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A short 2 pager outlining the benefits of wargaming and role playing to improve business strategy.

A short 2 pager outlining the benefits of wargaming and role playing to improve business strategy.

Published in Entertainment & Humor
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  • 1. Wargaming the other side of the hill “ All the business of life, is to endeavor to find out what you don't know by what you do; that's what I called 'guessing what was at the other side of the hill.' Field Marshall Lord Wellington sevenquestions
  • 2. Lost in translation Once the preserve of military leaders the wargame is becoming tool for their corporate counterparts. However, there is a danger that what is an effective tool for planning military operations loses something of its value in the translation from battlefield to boardroom. Like the Sun Tzu quoting businessmen of st the 1990’s, the 21 Century advocates of wargaming are sometimes guilty of promising too much from the process or, worse, failing to exploit its full potential. In shedding its camouflage for pinstripes, the wargame is no longer a tool for testing and refining st plans against a single adversary. In it’s 21 century commercial guise the wargame is expected to deliver better decisions against an array of competing adversaries of which Porter lined up only the first five. Why wargame? Wargaming is not a black art. There are no secret formulae and no manuals filled with secret military processes. Like most military systems the foundations of wargaming are solidly practical. It has survived as a tool for military planners and leaders by virtue of its simplicity, wide utility and ease of application. In a profession that remains accepting of, but not wholly reliant upon technology, wargaming is a military tool that can be done in a dark tent, in the middle of nowhere using lines scratched in the sand and a selection of rocks gathered up from the feet of the participants. At its most basic level the purpose of the wargame, within a military context, is to pit an emerging plan against the most likely or most dangerous enemy course of action. Whilst the environment and context are important factors, it is essentially a game of chess where both sides start ‘Well-designed war games, with a plan though not a panacea, can be for victory. powerful learning experiences that allows managers to make better decisions’. Within a commercial context the Playing War Games to Win enemy do John Horn not easily translate. Whilst many CEOs may dream about doing so, the aim of business is not to destroy the competition. In a commercial context the adversarial pitting of one plan against an opponent’s has limited value. In an increasing dynamic and uncertain marketplace, the commercial leader seeks a glimpse of future success, to paraphrase Lord Wellington; they want to see what’s over the hill. In the quest for better decisions the wargame has found a place in the corporate strategist’s armoury. Ways, ends and means Although much of what passes for commercial wargaming bears only a passing resemblance to its military cousin the flexibility inherent in the basic process is precisely why it has survived the transition and is becoming so widely employed. Page | 1 There is no argument that the process works, but rather like trying to use a wood to get out of a bunker during golf, it’s not wargaming per se that delivers better decisions, but rather the right type of wargame. What’s the question? Framing the right question is critical to choosing the right style of wargaming; or whether its wargaming you need in the first place. There is a point along a continuum of uncertainty when the value of wargaming decreases and the value of horizon scanning increases. HORIZON SCANNING WARGAMING PLANNING Less Uncertainty More Wargaming sits in the grey area between planning against tolerable uncertainty and the opposite end of the spectrum – ‘let’s try and get a handle on what sort of environment we might have to plan for’. sevenquestions
  • 3. When the decision maker reaches the point at which they cannot create credible plans and/or behaviours for the ‘opponents’ for the wargame, they have reached a point where the value of the wargame itself becomes questionable. review the planning process itself; are you using a system that enables you to produce a decent plan in the first place? If you are content that you possess a workable methodology then inject a sensible number of assumptions to strengthen the plan. ‘.. wargames can help decision makers achieve success and avoid the pain of failure’. There are two important issues when using assumptions. The first is to Uncertainty operates in two temper the natural desire to assume areas. The first is the every challenge away – four to six key General (Retd) Anthony Zinni uncertainty continuum on the Quoted in Wargaming for Leaders assumptions are required. The second previous page – the uncertainty By Herman, Frost & Kurz issue is to make the assumptions about the obstacles to success acceptable: they must be valid, agreed, faced by your plan. The second