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Outline for post-game discussion
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1. Get all the graphs of results (orders, "effective inventory" = inventory-backlog) taped up on the blackboard.

2. Find out which team won (lowest total cost).

Although they played the game to minimize cost, that's not the real purpose of the game. The game is designed to:

  • give them an experience of playing a role in a system
  • show them how "structure produces behavior"
Ask participants what their experience of playing the game was. Some good leading questions are:
  • Did you feel yourself "at the effect" of forces in the system from time to time? (i.e., relatively helpless in the face of huge incoming orders or excess inventories)
  • Did you find yourself "blaming" the person next to you for your problems?

After a few minutes (about 10) of discussion, look at the graphs of the results. Ask them, "What commonalities do you see in the graphs for the different teams?" Participants should see common pattern of overshoot and oscillation. This should be most evident in the effective inventory graph.

Get them to really see for themselves that different people in the same structure produce qualitatively similar results. Even though they acted very differently as individuals in ordering inventory, still the overall patterns of behavior are similar. Differences in individual ordering patterns (free will) result in the quantitative differences in game results. But the qualitative patterns are the same. This is a very important point--take as long as necessary to have them see it for themselves.

You might reflect at this point on what happens in the real world when such order-rate, and inventory oscillations are generated. The typical organizational response is to find the "person responsible" (the guy placing the orders or the inventory manager) and blame him. The game clearly demonstrates how inappropriate this response is--different people following different decision rules for ordering a generated oscillations.

After having had them all see the extent to which different people produce similar results in a common structure, you then need to move on to what is usually the most powerful point made by the game: that internal structure not external events cause system behavior. The way to make this point is to ask the following question:

"All of you who were not retailers, or who otherwise have not found out what the pattern of customer orders was, what do you think the customers were doing?"

Most people usually believe that customer demand was fluctuating because they believe that the system fluctuations must have been externally driven. Get each of them (other than retailers) to see that they assumed fluctuating customer orders.

Draw in each order rate graph the customer ordering pattern. The small step from from 4 to 8 orders should make a strong visual impression in contrast to the order rate fluctuations which often have amplitude of 20- to 40-orders per week. Moreover, the sustained oscillations generated by the system contrast sharply to the absolutely flat customer order rate after the step at week 5.

This simple exercise of getting them to see how, contrary to their expectations, the internal system structure is completely capable of generating fluctuating behavior is the most profound lesson they can learn from the game.

It is important that they see this for themselves, as a demonstration or an experimental result whlch they did, not as an idea of which you're trying to convince them. In fact, the game is an experiment in very true sense. The result of oscillating behavior was not predetermined.

The assumption that the system's problems are caused by the customer stems from the external orientation most of us adopt in dealing with most problems. In a sense, this is just an extension of the viewpoint that attributes your problems to the person(s) playing next to you in the game: "he/she did it to me" is a special case of "they (the customers) did it to me".

In system dynamics we take an alternative viewpoint--that the internal structure of a system is more important than external events in generating qualitative patterns of behavior.

This can be illustrated by this diagram:

Most people try to explain reality by showing how one set of events cause another or, if they've studied a problem in more depth, by showing how a particular set of events are part of a longer term historical process.

Have the students illustrate this for themselves by looking at their own "explanations" for events during the game. Take a particular incident in the game, for example a large surge in production requests at the factory, and ask the person responsible why they did that. Their answer will invariably relate their decision to some prior decision of the person they supply or who supplies them.

Then turn to that person and ask them why they did that. Continue this until people see that one can continue to relate one event to earlier events indefinitely. The basic problem with the "events cause events" orientation is that it gives you very little power to alter the course of events. The focus on internal structure greatly enhances the possibilities of influencing the course of events because you are dealing with the underlying source of the process, not just trying to manipulate events.

If time permits, have students think of examples of problems which can be viewed as internally or externally caused. e.g. illness, famine. This leaves you at the point of dealing with the problem:

  • "How do we deal more effectively with underlying structure?"
  • This is the purpose of system dynamics. So you are in an excellent position to begin introducing system dynamics tools for understanding underlying structure.

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