Sunday, June 10, 2007

SDM thesis asks: Starbucks cup—trash or treasure? - SDM Pulse Summer 2011

By  Ellen Czaika, SDM ’08

Editor’s note: Ellen Czaika received a master of science degree in engineering and management from MIT in 2010. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division.

Ellen Czaika
SDM ’08

What do you do when 80 percent of your cups walk out of your store, yet you want to create a system to recycle them? Engage the whole value chain. At least that is what Starbucks has been doing for more than two years.

The situation is not as simple as the cup itself, though the cup is a good artifact on which to focus. Cups are made of paper fiber with a coating, and often have a plastic lid and a cardboard sleeve. Recycling the cup is not as easy as dropping it in a recycling bin. Though, that certainly is a first step. From the recycling bins, cups then travel to facilities that bale and sell recyclable materials, and finally the cups are made into new products. Several questions still exist: Can the cups get baled with an existing grade of paper, or should they be separated into a class of their own? If they are separated, is it possible to create a market for bales of used cup material?
In her SDM research, Ellen Czaika
worked on creating a system to increase
the useful end-of-life options for used
hot beverage cups, such as the ones
used by Starbucks.

This complex multi-stakeholder system is precisely the type of system we study in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM). I got my first opportunity to work on this project through Leadership Lab (L-Lab), a course I took as an SDM student. I continued working on the project for my SDM thesis.

To get started, my L-Lab student team and I spent three weeks at Starbucks’ Support Center in Seattle, WA. We visited a materials reclamation facility, a composting facility, and many departments within Starbucks, including the cup purchasing department, the storefront design group, and the global responsibility division. In addition to the contextualized learning, we conducted numerous interviews with stakeholder representatives throughout the value chain and within Starbucks.

Creating a system to recycle post-consumer paper coffee cups requires meeting the needs and interests of its many stakeholders, such as:

•    Recyclers. Recyclers often run materials reclamation facilities, which are an elaborate interweaving of conveyor belts, magnets, and gears that sort materials from a single stream of recyclable goods into various materials to create bales for sale. Recyclers sell these bales to other entities, who use the materials in other products.

•    Customers. Typically, customers drop cups into bins without pulling off the lid, taking off the sleeve, or washing out the coffee residue. More participation may be needed to separate cup materials before disposal—but customers, united only momentarily by purchasing coffee to go, are a diffuse and hard-to-represent group. Furthermore, not all customers place the same value on non-landfill end-of-life options for used coffee cups.

•    Companies that make paper cups. These businesses earn revenue by volume of cups sold, and they want to update their business models to anticipate the growing customer trend toward less waste and less environmental impact.

•    Coffee retailers. Starbucks and other retailers decide which cups to purchase. But, their primary focus is sourcing, roasting, and preparing the coffee that goes into the cups.

•    Municipal governments. Governments typically enter into contracts for hauling waste, and they enact city ordinances and other regulations. They also earn tax revenue from coffee sales.

•    Haulers. Haulers operate collection trucks, which they typically drive along established collection routes, contracted by municipalities (though the nature of this contracting potentially differs by region). Adding more specialized collections for separate materials would increase their operation and maintenance costs. They prefer to streamline their collection routes and minimize the number of drop-off locations.

•    Environmental nongovernmental organizations. The mission of these organizations is to protect the environment; they can exert a great force within the system.

The stakeholder list above can vary by location. Because waste removal and processing facilities differ from region to region, the stakeholders also differ. For example, in areas with existing composting facilities, composters become a viable competitor for the used cup material. So, any system designed to recycle/compost must be able to accommodate local differences.

At the same time, many of the organizations involved operate on the national and/or global scale, so any approach taken also needs to be sufficiently coherent to allow these organizations to benefit from economies of scale. Furthermore, US governmental regulations and the regulations of other nations are pertinent in some cases. Therefore, the system to recycle/compost used beverage cups must be viable at local, national, and global levels of scale.