dimension of credible and constantly visible. Assumptions must be uncertainty surrounds your plan itself. All too often on show, literally, because if anything that occurs commercial wargaming is being applied not to test a subsequently that questions their validity then the plan plan against an uncertain environment, but to attempt itself has to be reviewed. The advantage, however, is to determine what sort of plan should be developed in that if the right assumptions are framed correctly they the first place. can save time if they aren’t exposed as being invalid during subsequent planning or wargaming. When faced by uncertainty about both the plan and the environment the value of the plan decreases And so, to war … dramatically. Managing uncertainty on one axis Having determined that there is a sufficient degree of (primarily the future environment) is the purpose of confidence in the plan (with or without the benefit of wargaming – asking it to produce ‘better decisions’ making assumptions to support it) and there is a when uncertainty persists on two axes is asking a little correspondingly low degree of confidence in the future environment, the wargame can be developed. Interesting times The basic model of the wargame is the same, regardless of the scale or purpose and comprises five components: Facilitator(s). There is a requirement to keep things honest, coordinate and control in any wargame regardless of scale or complexity. Blue Team. The Blue Team is the focus of the game – it is their plan that is being tested, developed or refined and/or their members being tested, assessed or trained. too much. In such situations some stability in one of the axis has to be established first. When considerable uncertainty exists about the future environment some form of horizon scan can provide some clarity. Even without a full-scale horizon scanning session, a facilitated meeting to consider the future, with a form of confidence check is a useful exercise before returning to the option of the wargame. Uncertainty over the robustness or quality of the plan requires a different approach. In these circumstances where nothing more than ‘reasonable doubt’ exists over the future environment and it is the quality, direction or strategy itself which is giving cause for concern then there are two options available. Firstly, Page | 2 Red Team. The Red Team inject anything that creates an obstacle to Blue Team success. Militarily the Red Team represent the enemy, the weather and risks such as equipment failure. Within a commercial context they may represent ant combination of potential obstacles to success: competitors, exchange rates or rising sea levels. Blue Plan. Wargaming value is optimized when the Blue Team enter into the fray bearing a plan, strategy or vision. They cannot participate by improvising. Whilst there will always be a need to adapt, they have to be deviating from something. Red Plan(s). There must be a guiding strategy, bounded risks and or behaviors to influence the Red Team. Like the Blue Team, the Red Team require a plan and/or guidance. Controlled Time. More than anything else, it is the imposition of a time-driven framework that defines sevenquestions
  • 4. wargaming. Each disciplined step or turn can be minutes or months in duration but it is time that imposes the framework over the game and enables outcomes of value to be created. What are the rules? Wargaming should impose a disciplined approach on what would otherwise be a loose discussion about the validity of a particular plan or strategy. The discipline is imposed by using a turn-based and timeconstrained methodology to test the Blue Team plan against a range of potential obstacles to its success. The simple cyclical model to the right is an example of the process and can be used for low-level games with turns lasting minutes (for example to test a crisis response) or for sessions with a longer duration. This model rewards the team deemed to have the initiative derived from being the prime mover. This reward manifests itself as an opportunity to react to the opponents move – all within the predetermined timeframe of the turn. The turn length covers the three steps: action, counteraction and reaction – with all activity having to be completed within the agreed duration be it minutes, hours or months. The value of the reward for the team with the initiative (which can be either team to start and could change during the course of the session) will obviously be diluted the longer the turn duration gets and could be dispensed with for strategiclevel wargames. Who is on my team? Within the turn cycle a referee resolves the results of interactions between the plans, strategies and actions of the two teams. The referee needs to understand the rules but more importantly, should be an individual with sufficient experience and credibility to allow their decisions to be final. Ideally the referee should be drawn from the organization participating rather than an external source. The composition of the Blue and Red teams will be driven by the purpose of the wargame and its scale. Clear rules and a division of responsibility