The Beer Game Production-Distribution Exercise:

Running Large Sessions

This page provides support to run sessions of the beer game production-distribution exercise, especially large sessions. The beer game is a simulation of a production-distribution system for a consumer product, such as beer. No actual beer used in the exercise, and another consumer product, such as juice or milk, can be discussed, if appropriate. The exercise demonstrates the impact of system structure on human performance in a complex process, and it provides a vivid example to introduce systems concepts.

Press here for further information about the beer game, including a diagram of the playing board. Game supplies are available from the System Dynamics Society. The beer game and supply chain dynamics are discussed in detail in John Sterman's book Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World, Irwin McGraw-Hill, Boston, 2000.

I moderated game sessions during the orientation for incoming Master of Business Administration students at Arizona State University. The sessions included from 104 to 159 students, playing from 13 to 20 games simultaneously. For large game sessions, it is useful to have facilitators to assist you (if possible, one facilitator for each game). We used faculty and second year MBA students as facilitators. Most of them had previously played the game, and I trained them by having them replay the game (with a modified retail order deck). Then we discussed problems that can arise and how to "fix" these.

Most games settle into a routine by about week twelve and move smoothly after that. However, it is important to quickly identify a game that is having difficulty and, if necessary, have facilitators from games that are progressing smoothly move in to help straighten this game out. (A substantial risk in a large game session is that some players will become bored while waiting for "problem" games to be fixed.)

It can be difficult to be heard, and a whistle helps to signal the end of each week of play. Also, post the game steps for each week, as well as the current week, in a place that is visible to all players and facilitators. It helps if you can stand where you can see the progress of all the games.

The game session was partially a mixer for the students, and players were randomly assigned to game tables. This was done by putting a number on each table and using shuffled index cards with table numbers on them to assign students to tables. Starting time for the session was 9:00 am, and it was about 9:30 am when initial announcements were completed and the game session began. The game teams selected names, and I had each team shout out its name. Then the game got under way. Game play was over about 11:00 am, and the teams usually completed their summary charts by 11:15 am. We had a brief introductory discussion while the facilitators posted game records on the wall, and then we broke for box lunches at 11:30 am.

During the lunch break, the game boards and other supplies were collected. The debriefing continued after lunch at about 12:15 to 12:30 pm. The winning team was announced, had its picture taken, and was awarded its prizes (Arizona State University beer mugs). Then the discussion continued for about a half hour.

The materials below are helpful for training moderators and facilitators.

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