The tools and methods taught in SDM are ideal to address the inherent complexity, nuances at different levels of scale, technical constraints, critical infrastructure issues, and diverse stakeholder interests of a system such as this cup system. Classes including System Architecture, System Dynamics, Product Design and Development, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution in the Public Sector, and Power and Negotiations have all been instrumental in my engagement with this project.

Toward the end of the three weeks in Seattle, my L-Lab team and I facilitated a workshop that assembled stakeholder representatives at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle for a day focused on addressing the end-of-life options for hot beverage cups. We used facilitated systems thinking methods we had been learning in L-Lab and other SDM courses to help stakeholders better understand the system as it currently exists and to design means of achieving their goals of no cups in landfills.

The “MIT Workshop,” as Starbucks called it, began in medias res, in the middle of things, between two larger and professionally facilitated “cup summits.” The first summit was held in May 2009 in Seattle and the second was held April 22-23, 2010, at MIT.

Dr. Peter Senge of MIT and the Society of Organizational Learning facilitated both summits. I worked with Senge and the Starbucks steering team in designing the agenda for the Cup Summit 2, I led a participant activity in the summit itself, and I helped coordinate logistics.

The cup initiative is a “systems problem”—one having technical, management/organizational, and socio-political components—for several reasons: the performance requirements for the cup itself necessitate a combination of materials; infrastructures differ by location and are not easily or inexpensively changed; not all of Starbucks’ customers place the same value on non-landfill end-of-life options for the cup; and local governments are experimenting with regulation for food container end-of-life options. Creating a system that incorporates the most important interests of all its stakeholders is essential to the system’s success.

In my SDM thesis, I explored the role that facilitated systems thinking has played in this cup initiative. Using the MIT workshop we conducted as a pilot study to evaluate the methodology, I found evidence that facilitated systems thinking increased stakeholders’ awareness of other value chain members’ interests and of their own responsibilities and leverage points within the system.

I am continuing this work at the doctorate level, in the Engineering System Division doctoral program. I anticipate that facilitated systems thinking and/or consensus building principles will become a very useful addition to the system architecture and design processes because they will give architects and designers more information about stakeholders’ wants and needs and, ideally, involve stakeholders more directly in designing their own systems. This may be especially beneficial for systems that span organizational and industry boundaries and where technical expertise and knowledge about stakeholder interests are dispersed.

So, what do you do with the paper cup you just enjoyed coffee in? Follow the signs on the bins in your local area, and as you are placing the cup in the bin, design options to remake used cup material into other products. Your idea could be the next big thing.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Systems approach helps team win Soldier Design prize - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

By Arthur Mak, SDM ’07

Over the past several months, I have found my SDM learnings invaluable for navigating the complex technical and managerial challenges of designing a new product: a portable mission planner that allows individual soldiers to rehearse missions in a virtual environment.
SDM fellow Arthur Mak, second from left, poses with his
prize-winning team. They are (from left) Aseem Kishore,
Jeremy Richardson, SDM fellow Nathan Minami,
Jason Vuu, Brian Wong and Albert Park.
Photo by Forrest Liau

This work was done for MIT’s Soldier Design Competition (SDC), whose goal is to generate new products and systems that will enhance soldier survivability and combat effectiveness. Sponsored by MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, the competition is open to teams from MIT and from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Two talented undergrads, Brian Wong and Albert Park, generated the core idea—a spherical, surrounding computer environment to replace computer monitors, which are so limited in scope. They presented the concept for this complex system of integrated hardware and software to SDC judges, and the Atmosphere Systems team advanced to the finals.

With only five months to take the project from concept to working prototype, Wong and Park needed more resources. They asked Major Nathan Minami, a 14-year Army veteran and SDM ’06 student, to be the team’s mentor and lead user. Undergrads Jeremy Richardson, Aseem Kishore and Jason Vuu were recruited to develop hardware and software components. I was brought onboard to help with overall technology and IP development, using my system design background.

