Business Plan Game


With the creation of a platform for integrating key performance indicators into a system which uses the impact of different choices of investments on company cash flow, (KPI), Ibis has now created a fictional market in which four companies compete and decide on investments. The game is designed to demonstrate the major elements of business planning, by focussing on:

Basic introduction to strategy;
Cash flow;
Balanced scorecard;
Planning horizon;
Investment appraisal;
Contingency planning;
Presentation skills.

Core to the design of the game is to provide participants with business planning skills that they can take into real life business planning, in an environment that is speeded up to show the consequences of certain decisions. Many of the components of the planning process are central to the business planning standard operating procedure (SOP).

Each game period takes each of the four competing companies forward one year, though the planning horizon each works on is set at three periods. The market is driven by the actions of the companies within it – so competitive activity will considerably change the market environment – and macro-economic changes which can be altered by the moderators. The resulting inter-relationships are quite complex and no two games have yet yielded the same end results. At the end of each period the participants are provided with a print out which provides information on their current position.

The “winner” is measured on the overall CFROI during the entire game period – as each company is of differing sizes this provides the best measure of “success”. Companies can go bankrupt; and indeed have done so!

The market

The business universe within which the game is set is the itgit market. The itgit is a technological device which was invented by government laboratories in the technically advanced central European country of Ruritania. The itgit provides a stand alone device which has both business and consumer applications, but is also incorporated in other equipment, which are produced by OEM manufacturers.

The market has grown rapidly but is now entering a period of relative stability; there are numerous opportunities for market penetration, international development and product development as well as addressing the cost base of the companies which have grown significantly over the period of growth. Price elasticity is similar to many other electronic products, and there has been relatively little advertising since the product introduction. More details of the market are provided to game participants prior to the start, along with three years of prior key performance indicators.

There are risks inherent in the market, such as the possibility of international company entry and changes in health and safety legislation. Such changes, where relevant will be included in the period briefing documents to the game participants.

There are four different companies operating in the market:

Alpha – the market leader
Beta – the market follower
Gamma – the market specialist
Delta – the OEM supplier

Each company at the start of the game have some operations within the market sectors occupied by the other, and one of the strategic decisions that is central to the game is whether to continue this broad spread of market activity or to focus into those sectors in which they can achieve competitive advantage. The strategic choices are most complex for Beta – reflecting the normal problems of market followers in most sectors.

The playing teams take charge of one of these companies. They each have different operating characteristics and face different problems in moving forward. Each of these companies has raised significant quantities of cash during their IPO phase – and it is this cash reserve which is all the finance available during the game. All companies are currently cash positive as well – though detailed background material is provided to each participant.

The basic management team consists of four areas of responsibility:

Chief executive
Marketing and Sales

The business monitoring system built into the game is that which is central to the standard Ibis model.

The investment options

There are a wide number of investment options available to the companies. They can be summarised under seven main headings:

Health and safety
Market penetration
Market development
Product development

There are no possibilities for diversification or acquisition.

Within each category there are a number of separate options – at present there are 28 available, but this continues to expand. Each of these has differing rates of return over a three year time period – the planning horizon. The participants are provided with basic information on the main options open to them, but can opt to buy additional market research – though this will delay any revenue stream that they are considering investing in.

Some of these options have fixed investment and return patterns. For example, the creation of an e-commerce platform has a fixed investment cost and a fixed cost reduction effect which differs for each company. By contrast, increases in advertising and promotion spend are subject to step effects. There is a minimum amount of investment required for the option, but then returns increase with each step of investment up to an upper limit which is defined by the game, but is unknown to the participants. The total effective number of options for each company in each game period is around 500 – implying a total possible interaction within the market of more than 10 billion options for the overall game.

Most options have a positive as well as a negative effect on the balanced scorecard. An example is that of outsourcing. While all of the options reduce the cost base of the operation, some have a major deleterious effect on customer satisfaction and skills levels within the organisation. Such planning constraints exist within the game to mirror the real world environment.

Powers of the moderator

The moderator has powers to fine companies for specific transgressions – the most serious of which is anti-competitive behaviour. The moderator will also levy additional charges where the company management has made an unconvincing argument for a particular course of action, or does not agree as a team on an investment plan. The moderator can also change the macro-environmental conditions and if required the competitive environment with the introduction of Epsilon, a foreign competitor.

Starting the game

Each team receives a briefing document with three years past performance, past investment policies, a detailed analysis of future investment opportunities, the current balanced scorecard for each company and existing benchmarks. The team then works on a three year forecast integrating different investment policies, reviewing strategy, and prioritising investments against the new balanced scorecard.

The management team is then required to present their first plan to the moderator(s) acting as external stakeholders/ investors. There is a standard presentation framework which includes an investment summary (investment summary) and business plan outline (business plan outline), together with cash flow forecast templates.

The plan is then implemented – followed by a number of other cycles. At each stage the company team receives the new print out of their current position. The management team then present their new plan using standard presentation material including success and failure comments, and revising the three year plan on a rolling basis.

Generally, the standard number of cycles (or years) is six – but the value of the game can be seen in shorter or longer periods. Though the game is designed for four players, a simpler version with just two equally resourced and with equal market positions, is available.

Participants are required to produce their first decision document at the start of the day, with a brief presentation which explains their reasoning.

0900 First decisions

0915 Presentations of first decision – 15 minutes each group
1030 Results of first decisions

1130 Presentations of second decisions

1300 Results of second decisions – lunch

1430 Presentations of third decisions

1530 Results of third decisions

1630 Presentations of fourth decisions

1730 Debrief and winner’s prize

Two day’s training

Day one follows one day training programme

Day two starts with morning session of:

0900 Introduction to strategy – review of participants strategy and what worked and what failed

1000 Building competitive advantage – the key elements

1130 Monitoring the business – understanding the key performance indicators and how to improve control

1400 Presentation of fifth decisions

1500 Results of fifth decision

1600 Presentation of six decision

1700 Debriefing / prize allocation