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A War Game normally refers to a workshop framework that helps a company to understand the present and future behavior of its competitors, by having team members play out various scenarios as if they were the competitors themselves. Through the process, the teams that are involved help describe how competitors could react in different business settings, thereby illuminating and enhancing understanding of present and future competitive situations for those involved.
With interactive, vocal and fact-based format, War Games help to combine the internal tacit knowledge within the company with the formal intelligence that is available in form of reports, news etc.
We get some tips from Hans Hedin, who has hosted various strategic workshops, including War Games, for companies in the telecoms, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, energy and finance industries since 2001.
What are some of the biggest benefits of business War Games?
“War games help provide a neutral approach to discuss and challenge a company’s strategies and perceptions. Every company will have a few blind spots and War Games help them to discover these for themselves. This increases greater ownership and accountability for dealing with these blind spots and for better team support as a result of the self-discovery process.
War games are best played when you involve people from various functions and they are able to bring something new to the table that some specialists cannot on their own. The cross-functional knowledge exchange often proves to be very helpful, as most times, a lot of knowledge already exists within the company and you just need a platform for it to all come together.
For example, a pharma company used a War Game as a means to launch their own in-house market intelligence function with great success. They wanted to engage their key target group of product and market managers from all over the world but found it difficult to kick-start the process. So they used a War Game to make it interesting and to ensure everyone got to contribute.
The Game focused on upcoming competitor product launches for the next three years. Through the game, they not only got a better understanding of upcoming marketplace changes, but also identified several business opportunities related to one particular drug, partnership opportunities, etc. In addition to this, a network was developed for the market intelligence function through the group of participants. It was also a great way to promote the newly launched market intelligence function and team as the results were recognized company wide.
In one of the War Games we facilitated for the telecoms industry, we focused on identifying how competitors and partners would change their strategies in relation to market liberalization. This Game combined a set of possible future scenarios from the legislative perspective, with different strategic moves from each main competitor together with their key partners and suppliers. This helped the company to plan a robust strategy that would work in several scenarios and provide a competitive edge at the time when the market became deregulated.
Plus, War Games can be very energizing and fun!”
What types of War Games are there and which do you run?
“There are three basic types, which are differentiated by their focus and purpose.
First, there are Tactical War Games. These are more short term in focus, say about one month to 1.5 years. They are run to help companies prepare their tactical approach or response to new product launches, new technologies, new legislation or new market entries either for the company or by their competitors. It can also be used prior to joint ventures, partnerships and M&As.
Then you have Strategic War Game, where the objective is to understand the competitive moves that might affect your industry within the next one to five years. This War Game can help generate possible future strategic plans from competitors, illuminating their strategic intent and preferred strategic positioning. Having unions, political parties, legislative bodies and industry associations send representative participants can help broaden the scope of the views brought in.
Thirdly, you can conduct Futuristic War Games. The scenarios can be based on trends and uncertainties from 5 up to 100 years. Usually, this War Game is used to understand trends and uncertainties from a 360-degree perspective, covering politics, macro economic factors, legal issues, societal trends, global technology trends etc. These workshops combine three methodologies; megatrends analysis, scenario analysis and war games."
What is some common feedback that you receive at the end of a War Game workshop?
“Many say “THIS WAS FUN!” at the end of a War Game. I think this is a very good response. If they thought it was fun, they are sure to put their intellectual efforts into play as well. War Gaming is like “learning by doing” and I think this is the most powerful mode of learning there is.”
Do you have any other practical advice for those interested in running business War Games?
“The five golden rules of war-gaming are preparation, specifying the outcome, making it fun, follow up and team composition.
First, you need to prepare at least three to six months ahead of the Game. And you must specify the expected outcome. Be very sure that you know what you want to get out of the game, and plan for this. And don’t forget to make it fun and intellectually challenging.
Monitor what is happening and how well your predictions and activities worked out. This is needed in order to learn for the next War Game.
Ensure that you have participants from a wide variety of corporate units in order to create a multifaceted picture of the present and future marketplace.”
What are the benefits of an external facilitator?
“Choose to work with someone who has a proven track record. This way, you get someone who can facilitate the workshop and focus on the actual action, and not need to think about all the practicalities.
It’s very useful to get an external perspective from your facilitator. Sometimes it might be difficult to see things outside what you are used to. The facilitator will force you to “become” the competition.
Most importantly, an external facilitator like GIA can develop the needed fact packs for each competitor or player in the game. This can save a lot of time and money.”
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