Simulations

Growing up I loved strategy games.  These were in the days of the Commodore Vic-20 and Commodore 64 (as in 64KB of RAM) computers and a cassette tape drive for data storage was still considered a pretty cool thing.   The king of hill in strategy games was the Avalon Hill Game Company.  They made games like Third Reich and King Maker.  I loved playing these games against my friends because it took more than luck to win.  You had to know the rules, you had to have a plan and you had to be prepared to deal with the unexpected result – be it an unusual strategy by your opponent or a turn of luck – good or bad. I moved on the computer versions of strategy games such as Master of Orion and Civilization, but even when the computer is your opponent the same rules apply – you have to plan for the unexpected and be prepared for whatever the game may throw at you. 

Computerized games also have a lot of advantages over the old board games.  You don’t waste time setting up the game and then watch your opponent destroy you because of some unanticipated fault in your plan.  If things go bad in the computerized version, you just press a button and start over from the beginning.  That allows you to try all sorts of unusual strategies and if they don’t work you can start over or try to tweak your plans. 

The same thing can be said about business processes – in particular disaster recovery.  The sexy part of business is the game changing idea and unique marketing campaign, buts it’s the ability to keep the business going when unexpected events happen that can make the difference between one more business failure and being there when the next great business idea gets created. Disaster recovery sure isn’t sexy and it used to take a lot of time – not only to create the plans, but to test them out.  That’s where businesses can learn a thing or two from strategy games.  You have to do more than have a plan on the shelf ready to be implemented when an emergency happens.  You need to test those plans and see how they work.  But the question is how to do this cheaply and efficiently.

One way is with table top exercises.  Theses low cost simulations allow you to try out your plan and see how it works – what are the weaknesses and what are the strengths – and then compensate for the weaknesses and find better ways to take advantage of your strengths.  They do depend on assumptions, but they are a lot cheaper – in terms of money, time and staff effort – than full fledged parallel testing.  They allow you to think through issues.  For example, maybe your plan is for people to work from home if something happens to the office building.  That sounds workable, but have you thought through the issues.  Do people have the tools in place they need to work from home?  If you have people already working a day or two a week or a month from home you might even think you’ve thoroughly tested your solution, but have you? 

Maybe your employees are using a tool like Go To My PC to work from home, but that solution depends on your office actually being there and their PCs being turned on at their desk.  What happens if the office building was destroyed?  What happens if you institute a new energy saving policy and require everyone to power down their PC when they leave for the day and the next day an emergency hits?  Table top exercises can be great for thinking through these issues on the cheap.  So take a tip from those computer games – find a way to cheaply try out your plans and strategies where you can easily hit the restart button with no harm done.

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