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Turn Work Into Play With “Ready or Not”

International team of coworkers putting colorful puzzles together
Credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio

This blog is part of a monthly series brought to you by the America Works initiative. As a part of the MEP National Network’s goal of supporting the growth of small and medium-sized manufacturing companies, this series focuses on innovative approaches and uncovering the latest trends in manufacturing workforce development.

Can a simple online game change the way you view your manufacturing business? Absolutely. The “Ready or Not” manufacturing simulation game developed by the Oregon MEP (OMEP) is a live, interactive experience set in a hypothetical manufacturing business that you control. The game teaches critical skills and lessons in an engaging, exciting format that delivers valuable training, team building, and insights. On December 8, America Works and OMEP partnered to give over 40 MEP Center professionals the chance to experience Ready or Not firsthand, offering a cutting-edge look at one of the most exciting new services developed by the MEP National NetworkTM to benefit our clients across all 50 states and in Puerto Rico.

“As a company, we need to decide what we’re going to be when we grow up. Are we going to go the ‘big box’ route, or are we going to stay a boutique supplier?” – Danny, the Marketing Manager (actual quote from the game)

In true Oregon fashion, your company is a manufacturer of Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUPs). As you start, the company has $5 million in revenue and 40 employees, making SUPs from a wide variety of materials (aluminum, wood, resins, carbon-fiber and more) in several styles that are sold both direct-to-consumer and at retail stores. Right from the get-go, you can see opportunities in diversifying your product line, developing your employees, adding sales channels and optimizing your supply chain. The challenge lies in prioritizing the wealth of opportunities available to your fictional business. Every day, small and medium-sized manufacturers make these exact decisions in both real and virtual meeting rooms, often under the same time pressure that Ready or Not models over the course of the four-hour simulation.

The goal of the game is to raise your company’s net income as high as possible, with the winning team having the most net profits in the end. Over the course of three rounds – which represent six years in imaginary world time – your team of manufacturing executives will make the strategic decisions and calculated investments necessary to grow your company’s bottom line. Along the way, you must monitor the four key performance indicators (KPIs) critical to any business: manufacturing capacity, SUP orders, costs of production, and average selling price. Like any business, it’s important to balance orders and capacity, so you don’t over-sell or over-produce your SUPs.

“We should invest in our production efficiency and maximize our sales to grow our company.” – Sherry, the Supply Chain Manager

“But if we don’t have employees, neither of those matter.” – Ned, the HR Manager (actual conversation from the game)

In the past, I’ve talked about workforce innovations from virtual reality to specialized bootcamps for underserved populations. Ready or Not is exciting because it combines several current trends and adapts them to an immersive manufacturing experience. First, we’ve all read about gamification, and how people love to learn while they play. Modern games are captivating and experiential, mimicking the hectic real world, and Ready or Not is no exception. Second, while we know communication and problem-solving skills are critical in the modern workplace, there’s never enough time to practice. We also know that team-building is hard, especially in today’s remote environment. Ready or Not addresses all these challenges, as teammates take on real-world manufacturing roles; as the game progresses, they must discuss, plan, advocate, and help their team make the best decisions for the company. The consequences of your team’s decisions directly impact your KPIs in the short-term and can affect your company’s performance in the long-term, so choose carefully.

In the December game, my team had a robust discussion in round one around the best sales channel (direct to consumer vs. boutique distributors vs. big box stores), as that would determine the back-end production strategy. Future rounds posed even bigger, more controversial questions. With limited capital to invest, should we buy robots or better train our people? Should we implement an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, or increase cybersecurity? These are the decisions, and the trade-offs, that your team will debate and discuss. Of course, some of our best-laid plans were thrown out the door due to equipment failures, new regulations, supply chain issues, and more; our team’s mettle was tested as we responded to the stresses of a turbulent manufacturing environment.

“Gotta hand it to you, Mr. President. Changing to domestic suppliers was the right move.” – Jeff, Production Manager

“I was just scared of ignoring Sherry’s advice and incurring her wrath!” – Bob, Company President (actual conversation from the game)

Until now, these custom-made, valuable, riveting experiences were only available to large companies, but OMEP’s initiative has created an experience that is available to manufacturers of all sizes. Whether you come for the team-building, skill development, strategic discussions, or just to have fun, Ready or Not is a great development tool for any company’s leadership.

Are you convinced that Ready or Not is the latest and greatest in manufacturing simulations? Want to have your team experience Ready or Not firsthand? mfieldman [at] (Let me know) and I’m happy to connect you.

About the author

Matt Fieldman

Matthew Fieldman is currently Executive Director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry's training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Matt works across the nation's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts.

Previously, he was Vice President of External Affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally. In this role, he launched the Ohio Manufacturing Survey; mspire, a regional startup pitch competition; helped launch manufacturing apprenticeships for inner-city youth; and is responsible for fundraising, legislative relations, media relations, and more. Concurrently, Matthew is the founding Board Chair of EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute, Cleveland's first nonprofit restaurant and one of the first of its kind nationally to train formerly incarcerated individuals to work in fine dining. He raised over $600,000 to start EDWINS and was named “2014 Fundraiser of the Year” by Fundraising Success magazine for his efforts. He is also the founder of Cleveland Codes, one of the nation's first nonprofit software bootcamps devoted specifically to training low-income adults for careers in technology. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Matt earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, cum laude, from the University of Florida, a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a former Ariane de Rothschild and American Council on Germany Transatlantic Fellow, and is currently a Civil Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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