00:00:00 Introduction to the interview
00:01:27 Zensimu’s purpose and supply chain focus
00:02:19 Beer game’s influence and supply chain software
00:05:45 Lokad’s approach to supply chain and SkuZ game
00:07:53 Zensimu’s game variants and industry relatability
00:10:17 Balancing realism, fun, and complexity in game design
00:12:35 Feedback and fine-tuning of SkuZ game
00:15:04 Lokad’s resources, competition approach, and creativity
00:18:07 Introduction and benefits of Zensimu’s lean game
00:20:09 Lean game’s educational impact and improvement results
00:22:07 Lifecycle and timeline of game design
00:24:01 Differences in games and AI’s role in them
00:27:59 Reflections on SkuZ game and importance of exploration
00:32:08 Zensimu’s projects and focus on game enhancement
00:33:30 Physicality of games and printing challenges
00:35:27 Physical lean games and digital game benefits
00:37:15 Final words from Mathias and game type selection
00:38:33 Learn more about Zensimu


In a LokadTV interview, Lokad’s Conor Doherty converses with Joannes Vermorel of Lokad and Mathias Le Scaon of Zensimu about the development and purpose of supply chain games. Zensimu creates online games to enliven key supply chain topics, while Lokad has recently released its own board game, SkuZ, to make supply chain practice more engaging. Both founders discuss the challenges of balancing realism, learning, and entertainment in game design. They also touch on the potential of AI in supply chain games, with Mathias expressing skepticism due to added complexity. Both commit to continuous improvement and innovation in their games.

Extended Summary

In a recent interview on LokadTV, Conor Doherty, Lokad’s technical writer, engaged in a fascinating discussion with Joannes Vermorel, founder of Lokad, and Mathias Le Scaon, founder of Zensimu. The conversation revolved around the intriguing concept of supply chain games, a niche that both Lokad and Zensimu have ventured into, albeit in different ways.

Mathias Le Scaon, who founded Zensimu in 2020, explained that his company’s mission is to create games that teach various topics in operations. Their first game was a digital version of the classic beer game, a choice inspired by Mathias’s own experiences with the game at university and its parallels to his work in a cosmetics company. Zensimu’s platform offers different versions of the beer game, each designed to be more relatable to specific industries and customizable to simulate different scenarios. Mathias admitted that striking the right balance between realism, learning outcomes, and fun in game design is a challenging process that requires a lot of trial and error.

Joannes Vermorel, on the other hand, discussed Lokad’s approach to supply chain games, specifically their recently released board game, SkuZ. He explained that the game was designed to make supply chain practice more interesting and competitive, a reflection of Lokad’s overall approach to supply chain management. Joannes emphasized that supply chains are inherently competitive and that breaking the rules, as long as it’s ethical and doesn’t harm people or the environment, can be beneficial. He criticized the stagnation in supply chain practices due to companies sticking to the same safety stock formula for decades.

The conversation also touched on the lean game, another offering from Zensimu. This game simulates a toy painting workshop and teaches players how to apply lean principles to optimize throughput and financial outcomes. It is used in universities and companies for lean training programs and industrial engineering and production planning courses. Mathias highlighted the benefits of the game, such as seeing improvements in KPIs and understanding how lean improvements work together.

When asked about the potential for AI in supply chain games, Mathias expressed skepticism, stating that it would add complexity and that their aim is to simplify the games. Joannes, when asked about potential changes to SkuZ, said he enjoyed the process of creating the game without a grand plan and that it’s important to explore new ideas, even if they seem foolish.

In conclusion, both Mathias and Joannes expressed a commitment to continuous improvement and innovation in their respective games. Mathias shared that Zensimu is focused on research and development, while Joannes suggested that there could be some tuning of the game rules for SkuZ based on feedback. Both agreed on the importance of these games as educational tools, with Joannes even offering to provide SkuZ boxes to interested university professors. The interview ended with Mathias inviting anyone interested in Zensimu to contact him or visit their website, and Conor thanking both guests for their time.

Full Transcript

Conor Doherty: Welcome back to LokadTV. Given the recent release of Lokad’s very own supply chain board game, we were eager to discuss the logistics of marrying supply chain complexity with a fun learning experience. Today’s guest, Mathias Le Scaon, founder of Zensimu, is an expert in this area. Mathias, welcome to Lokad.

