War Games

“I engage, and after that I see what to do. ” —Napoleon Bonaparte

Let’s talk about planning. Most of us have been involved in planning meetings to map out new processes or strategies. Often the planning is done continuously and sequentially with the participants of the meeting. The problem is the participants understand the intent and context of the planning, but it may not be as fluid in execution with members that weren’t part of the planning. We also see many times where we sit in a meeting room and think of all of the contingencies that could foil our plan, so when we complete the plan, we feel that we have everything covered. We then find out during execution that there were some contingencies, or scenarios that we didn’t think about. One way to exploit holes in a plan is to use war-gaming.

War-gaming is technique used in military planning processes that “turns the table” on the plans. The leader or group may decide that want to consider two or three variations of a plan. In the military individuals or groups will be assigned one of the plans to develop while another individual or group will be designated as the “red cell” to think like the enemy and try to challenge each plan from the enemy’s perspective. This is done by advancing the phases of the plan step by step usually on a map or terrain model to show the movement and actions of the forces and the enemies likely reaction to those forces. There is sometimes a “green cell” used in a similar way to factor in civilian or governmental considerations. The wargaming proceeds with each plan going through its phases with red and green cell activities and reactions considered. This gives commanders a perspective on which course of action to use and detailed planning is subsequently done.   

Wargaming can be used in business planning as well. Consider this next time you run a planning meeting for potential strategy implementation such as pricing changes, new product or service offerings, entering new markets, or any others:

  1. Consider 2-4 courses of action you want to evaluate
  2. Assign groups to split up and develop each course of action
  3. Assign Red and Green cell individuals or groups to factor in competitor and customer reactions (There could be one Red/ Green Cell).
  4. Come together as a group and present each course of action
  5. Get input from the red/ green cells on where some of the potential issues would be.
  6. If you like one of the course of actions, then continue with the planning, if not, adjust and repeat the wargaming.

The biggest benefit is splitting off for preliminary planning. It is interesting to see how smaller groups can evaluate a problem. Remember to factor in the main three elements of the strategy triad.

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