Business War Games from Advanced Competitive Strategies

ACS is a world leader in business war games

“The war game designed and facilitated by ACS delivered two game-changing results. First, we were able to arrive at a decision on a very tricky and challenging subject where such a decision had eluded us for months. Second, we created a new cross-functional internal experience that is so groundbreaking that it has unleashed new energies in our team.” — C-level executive, multi-billion-dollar global company (names withheld for competitive reasons)

We have conducted hundreds of business war games over the last 30 years. We’ve done them for Fortune 500 companies around the world, helping them add billions of dollars to their bottom lines. We’ve done them at universities, corporate universities, and workshops, helping thousands of strategists become better strategists. We’ve done them qualitatively, which is great for exploring and brainstorming ideas. We’ve done them quantitatively, which is great for stress-testing decisions.

Update for companies with teams spread across multiple locations, including home:

ACS can adapt its thought-provoking workshops on strategic thinking, and even its powerful business war games, to work even if corporate teams do not come physically together. As an extra benefit, remote war-gaming and learning can tap the perspectives and expertise of people located anywhere. Contact us to discuss options.

Learning about business war games

Contact us to talk about business war games. Just getting started with war games? See this sample program, this Harvard Business Review article about the value of war gaming, and this article about war gaming and strategic thinking. See also this downloadable bibliography of dozens of ACS articles and essays on business war games. And learn about cyborg war games, the future of business war games.

Your company faces significant changes. Competition from aggressive rivals, uncertainty in costs, shifting customer demands, resource constraints, and more, raise the stakes on the competitive strategy decisions you must make.

Good competitive-strategy decisions come from skilled competitive-strategy decision makers. Effective business war games don’t only help with specific decisions, they also help managers build skills for future challenges. According to Arie de Geus, a former senior strategist at Royal Dutch Shell, “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

Success with ACS business war games

We’ve conducted hundreds of business war games on six continents for dozens of Fortune Global 500 countries, at conferences, and at universities. We’ve helped companies make or save billions of dollars. See some success stories below.

We’ve designed and delivered business war games to fit different needs and budgets:

  • Qualitative and quantitative, depending on budget and the nature of the issues to address.
  • Rapid turn-around (a few weeks from proposal to delivery) or major event bringing together participants from around the world.
  • Analysis using custom strategy simulators and techniques developed by ACS’s experts for your market, based on ACS’s award-winning ValueWar™ competitive-strategy simulator.
  • Innovative approaches, such as the Top Pricer Tournament™, that help strategists enhance their skills.
  • Executive-education programs, team-building experiences, and rigorous, exciting strategy analyses.
  • A group of 10 strategists to a horde of 600.

Testing strategies in a safe environment

The quality of strategy decisions is greatly enhanced by creating and testing strategists’ ideas in a safe environment. Think of it as the strategy equivalent of before the job training. That’s what an ACS business war game is about. Because it makes effective use of role-playing, emotional involvement, a competitive atmosphere, and shared experience, an ACS business war game is uniquely able to help you improve your company’s critical decisions, anticipate competitive attacks, understand customer shifts, and build commitment among management, while there’s still time.

We at ACS have found that it’s common in our business war games for smart, seasoned strategists to generate important and even stunning insights about their competitors and their own business. They discover that Strategy A has a fatal flaw. They discover that Strategy B exploits a previously unsuspected weakness in a key competitor. They discover that competitors have distressingly effective resources, options, or ideas. Sometimes they even discover that none of their strategies is aggressive enough, and to achieve their goals they must generate new ideas. Those insights translate directly into competitive advantage.

You can view and download a bibliography of ACS’ essays and articles on business war games, including links to full text online.

War stories from ACS business war games

Pre-empting the competition. Working with ACS on a business war game to deal with an expected entry from a large competitor, a major pharmaceuticals company discovered a critical competitive threat that it hadn’t anticipated. In the war game the company’s managers developed a pre-emptive move that they implemented two weeks later. They found out later that the competitor planned to do exactly what they figured out in the war game, and that their pre-emptive move was the reason why the competitor did not make their move.

Change the rules? Shell Oil worked with ACS to conduct a business war game before rolling out a change-the-rules strategy. (This case was chronicled in “Putting the Lesson Before the Test,” the final chapter in Wharton on Dynamic Competitive Strategy.) They discovered that their strategy, which had previously passed through multiple reviews, would almost certainly trigger a competitive war that would devastate the industry. They abandoned the strategy, and they credit ACS with saving them over $130 million in one geographical area alone.

Change the rules! A major industrial supplier did a business war game with ACS in which they discovered that their “this is how we’ve always done it” strategy would lead to a loss of roughly $500 million over 5 years. Knowing that they had to find a new approach (which they had previously resisted), they developed a paradigm-changing strategy that turned the expected loss into a strong profit…and that led to promotion for the business’s general manager.

Marketing 101. A company planned to introduce a new health & beauty aid into a market dominated by a very large competitor. They created a by-the-book, Marketing-101 strategy. They were so confident in the strategy that most of their strategists questioned the value of a war game…until their strategy caused their competitor (role-played by their own colleagues) to go ballistic. Their strategy had panicked their competitor, thereby triggering a ruinous price war and out-of-control losses. The chastened team rolled back the clock, tried a less confrontational strategy, and accepted somewhat slower forecast growth in market share in return for strong profits.

Triple sales. Top management at a large pharmaceutical company demanded that managers triple a product’s sales in two years. ACS developed a simulation of the business, and tested thousands of scenarios. The conclusion: trebling sales was not possible except for under unrealistically optimistic conditions. Top management agreed to more-realistic goals, and the business-unit managers were saved from what would have appeared to be failure.

High road or low road. A telecommunications company facing the entry of a serious new competitor had been debating whether to follow a “live and let live” strategy or whether to go to all-out war. Neither side had been able to convince the other. An ACS business war game, using ACS simulation technology, demonstrated that the company would lose 20% market share under one strategy… and 40% under the other. End of debate.

Multi-market launch. A client prepared to launch a new product into multiple geographic markets. They needed to understand its sales potential, taking into account its positioning and the positioning of a major competitor launching its own product at the same time. ACS developed a simulation model that explored the potential for the product in market segments in multiple countries where customer needs varied significantly and where the competitors had different objectives. The business war game and quantitative analysis helped the team make country-specific decisions about pricing and resource allocation, and was incorporated into the worldwide rollout.

Don’t panic. Strategists in a company manufacturing large vehicles suspected competitors would soon make product moves they’d find difficult to counter. They explored the implications in a series of simulations, and used the results to brief top management. When the expected moves took place, no one panicked, no one made ill-advised counter-moves, and no one lost their job as performance declined to levels they’d seen in the simulation.

Not good enough. A venerable pesticides company, rooted in tradition, spent nearly two days experimenting with this and that minor variation on their current strategy. Simulations demonstrated that small adjustments would not yield the bottom-line performance they wanted. Finally convinced of the need for significant change — fortunately, before they suffered disappointing performance in real life — strategists began to generate new ideas.