Mathias Le Scaon: Thank you, Conor. I’m very happy to be here and discuss gamification in learning supply chain principles.

Conor Doherty: Well, thank you very much for joining us. And I guess first things first, let’s set the table. What exactly does Zensimu do and why did you start it?

Mathias Le Scaon: I created Zensimu in 2020. Zensimu aims at creating games to teach various topics in operations. The first game with Zensimu is a supply chain game based on the beer game, and it is played on the web in a digital format to allow easier organization and a nice experience. Zensimu has been growing since these three years and I’m happy to have both universities and companies using the product.

Conor Doherty: And why exactly did you choose to focus on supply chain games? I mean, you could have done any kind of online simulations.

Mathias Le Scaon: My background is actually in supply chain. I have worked for eight years in a cosmetics company at various roles in the supply chain, including production and distribution. When I was in high school, I also enjoyed programming some little games on my own. So after eight years in that company, I decided to bring together my professional experience in supply chain and my hobby of creating games. That’s how Zensimu started.

Conor Doherty: Were there any specific experiences in your professional career that really inspired you to focus on, for example, the beer game? I know Zensimu also has a lean game variation.

Mathias Le Scaon: Yes, I had played the beer game, which many people in your audience probably know already. It’s a very classical supply chain teaching game. I had played the beer game when I was at university. The beer game really shows some typical effects of supply chains. When I was working in the cosmetics company, I could really feel as if I was playing the game. I could feel some of its effects on the production phase, like the uncertainty of lead time of production but also the uncertainty in demand. That reminded me of the beer game I had played some years ago. It was an experience to live it in the real world.

Conor Doherty: Well, thank you, Mathias. And actually, Joannes, I’ll turn to you. We’ve talked a little bit about the beer game, but do you want to fill in the blanks there for people who might not be familiar with the beer distribution game?

Joannes Vermorel: Yes, I think it was introduced in a US University, maybe Harvard or another one of the Ivy League, in the 30s. I’m not 100% sure, but it’s positively ancient. And so it’s quite interesting. But my own take on that, as a software vendor, is slightly different. My take is that one of the curses of supply chain software is that they are just incredibly boring. And it has some specific implications, such as it is so incredibly boring that too frequently you end up with not the right people running the thing. Just because everybody who is an inch smart just runs away. The problem is that when you have things that are just too boring, you set up adverse conditions against talent. People just quit on you. They say, you know what, I’m okay to take a lower salary to get something more interesting. So, supply chain by design comes with things that are not especially fun. You’re managing plenty of problems. It’s very demanding and if you put a dose of enterprise software on top, you have all the conditions to have something that on a daily basis feels incredibly bureaucratic and dull. And the worst is that it’s bureaucratic, dull, and still very demanding due to the ongoing stream of emergencies. So, bottom line, I believe that one of the things that people don’t really realize about how Lokad is different is that we have tried to make the world supply chain practice at Lokad a lot more interesting. And it might come as a surprise, but Lokad is fairly unusual in the design of its own software. We have tried to make it interesting, not in a bad way, in the sense of doing crazy designs or stuff like that, but just on making it actively challenging and going to certain extremes that where most of our competitors do not. And SkuZ is part of the same sort of thinking of trying to make things a little bit more approachable and less dull, more colorful. It’s very basic things, but if the only things that you value as a supplier is just more dull technocratic stuff, what image and what reality are you conveying to the greater world? And my experience is that well, if you approach supply chain, for example, as a competitive game to be played, it is more interesting. And one thing is that many people don’t realize that supply chains are actually effectively competitive. Your supply chain of your company competes against the supply chain of another one. And thus this vision of just doing the forecast and then orchestrating is wrong on many levels because well, this is not exactly just a pure matter of orchestration. There are other people, your competitors, who are doing stuff and that they can potentially undermine whatever you’re doing. And so by the way, that’s what we tried to convey in this game of SkuZ, the fact that if you run a supply chain, you compete against other people who also run supply chains.

