(Left) The game board represents a global supply chain of oral contraceptives and the chips represent the products (pills). (Right) Ellen T. Tompsett (Chair of the event; center) and Maryam Andalib (Ph.D. student; background) are assisting supply chain teams.

game board and participants
(Left) The game board represents a global supply chain of oral contraceptives and the chips represent the products (pills). (Right) Ellen T. Tompsett (Chair of the event; center) and Maryam Andalib (Ph.D. student; background) are assisting supply chain teams.

(May 22, 2017) A team of systems thinking experts from Virginia Tech moderated the product distribution game (also known as the Beer Game) for a group of supply chain experts from the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition in Washington D.C., on April 25, 2017. The Coalition is a global partnership of public, private, and non-governmental organizations which ensures that low-income countries have access to high-quality medical supplies to ensure better reproductive health.

ISE Assistant Professor Dr. Navid Ghaffarzadegan, as well as his research assistants and Ph.D. candidates Maryam Andalib and Arash Baghaei Lakeh ran a board-based simulation game where all participants (from 14 organizations, eight countries, and four different continents) were involved. Participants were grouped in three teams of 4-8 players, each team representing one supply chain. The teams competed against each other for the highest efficiency.

The Beer Game was first invented by Jay W. Forrester at MIT to provide a tangible teaching tool for understanding complexities of inter-connected industrial systems. Since then, the game has been used in many universities and by many top-level managers to teach basics of complex systems, systems thinking, and supply chain management. For this event, the game was specifically tailored for the Coalition, and was referred to as the "Oral Contraceptive" game, in order to provide tangible examples when supply chain entities were trying to control their inventories of "pills." This game and its debriefing took about three hours and was a kick-off for a two-day training workshop.

Ellen T. Tompsett, the Chair of the event who invited the Virginia Tech team says, “In Reproductive Health, we have long supply and poor visibility which means we experience the Beer Game every day. A stockout for us means a woman, somewhere, will not be able to get the contraceptive of her choice, leaving her at risk of unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality. Having the opportunity to step back and explore these dynamics in an experiential way will better equip us to anticipate and mitigate stock crises to better deliver to women across the globe.” The event was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID.