Next year’s team will have to defend the crown against other academic institutions – but they’ll also want to be national winners, representing South Africa in Dubai at the final…

DHL Global Forwarding’s Fresh Connection Challenge 2013 produced some fierce rivalries among South African companies and students earlier this year. The advanced web-based supply-chain business game has caught the attention of leaders in a number of industries. Apart from some pretty impressive rewards for the winners, the game itself is invaluable in building effective, dynamic supply-chain teams and increased organisational supply-chain knowledge.

Teams assume various roles in a virtual fresh-juice company, and have to align the needs of their individual roles to the ultimate strategy – increasing the company’s return on investment (ROI) at the end of each round. To succeed, each “department” has to maintain cross-functional communication with the rest of the team, and decide which trade-offs best enhance the overall strategy.

The team entered by business consultants EY Africa emerged as the overall national winners and represented SA at the global final in Istanbul in September, where they were placed 6th. In the Academic division, the University of Pretoria’s team, drawn from postgraduate Industrial Engineering students, proved victorious – and the value they took away from the Challenge has left them eager to send a team of next year’s postgrads to improve on their performance in 2014.

Simulating real-world supply-chain challenges

The team had never encountered the game before, so they were pleasantly surprised by its effectiveness as a learning tool. “It helps you challenge your way of thinking; its fun and games, but everybody is learning from each other,” says team member Manai Aphane. “Personally, I didn’t know much about how supply chains work, so the biggest thing I learnt was how important it is for each operational area in the supply chain to communicate with each other; if everyone works in isolation then things don’t come together. We were all assigned separate roles, which we had to make decisions on, but once a week we’d meet to discuss these decisions; how you think it will influence everyone else. So it’s not just about your role; you have to consider how it will affect everyone else’s area.”

Although they didn’t have the strongest first round, the team got progressively better over the next two, finally clinching the top spot in their division. Lizet Engelbrecht says, “We didn’t know anything about the game at all at the start; we’d never heard of it or played it before. So in the first round, we didn’t take a lot of risk – we didn’t really know what the influences of our choices would be on our return on investment (ROI). When we got our results from the first round, the way the game worked became clearer, so by the second round we knew better.”

Promoting cross-functional teamwork over ‘silo thinking’

The UP team believes the key to success in the Fresh Connection Challenge is the interaction within each team, and that one of the game’s great strengths is the way it breaks down the “silo thinking” so common in corporate organisations. “We realised that it would have benefited us to have a team member with more of a financial background,” admits Marietjie Oberholzer. “In our degrees, I don’t think we have the experience yet to apply correct financial decisions to the game. So we might need to make the Academic team more cross-functional; one of the things that this game teaches is that supply-chain management has to be cross-functional if it’s going to optimise ROI.”

“Another thing that we learnt was how the different subjects that we studied as undergrads are integrated in a real-life scenario,” adds Engelbrecht. “It’s a very valuable example of the real-life problems you might face in a supply chain. As undergrads, we tend to study these subjects in isolation; the game teaches you how everything from the finance department to logistics must be brought together to maintain a successful business. Teamwork is essential. I think it could be a very useful learning tool for undergraduates, so they see their subjects as more than separate, segregated specialities.”

Value across the board

“I think it’s definitely a valuable exercise for any company,” Engelbrecht continues, “especially if they got their team members to switch roles. So the member from sales could maybe play the distribution role in the game, for instance. Just to see things from the other side; to help people appreciate what colleagues in other roles do. It would be great for team-building; getting people to work together and improve communication throughout the company.”

Oberholzer agrees. “Rather than just one team of post-grads, I’d say we should introduce something like this across the entire department – but the costs that might be beyond the university’s budget. I think the university will definitely be fielding another team next year, though – we’ll have graduated, but we’ll be available for advice…”

So it seems we’ll see at least one University of Pretoria team in the Fresh Connection Challenge 2014, in which the global finalists will score an all-expenses-paid trip to Dubai. With that as an incentive, the UP students will be gunning for the top slot nationally this time – although no doubt there will be fierce competition in the Academic division.

For more information, or to enter a team in the Fresh Connection Challenge 2014, register at before 1 March 2014.

For more info on University of Pretoria

University of Pretoria team wins Fresh Connection Challenge 2013