between the referee (internal) and facilitator (probably external) should enable relatively large groups of people to participate. Maximizing the number of participants Page | 3 brings considerable benefits to an organization in terms of team building, building mutual understanding and developing leadership capabilities. The Blue Team should comprise those accountable for the success of the plan or strategy being tested or developed. This ‘front bench’ can be supported by whoever is required to provide the specialist advice required. The key drivers in determining participation will be the scale of the wargame and the duration of the timeframe of each turn. The Red Team could be a small number of individuals representing an array of potential obstacles: competitors, customers, media, legislative input anything that will influence the result. The value of the wargame is largely driven by the quality of the Red Team input. Whilst the Blue Team are doing their ‘day jobs’ the Red Team will be required to make credible assumptions about areas that they are less familiar with. Consequently the size of the Red Team may be relatively large and take time to develop. For example, in developing a wargame to test a marketing strategy, the Red Team may become a Red Group with smaller teams representing a number of competitors, another group representing customers another yet may be created to inject regulatory changes or financial information. Invest in creating a credible and competent Red Team to maximize the return from wargaming. Did we win? For many first time players in a wargame the tendency to ‘beat the other team’ becomes the overriding aim, not to mention the cause of heated arguments and the occasional playground complaint of ‘but it’s not fair…’ The purpose of the wargame is to test, refine or validate the Blue Team plan and when necessary the players must be reminded of this. For their part, the Blue Team must make credible decisions based on the information they have available and be true to their strategy or plan. The responsibility of the Red Team members is to remain ‘in character’ and inject credible and appropriate response according to their own plan and/or data. sevenquestions
  • 5. There is, therefore, no winner per se. Success is judged on two counts. Firstly, did the plan stand up to the pressure and obstacles placed in its path and do those accountable have greater confidence in its chances of success? Secondly, was there value in the exercise, was the cost of running the wargame exceed by the benefits of the exercise? There will be immediate benefits – a better plan, a greater mutual understanding of how the organisation intends to go forward and identification of threats and potential obstacles that may not have been considered. Assumptions made at the outset may have been validated or challenged. Other benefits are likely to accrue over time and derive from individuals working with colleagues that they rarely spend time with, the novelty of the activity and the pressure that builds within the context of the wargame will improve decision-making. What then? The wargame should not end when the final turn has been completed. The facilitator, referee or sponsor must revisit the purpose of the exercise and determine if the objective has been met. Throughout the process observations will have been made and questions noted down – the end of the game is the time to briefly consolidate these issues. Every effort should also be made to capitalize on the captive audience. The conclusion of a wargame provides senior leaders the opportunity to conduct a ‘hot wash up’ and speak to their teams on the back of their collective efforts. Obvious tasks can be delegated, immediate feedback captured and the benefits of a shared experience capitalized on by improving teamwork and shared understanding. However, these are all additional benefits. At the end of the wargame revisit the objective. Does the plan work? If not, why not? Changes, issues for review, critical concerns and a rough plan of action are all the principle outputs of a wargame. The investment in time and resources requires a tangible product, a measurable output and a clear decision about the way forward. About the Author Philip Hannah is a Director of SevenQuestions, a strategy consulting firm that provides decision support to public and private sector clients. Philip is a former British Army Gurkha officer who has applied his experience of tactical and operational wargaming in a military context to develop systems to help commercial organizations make better decisions and more effective plans. So What? Wargaming works and offers a range of short and longer-term benefits for organizations that use it effectively. It is not a black art, it doesn’t have to be a complex affair but it requires thought about the purpose of running a wargame in the first place. Done well and the benefits of a wargame will outweigh the cost. Page | 4 Seven Questions Consulting Limited Registered in England & Wales No. 7293559 55 Old Broad Street London EC2M 1RX www.sevenquestions.co.uk ©2011 Seven Questions Consulting Limited sevenquestions