Help with 'The Beer Game' LO25864

From: Bill Harris (
Date: 01/12/01

Replying to LO25837 --

ClaireKil@AOL.COM wrote:

> I have facilitated the Beer Game several times and, in general, it has
> been a successful learning experience. I have used it mostly as part of a
> systems thinking workshop. In a couple of weeks, I'll be facilitating it
> again and the audience is a mixed group of managers from a manufacturing
> organization who are experiencing supply chain management problems.
> I thought I'd put out a call for any advice or suggestions for making the
> game more rewarding. Has anyone found a particularly successful way to
> debrief/ wrap up? to make connections to supply chain management
> problems? Any problems you encounter with the game and ways to overcome
> them?


On the fun side, I believe Thomas Kemper and some other beer brewers also
make high-quality root beer. I've had some of that brought in for breaks,
to the amusement of all and the enjoyment of most (gets around any
problems of bringing alcohol into a work situation).

When I first taught the Beer Game, I found it to be an excellent and fun
way to impart a sense of personal incompetence. While deflating overly
inflated egos can be a first step towards learning, that wasn't the
message I wanted to give. (BTW, I agree with Winfried that you need to be
sure the Beer Game fulfills the learning needs of your group; I'm
presuming you've done that.)

The message I wanted to leave was that these things (supply chains and
other such "complex" problems) are challenging to solve, and that a bit of
well-applied simulation can go a long way towards helping solve such
problems before conducting a grand experiment on your company. (That was
my learning objective for the groups I've led through the Beer Game. I
think this may also help address Hanching's concern that there be an
underlying theory.)

In brief, what I and a colleague evolved towards was to run the Beer Game
in the morning, wait for all the complaints ("yeah, but we could've done
better, if we hadn't been constrained by these silly rules" or "we
could've done better, if we had the sort of information we would have used
in the real world"), and then allow them to discuss what they would
change. We then created a new game on the fly, incorporating all the
changes they thought were obvious.

As you might expect, that doesn't always lead (or maybe rarely leads) to
improved results, and that is a lesson in itself. The debrief can then
focus on the importance of trying out changes to complex systems before
implementing them with real people and real money. We talked a bit about
system dynamics as one approach to addressing such problems through
computer simulation (I used that moment as a short ad for other services I
offer) and demo'd a computer simulation of the Beer Game, but we also
noted that manual simulations such as we had just run can be powerful, as
well. Either can overcome some of the problems of trying to solve complex
problems (in the simple/complicated/complex taxonomy of Gomez & Probst)
with the unaided brain. Try Dörner's _The Logic of Failure_ for support
for that statement.

I don't think I've heard of it being done this way elsewhere. Feel free
to contact me if you'd like more information.



Bill Harris                                  3217 102nd Place SE
Facilitated Systems                          Everett, WA 98208 USA               phone: +1 425 337-5541

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