Conor Doherty: Well, Mathias, coming back to you. The idea of evolving beyond the original beer game, I actually played around with the Zensimu platform and I saw that there are different flavors of the beer game, pun intended. Different flavors, so you have like a smartphone supply chain, there’s aviation, there’s even a vaccine variant. Could you explain, what are the subtle differences between these? Do they reflect different industrial aspects of supply chain?

Mathias Le Scaon: The beer game in itself is already very powerful. It’s very interesting for any type of company or employee to play the beer game, in my opinion. But to make the game a bit more relatable to specific industries or to the persons that are going to play the game, because if you are building and selling airplanes for example, maybe playing the beer game, you will feel that’s much easier than building an actual plane. So to make the game more relatable and also it’s possible to increase a little bit the level of complexity in the game to simulate some other things such as increasing the length of the supply chain. So you can add, in the typical beer game you have four stages, but in our platform, you can add up to eight stages to simulate having supplier tier one, tier two, tier three, etc. Having some batch sizing, reducing or increasing the lead time, so you can play around a little bit with these. The instructor can build his own scenario to something that he thinks is relevant to his audience and maybe simulate something that happened last year, for example, in the vaccine supply chain or in a pharmaceutical supply chain. We have a pandemic happening and that, how do we react against that? So that’s a possibility of using a digital platform that you can rather easily customize the scenario.

Conor Doherty: Thank you. And I will come to you in a moment, Joannes, with this question because we just, we’ve done our own game. But Mathias, to pick up on something you said about increasing or titrating up the complexity, it occurs to me if you’re designing a game, there’s a very fine balance between realism, like reflecting the intricacies and complexity of a supply chain, and fun. If you make it too complex, you decrease the fun. If you make it too simple, then people aren’t learning. So as someone, like this is your meta, how exactly do you find the perfect balance between realism and learning outcomes and fun?

Mathias Le Scaon: Fun is exactly one of the key elements to consider when you design your game. How do I make the game both fun and interesting to understand and play, while also having the right learning outcomes? It requires a lot of trial and error. When I built Zensimu, I also benefited from the experience of the rules of the beer game that already pre-existed. But in each scenario, it’s true we have to find the right balance between these notions.

Actually, I’ve played SkuZ during the weekend and I like the way you have simplified it, but still kept the key dynamics of how a supply chain works, while still making it approachable and gamified in a way that is interesting. So you don’t have a lead time of 10 weeks for example, you have a lead time of three weeks with some variability with the dice. I think you found here a good balance between those and yeah, congrats for that because it’s not easy and it requires a lot of training and trial and error to get it right.

Conor Doherty: Well, thank you. And Joannes, to you again, how exactly did you fine-tune the complexity of SkuZ?

Joannes Vermorel: We had a couple of iterations to radically simplify. We started with something because we wanted to have a board game. When you do it with a digital medium, you can afford to be literally an order of magnitude more complex because, for example, counters, if you just want to count stuff, if it’s online with the software, the software will do the counting for you.

Civilization, the game, it’s now known as a 4X video game, but it was a board game before. The problem with the board game was you have so many things to count that it becomes madness. So, when you want to do a board game, it has to be radically simpler. That’s what we tried.

We were thinking that every card should, through humor, nudge a point for people. That’s what we tried. They are kind of small jokes, but we’re trying to make every card nudge a little point that doesn’t necessarily even connect to the game mechanics. It can just be the phrasing, the image, and whatnot.

For the tuning and balancing, we leveraged the students of the Eon Normal Superior in Paris. We offloaded the case to do a small Junior Enterprise mission so that they would balance out the points and the mechanics. We got help from a local university to do that. It was kind of fun.

Conor Doherty: Mathias, I’ll come back to you in just a moment, but I do want to ask, Joannes, Lokad has a reputation for producing a lot of academic-oriented resources, the lectures, the interviews, the articles. A board game, which is not generally seen as fitting our modus operandi, so why exactly focus on a board game?

Joannes Vermorel: I think if I look at the content that Lokad produces, one of the things that differentiate us is that we are a lot less serious than the competition. A lot of companies take themselves too seriously and that kills creativity.

