5 Key Lessons to Learn from a Beer Game Session

The Beer Game goes well beyond introducing the supply chain — it fosters teamwork, adds new tools and allows more effective analysis throughout an operation.

Child reading the key lessons from the beer game

Why is the beer game so popular? Since it’s conception at MIT in the 1960s, the classic supply chain simulation has been a staple in university classrooms around the globe. Now, with the digital, 100%-remote Beer game App, prestigious consulting firms and large corporations are leveraging its customizable features to accomplish much more than the game’s original objectives. 

Here are five key lessons, both instructors and players can take away from a session using Zensimu's Beer Game

This article is part of a complete series of blog post dedicated to the Beer Game:

1. Understand the role and the challenges of a supply chain manager

For those newer to supply chain concepts, such as students or junior employees, or even employees from other company departments (Sales, Marketing, Finance, etc.), participating in a beer game session provides an excellent opportunity to view a supply chain through the eyes of one who plans it. In doing so, all players can begin to understand the obstacles and important KPIs for measuring performance at each stage of the chain.

More experienced and even veteran supply chain professionals can also greatly benefit from participating in the session. They can better understand certain behaviors and tendencies of employees at each stage in order to more effectively identify and address planning problems. Because our Beer Game creates a fun and safe environment in which to reflect on the overall organization’s strategy, all teams can stay focused on continuous improvement without the real-life stress.

Among those notions, of course, the bullwhip effect, is crucial to understand. This term refers to demand swings increasing when going upstream from the consumer to the manufacturers and suppliers.

Bullwhip effect beer game propagation in the supply chain - starting from end consumer

Bullwhip effect beer game propagation in the supply chain - starting from end consumer

The Bullwhip Effect, a crucial notion in supply chains

2. Collaboration, teamwork and trust make THE difference

One effective way to illustrate the importance of increased visibility throughout the supply chain is to play two different sessions of the Beer Game:

  1. A Beer Game session with less transparent settings that reveal issues stemming from blind spots between stages

  2. A 2nd Beer Game session with information-sharing settings turned on

And then compare the end results of both.

Check out our Beer Game example

Browser - Beer Game Stage

In the latter Beer game, players can more easily communicate and share their points of view, which allows teams to better collaborate and formulate a plan in advance or more effectively react to sudden changes or events affecting certain stages of the chain. This experience allows participants to improve their understanding of the S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning) process, facilitating periodic exchanges between all departments.

4 participants of a game in front of a screen

4 participants of a game in front of a screen

Exchanging information and constraints is critical

3. Why “bad systems beat good people” and making the case for a systematic approach to supply chain management

In nearly every Beer Game session, due to various settings (lead times, visibility, etc.), players are so focused on their individual performance that the overall chain suffers, most notably from the dreaded Bullwhip Effect

These types of behavior have been historically examined in the field of System Dynamics, popularized by the beer distribution game inventor Jay Forrester, and organizations are constantly trying to figure out solutions. The Beer Game aims to help managers improve the way the system is set up in the first place through supply chain design and processes.

The supply chain system with inputs and outputs

The supply chain system with inputs and outputs

Supply Chain System Detailed

4. Agile supply chains achieve better results

Playing the beer game is a great way to help all participants understand the importance of continuous improvement and how modern approaches leveraging “Lean” methodologies are creating more flexible and resilient supply chains. 

The goal of which, of course, is to reduce lead times, number of stages, order batching and price fluctuations that might occur during promotional campaigns. Overall, a shorter production/distribution cycle helps to more easily absorb variations in demand.

In addition, the Beer Game can be integrated into Agile IT training courses due to how effective it is in demonstrating why it’s so important for various departments to have better access to information in order to work more closely together.

Agile project - Lean methodology with Zensimu trainings

Agile project - Lean methodology with Zensimu trainings

Agile project scheme with Zensimu trainings

5. The importance of ERPs and stock-management software

Better understanding the supply chain, reducing errors caused by human behavior and instinct, such as the tendency to secure stock, and truly executing on a path of continuous improvement require using innovative technology fed by a lot of data. 

Supply chain management and planning are increasingly reliant on ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and complex inventory management systems, such as demand-driven MRP (Material Requirements Planning) software. Programs that create “digital twins” are also used to help simulate various scenarios in order to build the capabilities required in the new and improved supply chain (production capacity, transportation time, etc.). Even AI is being integrated to allow more precise forecasting and quicker reaction through “demand sensing”.

Game simulation in virtual reality using a headset

Game simulation in virtual reality using a headset

These 5 lessons are just a quick snapshot into how beer game sessions can really give supply chain planners and participants a real boost in different ways. The app is highly customizable so instructors are free to use it to focus on the lessons they believe are most important to learn depending on their industry and organization. 

Would you like to test our Beer Game? It's free!

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Browser - Beer Game Stage Browser - Beer Game Stage

The complete Guide to Master the Beer Game

Everything you need to know about how to prepare the Beer Game!

Zensimu simulation - Warehouse physical and information flows Zensimu simulation - Warehouse physical and information flows