B&E | Dynamics of a Business War Game
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B&E | Dynamics of a Business War Game

By Miguel Reis, Ruben Silva, Artur Romão and José Saias

B&E | Dynamics of a Business War Game

Image Attribite: LyraBelacqua-Sally, Pixabay.com / Creative Commons

Business war games are strategic management exercises that bring the military scenario simulation to a commercial setting, helping business managers to better understand the environment in which they operate and anticipate scenarios, such as competition movements, new product launching and production capacity planning, among others. These exercises normally take place with players organized in teams, gathered in a room, with a static package of information provided be-forehand. 

Business war gaming is an adaptation of the traditional military war games to a commercial setting, in the scope of a broader discipline called competitive intelligence (CI), practiced by business strategists looking to understand what is happening in the environment that surrounds a business. They test beliefs and assumptions about the business environment, identify emerging opportunities and threats, and build a better under-standing of industry issues. The objective is to improve corporate planning processes, and use the lessons learned from the game in business strategy.   

A key element to make business war gaming effective is the ability to collect and organize data from the external environment, related to the problem being addressed, and then to transform those data into information that can help enable foresight into future scenarios and build proactive and/or better reactive strategies.   

Typically, business war games are conducted by strategic consultants who are responsible for collecting and organizing data, structuring and managing team interaction, assisting participants in understanding and acting upon the simulated moves and counter-moves, and finally providing insights and debriefing the results. While these activities require deep knowledge and expertise, they can all benefit from using appropriate technology that enhances data collection, organization, and analysis, freeing the players to focus on strategy.

War games typically involve a number of teams, each of them representing different players operating in the industry environment. Generally, these teams represent different competitors. However, depending on the actual purpose and scope of the game, they can also include key customers and suppliers, or organizations like regulatory bodies. Generally, the war game process involves a number of rounds. 

Each round represents a different time period, usually from several months to a few years. Shorter periods are less common, as the decisions taken would be-come tactical, rather than strategic in nature. Longer periods are also not common, as the uncertainty factors mean that war gaming would give less direction.


The teams are assisted by one or more elements (coordinators), generally with a strategic consulting background, that facilitate all the materials and information the players will need, manage the interaction between the teams and the workflow between the rounds, organize findings, and finally help participants with the conclusions.


Before the actual game starts, the coordinator (either an individual or a team) has to make sure players have enough, relevant data within the framework of the game, i.e., companies, people, markets, economy, legislation, and so on. 

There will be financial and corporate data about competitors, collected from public web sources (or purchased from specialized providers, if the organization is willing to invest at this level); people’s profiles, taken from social media like LinkedIn; market information, like shares, portfolios, and trends; social, economic and demo-graphic data, gathered from official statistics bodies; and relevant legislation, available from government web sites. 

In general, the coordinator gets these data each time he runs a business war game, meaning he will have to look for them, or at least update what he already has from previous games.   

After that, he must prepare the data so that players can understand and use it during the game. Usually, there are templates that make this task easier, although sometimes new sources or data formats mean extra work to adapt the templates.

Player Activities 

The exact activities players perform during a business war game depend, naturally, on the actual case being ad-dressed, its scope and goals. Players are organized in teams, each representing a company or organization involved in the “war” scenario (usually a competitor), and the game progresses through moves and counter-moves of each team. A move represents the decisions of the team in the face of the others’ own moves (i.e., decisions). 

The team members analyse what others have come up with, together with information available from the coordinator, dis-cuss the implications and alternatives for their own strategy, update any information structures they may be using (see below), and generate the next move. 

During a move, the players use tools and frameworks that help them to organize information and systematize the outcome of decisions. Strategic models like Porter’s Five Forces and Four Corners, SWOT analysis, or bench-marking, are examples of such tools. They all provide information structures that help players organize what they know and from there make it easier for them to make informed decisions. 

The coordinator may assist each team in working with these data and tools, assuming a pedagogical role, but refrain from influencing the outcome in any way.

Game Conclusions 

Whether or not there will be a winner of the game is not a fundamental goal of playing it in the first place. Of course, having some kind of personal stimulus may be an additional factor for player engagement (that is the core of current gamification trends, but the overall goal should be the exercise in itself, the learning each player gets from participating, and the value for the organization by having a group of talented people discussing and deciding about scenarios that they might actually be facing in the future. 

The coordinator finalizes the game by debriefing the participants about the path taken from the initial stage, the decision processes used by the players, the lessons learned, and how they can be used effectively in the organization against similar situations in the future. He/she does this by delivering the conclusions in the form of a presentation and/or additional documentation, for future reference.

Cite this Article:

Reis, M., Silva, R., Romão, A. and Saias, J. (2015) BigPicture: An Analytical Platform for Business War Gaming. Intelligent Information Management, 7, 303-312. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/iim.2015.760 24

Copyright © 2015 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY).