do this, one must come out of the Box itself.
    I am in US on academic visit and have been invited at UCB in Nov 2015 as Visiting Professor to organise Four Daylong Workshop fuzzy logic in Informatics.. This rarely happen in India..

    warm regards,
    Tyese are my eruditte comments.


  3. Dear Prasad,
    Reading your blog brings me back to 1993 when we did a PCW on waste minimization in the Textile Dyeing Industry in Bangkok. The resource persons then, other than you, were Foong Ling of Singapore, Raymond Leung of HongKong, Prasert Tapaneeyangkul from Thailand, Thomas Gunn from Malaysia, Mahesh Sharma and L. Paneerselvam from India, and Norman Wong from Malaysia. I saw an article you wrote on this in the Newsletter of the Working Group on Textile Industry dated October 1994 which I have managed to keep all these years!
    Glad to have met you here in DC last year.
    Ramon de Mesa


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