Supply chains are competitive. It means that as long as what you’re doing is ethical and fair, everything goes. As long as you’re not damaging people or the environment, you’re doing something that is just surprising, it’s okay. You have the right to just break the rules as long as you’re not breaking people or damaging the environment.

One of the dangers of the way supply chains are practiced is that this seriousness fosters stagnation. Companies have been doing their same safety stock formula for literally three decades and they’re still expecting for the 100% accurate demand forecast that will solve the problem. It won’t.

So, for Lokad, on the surface, it looks like it doesn’t follow the code of the academic things, but when it comes to the sort of thinking that goes into it, I think it’s actually quite consistent with what we’re doing otherwise.

99% of the companies would say, “Oh, we are out-of-the-box thinkers,” and then do everything exactly like what all your peers have been doing for the last few decades.

Conor Doherty: Thank you. And back to you, Mathias. I’m aware you also have a lean game. Could you explain the difference there between the beer game and lean game and what are the learning outcomes of that?

Mathias Le Scaon: The lean game is meant to really show in practice how you apply the lean principles on an actual case. It simulates a little workshop painting some toys and you need to optimize the throughput and the financial outcome of that workshop. You can apply the lean tools to identify the waste in the workshop and try to reduce them using known lean tools such as one-piece flow, using kanban to make your process a pull process. You can reduce the changeover times and you can have some indications to reduce the errors in the process.

The lean game can be used by universities or by companies in a lean training program such as green belt, yellow belt, or black belt, or in universities for industrial engineering, production planning. It’s an addition to the beer game that is more around how supply chains work and more in the supply chain world.

In universities, the students will play the game in teams at some point during their course, usually around the middle of the course. Once the teacher has introduced lean, the history of lean, some of the lean techniques, how lean differs from the more classical method of planning production, etc., they can then play the game to make it more concrete for the students.

As they integrate some improvements in the workshop, they can see some of the KPIs that are improving little by little. They can see how the lean improvements fit well together and how it’s an overall methodology that is important to view as a whole. It’s interesting for them to have this more concrete view.

Conor Doherty: Joannes, we also have collaborations with universities, but our focus is on teaching the coding language Envision. Are there any plans to include SkuZ as part of these collaborations?

Joannes Vermorel: We will certainly offer that if there is any university professor that happens to be listening. Please ask us for a couple of sample SkuZ boxes, we will happily oblige. I don’t think that Lokad will engineer a big business on top of that, but I would certainly be happy if there are some universities that happen to be benefiting from that.

Mathias: In terms of the life cycle of designing these different variants of the games, for us, it was about a year and a half end to end. For a company of about 50 people, we weren’t all working on it, but it took about a year and a half to design the lean game, from inception to release.

Conor: How long does that take? How many stages are involved?

Mathias: To have a first MVP, it’s around six months. It requires a lot of work, so it’s a big investment. The advantage of the digital form is that you can always bring some improvements. There is no big release date. You can start with a few beta testers and improve the game along the way. All our games, both the beer game and the Ling Games, are never fixed. They can always have some improvements, always in a good way of course, not to go backwards.

This type of project must be well thought out, to see who it is for, how can it benefit a community or a public for that kind of game. It’s not only about the game, it’s also about who could benefit from it, how do you distribute it, how do you communicate about it, and where does it fit in a class for example in a program. It’s not a task to launch a new game, it must be well organized.

Conor: Are there any differences between the flavors that you present to companies? Because again, you collaborate with both universities and companies. Are there any differences in the mechanics or the settings for company tutorials and student tutorials?

Mathias: There are some differences. In general, the learnings are around the same, but the usage is a bit different. In universities, they have larger classes so the way for the instructor to organize his class is a bit different. He will probably need to have some links to organize the teams a bit more easily if you have a big audience.

Universities sometimes want to have a grade for the students, so they want to have a way to extract the results for a rank. The customization possibilities are used a bit more by companies because universities don’t really mind having a base scenario that doesn’t fit any specific industry. But in the companies, they like to have the name of the plant, for example, having the stages in the supply chain really reflect their own supply chain.

Conor: In terms of AI, I know here we talk a lot about AI and supply chain. Is there any place for AI and supply chain games in the near future?

