White Water

Technological progress continues to catch us by surprise. We create more efficient keyboards, and computers begin accepting voice commands. We design better books, and pocket computers display multimedia presentations inexpensively. We invent better mousetraps, and ultrasonic speakers chase away household pests.

White Water simulates this type of chaotic future (and present) where constantly changing goals demand new types of flexibility. In this game, the task given to teams keeps changing unpredictably. The team with the highest total score (which rates the team's ability to do the best job under each of the changing contexts) wins the game.


To explore strategies for coping with constant change.


10 to 50


30 minutes to an hour


  • General Instructions, one copy for each team
  • Five sets of Product Specifications, one set for each round, one copy for each team

Supplies and Equipment

  • Blank sheets of paper
  • Timer
  • Whistle


Form teams. Divide participants into 3-10 teams, each with 3 to 7 members. It does not matter if some teams have an extra member.

Assign team roles. Randomly select one team to be the judges. All other teams play the role of Marketing Teams hired by a large publishing company.

Distribute instruction sheets. Give each team (including the team of judges) a copy of the General Instructions. Ask team members to review the information. Clarify the instructions by answering questions from participants.

Brief the judges. While the other teams are reviewing the instructions, give the following instructions to the team of judges.

  • You will receive a list of suggestions from each team.
  • Compare these lists and arrange them in order from the best to the worst.
  • Give 10 points to the best list and 2 points to worst list. Assign a suitable number of points (between 2 and 10) to each of the other lists.
  • You will have 3 minutes for rating the lists.
  • During the later rounds of the game, you will be repeating this judging procedure Five times, each time with different lists of suggestions.

Begin the activity. Distribute a copy of the Round 1 Product Specifications to each team. Explain that teams have 5 minutes to come up their list of suggestions. Start a timer.

Stop the activity. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle to get the participants' attention. Explain that you are interrupting their activity because there has been a significant change in the project. Before explaining the changes, ask teams to give you copies of the list of suggestions in its current form.

Begin the second round. Distribute copies of the Round 2 Product Specifications. Ask the teams to restart their activity.

Rate lists from Round 1. Give copies of the lists of suggestions from Round 1 to the judging team. Ask the teams to rate the activities within the next 3 minutes.

Shift to the next round. After 3 minutes or when the judges have rated the list of suggestions from the Round 1, blow a whistle to attract participants' attention. Explain that more significant changes have taken place. Collect the lists of suggestions in their current form and give them to the judges.

Distribute the results of the Round 1. Explain that the scores range from 2 to 10. Return the lists of suggestions to the appropriate teams so they can check their scores.

Proceed to the next round. Distribute copies of the Round 3 Product Specifications. Repeat the instructions as before.

Repeat the procedure. After 3 minutes, stop the activity. Return the previous lists with scores awarded by the judges. Give the next Product Specifications and ask teams to come up with fresh lists of suggestions. Repeat this process until the end of Round 5.

Debrief. After collecting the lists from Round 5 and handing them over to the judges, begin debriefing the Marketing Teams. Discuss the following types of questions:

  • How did you feel about the frequently changing scope of the project?
  • How does the situation in this simulation reflect what happens in your workplace?
  • What are some of the causes of these frequent changes in specifications?
  • Are these frequent changes likely to increase or decrease in your workplace?
  • What strategies did you use to cope with the constantly changing specifications?
  • What advice do you have for people in similar situations?
  • Under what conditions is it better to build on the results of your previous activity? Under what conditions should you ignore everything that happened before and begin from scratch?

Announce the final results. Return the lists from Round 5 with the scores to the appropriate teams. Ask teams to add up their scores and announce the total. Identify the team with the highest total score. Discuss the implications of these scores.

Conclude the debriefing. Ask the judges for the comments. Ask each participant to come up with two or three personal action ideas for coping with frequent changes in the workplace.


Handout 1

General Instructions

You are a member of a Marketing Team hired to provide suggestions to a large US-based publishing company.

The publisher has definite plans for a new product and a specific target market based on systematic market research. You will be provided with specific details.

Your task, as a team, is to provide 5-10 specific suggestions (each expressed in 1-3 sentences). Your suggestions should provide guidelines for improving the competitive position and potential profitability of the product.

Please record your suggestions legibly on a single side of a piece of paper. Prepare two copies of this set of suggestion (by having two team members simultaneously record them).

You have 5 minutes to come up with your suggestions.


Handout 2

Round 1

Context: Retired people are traveling in larger numbers.

Product: Travel guide to the top 30 vacation destinations around the world.

Target Market: Affluent U.S. American senior citizens.


Round 2

Context: A Japanese publishing company has acquired your publishing company.

Product: Travel guides in seven different languages.

Target Market: Young middle class professionals in Asia.


Round 3

Context: Your publishing company has organized a multimedia group.

Product: A DVD version of the travel guide.

Target Market: Computer literate professionals around the world.


Round 4

Context: Your company has opened a web portal.

Product/Service: Web site with updated vacation travel destinations.

Target Market: Same as before, with a focus on young professional women.


Round 5

Context: The R&D group has developed a virtual-reality kiosk with a motion-activated treadmill, helmet-mounted 3-D goggles, data gloves, data shoes (that enable the wearer to feel different ground surfaces), along with temperature and odor control.

Product/Service: High fidelity virtual travel to popular vacation destinations.

Target Market: Affluent people who can pay the hefty rental fee.