17 Dec 2015
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Applying Strategy Concepts In Innovative Ways Through Technology


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Photo by Susan Young

Part Monopoly marathon, part chess championship, “Strategic Brew” is a multimedia simulation that engages students in a fast-paced exercise in strategic decision-making. Working together in teams, students gain practical exposure to the choices involved in developing a product, bringing it to market, and devising a competitive advantage. The simulation, incorporated into the required MBA Strategy course, was introduced in March 2015 to all 900+ first-year students during a two-day event in the Batten Hall hive classrooms.

“Strategic Brew” was created over a two-year period by Ramon Casadesus-Masanell, Herman C. Krannert Professor of Business Administration, and Gaston Llanes, associate professor at the School of Business of the Catholic University of Chile, with help from HBS’s Educational Technology Services. The simulation shows, rather than tells, students how to strategize. It is an example of the way experiential learning and technology are being incorporated into the curriculum.

HBS’s most complex simulation to date, “Strategic Brew” focuses on maximizing the profitability of a beer company. Students are assigned to four-member brewery teams, and four of these teams are then aggregated into an industry. Team members study data and collaborate on beer design, pricing, and packaging, as well as on decisions about manufacturing and marketing. After each round of play, reports are generated that include balance sheets, customer beer preferences, and ways in which the brewery compares to the competition. Team members have one hour to digest the information and formulate a new strategy. At the end of eight rounds, industry winners are selected based on their overall performance throughout the game.

“There’s a lot of energy in the room. Students get right into the simulation because they have skin in the game. They want to do well and they work all the harder when they can see very clearly whether they are doing better or worse than the other teams,” says Casadesus-Masanell. “The simulation enables students to think very broadly about strategy, using the same tools that they’ve seen in the course. We can have a case discussion to determine whether ideas are reasonable or not, but there’s no way for us to test them in the classroom. In the simulation, students have to make choices and then learn about the consequences of those choices.”

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