The function of a war game is to determine plans; failure to act on discoveries is time and money wasted.

Aurora WDC’s own Tim Smith discussed business wargaming in the final session of Tuesday’s RECONVERGE: G2 program. The scope of the discussion surrounded “training the facilitator” in wargaming.

A variety of war games exist, but today’s discussion centered on facilitators’ training school and covered the nuts and bolts of the process such that conference attendess have these considerations in mind prior to “jumping in” to a war game experience.

Business war gaming may not always be the best process in analysis, and developing these exercises needs to be done with consideration that good data must enter the process in order to obtain good results. Faulty intelligence can yield horrific results: Smith provided examples of Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Vietnam as instances from which we can learn that intelligence breakdowns exist; information can be compromised with dire consequences.

In the business world, we can point to the Betamax as an example in which the company failed to consider feedback from the customer base regarding how a device would be used. Another example is that of Kodak. The perspective of Kodak was that digital images were a phase, and Kodak’s response was to invest heavily in printing.

Goals of the session:

  1. When is a game appropriate?
  2. Understand what makes a good sponsor
  3. Mechanics of the game
  4. Key concepts
  5. Logistics and timing
  6. Let’s take it for a spin!


Two types of war games:

“Canned”: Builds capability, using a business scenario to educate managers in strategic decision making. It puts participants in a safe environment and allows them to gain experience. Finally, the experience will promote team building.
It is important to emphasize to participants this is a simulation, and must remain confidential.

“Tailored”: Builds a specific response. This type of wargame explores and tests true strategies to discover weaknesses in a plan and identify possible consequences. It is tailored to the needs of a specific audience.

Any wargaming metholodology can be adapted to specific games. The key is to pick one and stick with it until a comfort level is gained in managing nuances of the selected process, and further in training the facilitator to be effective.

Wargames support all levels of planning: Determining a vision, at the strategic level, operational level, and with consideration of tactical concerns.

What is the value of wargaming?

  • Shared experience in learning and team building
  • Focus on assumptions and ‘what ifs’
  • Tangible deliverables: This exercise is not conducted just to have fun, but to determine what the deliverables are.

Success is determined by whether or not these deliverables are met. (For example, how to handle response to a defective product.)

At the beginning of the game, ask what you want participants to learn—and prompt them to stretch. For example, ask: “Why do cars have brakes?” A typical answer might be “to slow you down.” But, consider that brakes will actually allow you to go faster! This broad thinking mindset will be advantageous.

The power of a simulation is that it brings to surface ideas that are not apparent when looking from the inside out. New perspectives are important and provide various outcomes regarding deliverables.

Represent all critical stakeholders: The market, company activities, and the competitors–direct, indirect and new forms of competition. Your level of success is determined by variables of the competition and indirect threats over a span of time. Also—the market (suppliers, customer segments) will be influential.

A competitive spirit will drive success in wargaming: It drives to deliverables, and may challenge current belief and practice!
Facilitators interact with teams to help them reach outcomes.

Other participants in the war game include a ‘home team’ to visualize in real time how competition’s strategies will be impactful. It is easy to ‘go after’ the home team. Further, judges of the home team will be more apt to accept ideas from the competitor. It is important to gauge the reaction of the home team who is locked into processes and responses.

A competitor team provides new options and vies against the home team; they attempt to think like the competitor and plan as if they are the home team’s competition, and devise strategies concerning how they might beat the home team.

The market team represents stakeholders in the external environment: Customers. They will evaluate responses of the home team and the competitors.

One component of a war game exercise is that of the silver bullet analysis. It determines where competitors are weak and the home team is strong. Honesty may be a bit of a concern for participants who may try to sell the market on their ‘silver bullets’, and this natural response is a consideration in evaluation of strategy. The idea is to identify the silver bullets and determine how to fill a gap.

Business model canvas: This exercise examines components of the business model with ambition to perhaps alter parts of it.
Opportunity assessments: ensure that market teams evaluate needs/wants of the market, and how connections will be formed. It grounds and focuses planners.

Probability/impact: This exercise is used after the competitive phase of the game. Winners are determined and prizes may be offered. All opportunities for the home team identified in the game are listed, along with all the threats. Group consensus should be obtained on probability of occurrence and what the impact would be to the home team in the event the circumstance occurred. Action plans are determined based upon the outcome of findings.

The point of the entire game is to unearth opportunities and threats, and to ensure management is operating on these discoveries post-game. Intelligence missions will be driven post-game, and provide a road map for the future.

Designing a war game with business culture in mind is important. Culture of the company will dictate language choices, the level of competition teams engage in; knowledge of what is considered acceptable is a component to the game’s success.

Sponsors select issues for further examination and the deliverable is “how to handle this situation”; momentum is created upon the game’s conclusion.

The after action report serves as a legacy document. Issues and responses are enumerated, intelligence gaps identified, and areas uncovered in doing research for the game are documented.


Attributes of a good facilitator

  • Good presentation skills
  • Ability to create a logical set of activities that address fundamental business problems
  • Have the power to make it happen
  • Do not fear rattling cages
  • Have the power to take action post game

The challenge is identifying a good sponsor and making sure they remain committed.

Planning horizon considerations

Two months in advance—make sure key people can participate. Outline scope and objectives, prepare RFPs, assemble profiles of the competition, customize activities, designate team leads, conduct internal and external interviews, distribute pre-reads, make team assignments, conduct kick-off meeting.

Week of the wargame—Confirm attendance, meet with team leads, review meeting logistics.

Week or two after the wargame—Conduct post war-game debrief with sponsor and vendor, confirm time and attendees for after-action report, review vendor report, secure and store all wargame enduring materials, transfer and integrate learnings into strategies and actions.

Access to the commander

Running a successful wargame will not grant the magic key during the development phase, but it will keep you in the loop post-game.

Your role in defining purpose and scope

  • Give guidance on what games purpose is; consider needs of the sponsor and other key stakeholders
  • Come to the sponsor ready to answer questions on new entrants, potential M&A in the relevant market, and good understanding of disruptors.
  • Limiting the scope will not only reduce workload before the game but create more focus on key issues.
  • Most important: Ensure the game is designed to deliver executable strategies and tactics that can be measured.
  • Helpful advice for facilitators
  • Ultimately, remember “it’s all about the intel.” Make sure information going in is accurate for development of good strategies.
  • Examine the process before engaging in a wargame. Is a wargame appropriate? What do you want to achieve? Consider time horizon, uncertainties, intel gaps. Know it is valuable as team building or in rehearsing a strategic move. Assess available resources; generic competitive simulation is good for a first time–a tailored simulation will be most beneficial for testing complex situations.
  • Invite company strategists and those at a high level within the organization to participate: They are the ones who can act upon discoveries.
  • Know that the most amount of time facilitators spend will be on the design process. Players will need a lot of background data, and you need to determine how teams will communicate. Be aware that players will require training, and physical space set up is also important.
  • Wargaming is used in a variety of contexts; competitors may represent different players in the value chain—perhaps union representation, for instance, or other “game changers” in a process.

During play

  • Two days to play is a common timeframe
  • Teams have limited time to prepare and submit plans to the market team
  • Allowable actions will be fed into software
  • Teams will receive limited feedback regarding the actions of other teams
  • In-game press releases can change game parameters.
  • Administrative and technical support should be available
  • Outcomes should be recorded.

The after action report

  • Players must be debriefed
  • Outcomes need to be collected
  • Insights must be followed up and insights gained during the exercise should be acted upon,

In conclusion, parting advice is that facilitators should be aware of ‘mission creep’ as it relates to the scope of the game. Resist temptation to invite outsiders as participants. After the game, seize initiative and further grow relationships forged during pre-game activities and the game itself.

RECONVERGE:G2 participants had opportunity to practice in a sample wargame to conclude the session, and completed a stakeholder analysis during which action plans were formulated.