The Water Supply Game: Teaching Supply Chain Dynamics to Emirati Students

This past Monday the Student Life Committee of the College of Business (surprise, I am Co-Chair) organised a campus swap for our female students. Professors Claire Sherman, Taiba Hussain, Catherine Budd, Marc Poulin (fellow former U Laval and CIRRELT alumnus)  and myself organised for some of our Abu Dhabi students to visit our Dubai campus.(Now, for my readers in Canada I can explain the Abu Dhabi vs. Dubai feeling as Victoria to Vancouver and Quebec City to Montreal).

It was a lot of fun - and although things did not go exactly as planned, the young ladies met and got to know one another and saw how things are done in the same University, same country, just different campuses. The highlight of the day for me was playing the "water game" with the students. What is the "water game" you ask? Well, let me explain through words and photos (and a link to an academic article only hard core nerds will click on).

So first - water game? Well, the game originated as the Beer Game in MIT in the 1960s to teach supply chain dynamics and the bullwhip effect, the Research Consortium I worked for at Laval adapted the game for the Canadian forest products industry - you can play the game here online (it is super fun, available in French and English and yes, if you email I am sure Phillip Marier will help you out with presentations and the like).

I have played the Wood Supply Game countless times, as a transfer tool with managers, with students, with colleagues, in competition, and just for fun.  and Phillip and I wrote an article about the game in 2004 (yes, I was a nerd even before I got a PhD) - that article is available here.

As obviously the Beer Game is out as a concept, and for that matter the forest products industry is pretty foreign and exotic here - so Marc (an operations professor extraordinaire) decided to adapt the game to the local environment and call it the water game. Using and adapting some great open source material online here is the story of our experiment in learning!

While the students were on the tour, Catherine, Marc and I set up the playing table. I was in charge of photography :)
Marc and Catherine setting up the game
There are four positions per "supply chain" - Factory, Distributor, Wholesaler and Retail. Each "company" has information exchange on the "top sheets of paper"  and goods exchange on the "bottom sheets of paper". Of course, one of the first things we learn when we live supply chain dynamics (e.g. waiting for an out of stock item) is that information and goods travel in different directions and at different speeds!

When the ladies got back from lunch, Marc explained the game. Of course, until we start playing it is hard to conceptualize what to do - so we started week by week, step by step. What ensued was frustration, many laughs, confusion, light bulb moments, and yes, even fun!

Listening to the rules of the game
We named each "supply chain" and ended up playing 6 rounds or weeks. Really the game requires more time, but my goodness I had fun (and I took over the factory position in one sc when two ladies needed to leave).

Arabian nights results

Desert dreams result

Honestly, I cannot remember the team which won - and it is based on inventory (1 dhs) and back order (2 dhs) costs - but really, the game needs to be played for about 30 or 40 rounds for all the information and decisions to work themselves through the system.

Marc compiling results in an excel sheet he had prepared

This was just a first experiment teaching and playing the game here and it would be wonderful to play it in the future with about 4 - 6 hours. Really though, it might have been "harder than the test I took last week" as one student said, to learn the initial dynamics, but the learning curve is steep when we are doing and learning at the same time.

End of the game, certificates and participation gifts!