Mathias: Not for now, not really. AI would add a layer of complexity, and for now, I don’t really see how it could fit in the scenario. Perhaps if there is an interesting learning outcome that we could materialize out of it, that could be a kind of scenario we could add.

For now, we try to simplify how the game works, make it really easy for people to understand how to take the decisions. Even having some very basic MRP formulas from the start of the MRP can be even better. What is interesting in the games is also that you want to simplify reality to then be able to go further.

Conor: Thank you, Mathias. And actually, Joannes, that presents a nice question because we finished SKS, it’s available, we’ve shipped out the first couple of batches of boxes. But looking back now, are there any changes you would make or alternatively, like Mathias, different variations of the beer game, the lean game, is there any variations you would add in future pressings?

Joannes: I don’t know, frankly. That was part of the fun of doing SK, you just take some inspiration here and there. It’s interesting to sometimes do stuff without having a grand plan, just let it happen.

I believe that’s also true for research and development. Most of the breakthroughs at Lokad started as stuff which looked like fun, I should just try. I don’t have a grand plan, I’m not sure what I will get, I will just shake the tree and see if something comes.

Sometimes you’re satisfied with the results. That was part of my answer to seriousness. The problem is that if you only want the thing is that if you want to expose yourself to actual discovery or actual innovation, you have to do stuff where you look like a fool sometimes.

Too much seriousness blocks in your mind the very possibility to explore venues. So I think that’s something that is interesting. So again, because SK is just a small project on the side on the grand scale of Lokad, it’s not a big thing, but we enjoyed it a lot.

There is probably some tuning involved where we could have made the penalties for stock out much more severe. But that’s more tuning and probably there would be some tuning for the rules. Like if you’re a savvy player, we can do the hard mode where most people would finish the game with a profit.

We could do the mean version where half of the players would not finish the game, they would just go bankrupt along the way. That would be like some video games where you can play the hardcore mode where if you’re dead, your character is deleted forever.

Right now, I think we will probably just listen to people who give us some feedback over the course of the next month just to see where we should be going on this board game.

Mathias Le Scaon: Zensimu’s primary focus is on research and development. We always have a stream of projects that we’re working on.

Conor Doherty: Are there any upcoming releases or projects you can talk about?

Mathias Le Scaon: Currently, I’m more focused on the organizational phase for the instructor. We’re working on improving the organization of our sessions, making the process of sharing links easier for them.

We’re also working on the lean game to better showcase the results and learning outcomes, making them clearer at the end of the games. It’s an interesting process, and I’m always happy to think about new potential game ideas or ways to make life easier for the participants and facilitators.

Conor Doherty: Is there a possibility of an online version of SKS in collaboration with Zensimu?

Joannes Vermorel: I’m not sure. I like the physicality of the board game. At Lokad, we are a software company, everything we do is digital. It’s fun to do something physical for once, something you can touch.

The most physical thing I have is the heat that comes from my graphic card. We even had to test various venues to get our cards printed to the quality we expected. It was quite fun, and now we are discovering the fun parts of managing to send boxes into the most improbable places on Earth. Worldwide shipping is not exactly a solved problem.

Conor Doherty: That’s a good point. There’s a social dimension to board games. Mathias, have there been any requests for a physical version of the lean game for people who want to recreate it in person?

Mathias Le Scaon: There are some physical lean games already in the market. I worked on a digital type of lean game, which was something missing. The physical experience is interesting because it’s in 3D, and you can have better interaction with your colleagues. The digital also has its benefits, such as automatic data calculation. Depending on your constraints, you will choose a different type of game. For now, I’m mainly focused on the digital, which is Zensimu’s strong force.

Conor Doherty: Mathias, it is our custom to always offer the guest the final word. What would you like to tell people?

Mathias Le Scaon: Thank you, Conor and Joannes, for having me on LokadTV. It’s interesting to have this type of collaboration between a software company that makes planning tools and me, who tries to simplify and reach a different kind of audience. Congratulations on SKS, it was a bold move, but it’s good to have a supply chain game in the market in paper form. If anyone wants to learn more about Zensimu and what we offer, feel free to contact me or visit our website.

Conor Doherty: Thank you, Joannes and Mathias, for your time. And thank you all for watching. We’ll see you next time.