Perform a successful Beer Game Debriefing

In this article we’ll provide some suggestions to help guide you through a typical debriefing, which generally occur through the following topics:

In this article:

For a practical application of the tips below, we have put together some slides to be displayed directly or integrated in your own deck : Download the Debriefing slides here (.pptx)

Designating a winner

The beer game is more fun when several teams compete with each other. In order to select a winner, we calculate the sum of the Inventory and Backorder Costs. The winning team will have reduced both costs and, therefore, achieved just the right stock level at each stage — not too high and not too low.

At the end of each round, you can go on the Session results page, to display a comparaison of all the teams.

You can also select several KPIs to display the comparison charts side by side. Example below with the Cost and Fill rate:

In case you have included a Unit Price for a role in the game, you can compare Supply Chains based on their Profit (Revenue - Cost) :

Charts for analysis and discussion

The best way to reinforce a lesson is to let players actively participate in analysis and discussion and come up with conclusions by themselves. To spark the discussion, you can display charts and pose questions to the whole class or to specific players/teams.

The first graph that you see in the recap displays the general evolution of game metrics at each turn.

Here are some typical questions instructors might ask to begin a discussion:

  • At what point in the game did we generate the most costs? When was there a lot of stock or backorders?
  • Did you generally feel in control of the situation?
  • What difficulties did you meet throughout the game?

Next, the instructor can zoom in on The Order vs. Sell-out chart, which allows the comparison of final consumer demand and orders in the supply chain and reveals huge fluctuations and lack of coherence between the two.

In addition, you can view the facility evolution to see how fluctuations increase as we move up the chain from retailer to manufacturer. This is where you can illustrate the phenomenon called the Bullwhip effect

Looking at specific stages, instructors can ask players what they think may have led to this and will often receive the following explanations:

  • “I didn’t have any visibility on future demand.”
  • “I ordered more to ensure a safe level of stock.”
  • “My supplier didn’t deliver so I increased my orders.”
  • “I was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough stock.”
  • “I started to have backorders so I increased my orders to be safe.”
  • “My customer suddenly increased his orders.”
  • “The Lead Time didn’t allow me to react quickly enough.”
  • “I tried to optimize my own stock.”
  • “I lost count of how much I had ordered before.”

Identifying areas for improvement

Just remember that even though the game was designed to lead to these results, the challenges are not insurmountable!

Therefore, you can ask the participants to propose four pragmatic solutions to help reduce this effect and improve the results.

Here are just some common responses (with resulting lessons in parentheses):

  • “Communicate more and build a strategy.” (information sharing/collaboration)
  • “Project future sales to order/plan in advance.” (demand forecasts)
  • “Reduce lead times to be able to re-supply more quickly between both ends of the supply chain.” (improve performance)
  • “Reduce the number of stages by shipping from manufacturer to retailer.” (supply-chain design)
  • “Re-order only what is needed to keep a minimum stock at each stage and avoid peaks.” (planning tools/kanban)

If you want, you can even conduct a second round of the beer game integrating the propositions, for example:

  • Activate the “transparent mode” to allow participants to see each other's data. 
  • Allow them to speak or chat with each-other if you choose.
  • Reduce the lead time, number of stages, or give approximate indications on the future demand to let them anticipate and build a strategy together.

These adjustments usually have a tremendous impact on the bottom line.

Concluding the game and introducing new concepts

Since the beer game simplifies any kind of supply chain, it is the perfect way to introduce additional concepts and projects. If you are working in a company, compare the rules and the layout with your own situation and tools. What are the similarities and differences?

In addition, the beer game can reveal deeply ingrained human biases and behaviors. It is good to be conscious of them so as to prevent issues in future client/supplier relationships.

Also, whether you wish to explain supply chain planning tools in use or have a project to introduce new ones, the beer game can effectively show how these can be useful by demonstrating supply chain challenges.

More specifically, the debriefing is the perfect time to introduce new concepts, which may be addressed later, such as:

  • Supply chain KPIs
  • Replenishment policies and calculations,
  • MRP / DDMRP systems,
  • Demand Forecasting methods
  • Sales and Operations planning

Example of an MRP system in an old "AS400" system:

  • Demand Sensing
  • AI for forecasting/optimization
  • Industry 4.0

Even if the beer game is being conducted in outside areas like Marketing or Business, the game can reveal and detail connections to supply chains. For example, how do marketing and promotional activities impact operations, and which processes can help?

Sales and Operations Planning process:

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