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U.S. Naval Postgraduate School

The Executive Team

The Executive Team comprises the senior leaders of the organization in question. For a military organization, it may be the commander and his senior staff. In the civilian world, it may be a CEO, or director, or other senior leader and a selection of his advisors.

If there are members of the executive team who are difficult to include due to conflicting time demands (e.g., a commander or a CEO), then the Executive Team should nominate a spokesman who can be more accessible to the Study Team and who has authority to give direction and provide resources.

The Study Team

The Study Team is the group that has been commissioned to undertake the seminar war game. It may include members from within the organization and from without.

The size of a study team may range from one person on a part-time basis for a very small project, to a team of a dozen or more for a complex and lengthy study.

The Study Team leads the preparation for the seminar war game, the conduct of the play, and the reporting. It generally includes members with an operational research or analysis background. It may include military members (or retired military personnel) who can contribute their experience to scenario development, to assisting in game play, and so on.

The Study Team may include a component to deal with technical issues: supporting any adjudication systems (e.g., models and simulations), command and control (C2) systems, and recording and database systems.

Meetings with the Executive Team

Regular meetings should be arranged between leaders in the Study Team and designated members of the Executive Team. The number of such meetings will depend on the scale of the seminar war game project: small projects should require only a few meetings, while large-scale projects may require numerous and frequent meetings, even weekly update reports.


Workshops should be convened at various stages to enable coordination and to ensure suitable progress is being made. If the seminar war game is being treated as an military exercise, the workshops typically are called exercise planning conferences.

Workshop participants will include many from beyond the internal processes of the Study Team. The Study Team should be holding team meetings more frequently than the workshops.

Reporting Results


A Step-by-Step Approach to Developing a Seminar War Game

Phased Approach for the Procedures

The 15 steps shown in the diagram and described below are for a "medium-scale seminar war game" where the organization in question has little prior history of using such methods. However, most military organizations will have some history of war gaming. With that already within the culture, many steps may be quickly addressed as they will be familiar.

A 'medium-scale game' would be one that would take a few days to conduct and a month or so to prepare, and the main participants would number a dozen or so. If the scale were significantly larger, there may be a requirement for more workshops -- these are generally to coordinate various aspects of game development, so a more complex game would probably require more than the two planning workshops shown above to keep it on track. If the scale were smaller, some workshops might be dispensed with, or at least replaced by small and short coordination meetings of a few critical staff.

If the organization (Executive Team and Study Team) already has a good relationship and a history of gaming, many steps could be eliminated or completed with little effort and attention. For example, if a Study Team is a permanent fixture within the organization, the task of forming a study team in Step 3 need hardly be addressed (although some change in personnel might be appropriate from time to time). Similarly, for gaming that is a continuation of some previous effort, steps 4 through 9 might all be truncated if the factors, background information, and scenarios are readily available from a library or archive, or can be reused from one war game to another.

The Ralson and Wilson 18-step process for scenario-based strategy development was the inspiration for the format used here. Their book should be consulted for more detail, although some translation may be required to move the context from the business world to the military world. Also note that their approach is more about developing scenarios and having others contemplate the ramifications. Seminar war gaming has a much larger component of playing out the scenarios. When seminar war gaming is used for course of action analysis or for evaluation concepts or technologies, there should be a larger component of data collection and analysis -- a contribution for which operations analysts are particularly well suited. When seminar war gaming is used for training, education, or historical reassessment, military methods of after action reviews and a lessons learned process should be incorporated.

"Initiate" Phase

Step 1: Develop the Relationship with the Sponsor.
Step 2: Determine the Focus and the Process.
Step 3: Establish the Project Team and Study Plan.

"Design" Phase

Step 4: Determine the Key Decision Factors and Drivers.
Step 5: Search for Information (examples: Master Questions, Perspectives, Issues, Data).
Step 6: Prepare Methods, Models, and Tools. (Examples: spreadsheet formula, look-up table, aide mémoire)

"Develop" Phase

Step 7: Develop Scenarios.
Step 8: Develop Game Design
Step 9: Test and Rehearse.

Critical thinking should be applied agressively throughout this game development step. When addressing most details of the game design, the study team needs to ask itself: "What can go wrong?"

James Dunnigan, in his Complete Wargames Handbook, comments: "game development... means play testing and changing the game and rewriting the rules and taking a lot of abuse from people who would rather play than design and don't appreciate at all the problems the poor designer has in getting anything done".

He goes on to recommend "blind testing (computer game designers call it beta testing). This is where you take your physical prototype and your written rules and send them out to somebody who can play the game without your presence. This is often very revealing."

Dunnigan later cautions: "You can never test enough -- Testing should use the same procedures applied to software.

Dunnigan's recommendations come from an era when game designs, especially those he developed, were still largely based on manual rules (his handbook's first edition dates from 1980). Appropriately adapted, Dunnigan's description of the levels of testing can be applied to seminar war games. However, blind testing of the sort that Dunnigan proposes may not be feasible in seminar war games where the judgement of the facilitator is so crucial in determining how player activity will govern outcomes (i.e., where there are no written rules for adjudication). For such games, completely blind testing may not be appropriate; however, an equivalent level of scrutiny should be applied and the facilitator should work through potential branches that need exploration to ensure they will be handled appropriately during game play.

"Execute" Phase

Step 10: Prepare the Participants and the Venue.
Step 11: Collect Game Data.
Step 12: Conduct the Game.
Step 13: Provide a "Quick Look Report".

"Analyze and Report" Phase

Step 14: Review and Process Data.
Step 15: Report Results.

Time, Workshops, and Milestones

The steps shown above are in a rough chronological order. However for some specific applications, the sequence may be adjusted.

If the scope is fairly limited or if the problem is familiar to most participants, it may be possible to skip through many of the steps fairly quickly. If this were the case, it is still beneficial to consider each step and confirm that it has been completed.

If there has been a long-standing relationship between the Executive Team and the Study Team and if the problem is familiar with stock scenarios ready to use, it may seem attractive (and expeditious) to jump immediately to Step 10 and Step 11 and get on with the Execution Phase.

Once engaged in a particular step, it may become clear that a previous step needs to be revisited. For example as the key factors and drivers are being determined (Step 5), it may become clear that the focus of the seminar war gaming (set in Step 2) needs to be adjusted -- the focus needs to be expanded to include key factors that were not apparent. So it would be appropriate to return to Step 2 to establish some revised focus. If the extent of the adjustment is relatively small, it may be possible to go back to Step 5 fairly expeditiously.

Workshops are opportunities to coordinate activities. If the seminar war game is being treated as a military exercise (e.g., a command post exercise), the workshops may be called exercise planning conferences. Members of the Executive Team, the Study Team, and the players should participate. If there is a large technical components (e.g., simulations, models, command and control systems), they should also be represented -- normally support of this sort would be a component of the Study Team, but for a large-scale activity may constitute a Technical Team.