The key ingredient of the display system is its carefully conceived system architecture, which is built around the core display technology. The architecture allows the system to be portable, affordable, communication capable and quick to assemble and disassemble.

The initial design called for an 8-foot-diameter spherical screen to provide a 360-degree panoramic experience. In order to create a truly realistic battlefield environment, we used a computer with high performance graphics cards and relied on projectors to display the large imagery on the curved screen. Multiple projectors were required, so we needed to split the imagery signal from the computer into each projector to form one coherent image.

As the core of our technology offering, the display medium went through more than 10 physical iterations in terms of shape, size, material and support structure. Its form varied from an eggshell-like plaster constructed using an 8-foot inflatable balloon to an inflatable parachute. The final form is a cylindrical display built of metal frames and translucent plastic sheets, which can be assembled and disassembled within minutes.

On the software side, Minami’s advice ensured that our application met the military customer’s needs. We created a simple yet powerful set of mission coordination tools and used a 3D interactive device to allow users to “fly” through a realistic battlefield scenario to coordinate missions.

Unfortunately, when we integrated the system, interfaces became problematic—the short distance between the projector and the curved screen created distortions. We chose to fix this through optical and physical adjustments to the focus and concentrate the computer processor on generating high-resolution graphics.

Our most daunting challenges involved developing the system’s core technology in just a few months. We had to create complicated applications in an unfamiliar military domain and integrate the system components to generate a virtual application. I frequently found myself relying on my SDM education. Learnings from the Product Design Process class helped our team understand and utilize the lead user process. The System Architecture course formed the backbone of our system innovation and helped us to file a strong patent application. Coursework in Technology Strategy guided us in making rational choices throughout the development of our technology.

We also benefited from a core value of the program, the willingness of SDM students (like Minami, who patiently educated us about his military experience) to share their unique skills.

We learned many important systems engineering lessons during the process. The human operator, for example, is often a system’s most neglected component. In our case, safety concerns about air ventilation inside the display system forced us to open up the enclosed sphere design and use a cylinder instead.

On April 10, we exhibited our display to almost 30 Army judges at the SDC Final. Our team placed third, winning the $3,000 Lockheed Martin Award. The monetary prize is not nearly as important to us as the Army experts’ stamp of approval on our product feasibility.

Subsequently, we exhibited our first commercial prototype during MIT’s Science Showcase on April 28. Team Atmosphere is continuing to develop its virtual mission planner and had plans to incorporate in June.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

SDM fuels engineer’s move to technical management - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

By William Taylor, chief engineer for engine integration at Eaton Corporation and SDM alumnus
William Taylor

I graduated from MIT’s System Design and Management Program in 2002. Since that time, my career has taken me to Eaton Corporation in Southfield, Michigan, where I'm chief engineer for engine integration in Eaton's truck division. Although my job and responsibilities have changed a lot over the years, I still use lessons from the SDM program every day.

Before SDM, I was working as an engineer in the Advanced Technologies Group at ArvinMeritor, performing CFD and FEA simulations for advanced products. At that time I was a capable engineer, but I had never been a manager of people. When I returned to the company after the SDM program, I was given oversight of a new R&D program with six to seven engineers.

After a couple years, I moved up to become a director of R&D at ArvinMeritor’s emissions technology group, overseeing the work of around 20 people in our controls group. That was a challenging role, navigating the development of new technologies under the pressure of product deadlines. It really required me to put my MIT education into practice.

In research and development, sometimes the best ideas are hiding in the shadows. There were two engineers with a great product idea—a concept for an emission-control system that they had developed on the side. It was given the green light by top management, and my team was charged with making it into a product.

At first, the two originators were involved in every aspect of the design—it was their baby. But as the team grew, it became clear that these two people couldn't make every decision. I had to increase the team, to 10-15 engineers. And I had to transfer decision-making away from the original two-man team and into a structured teamwide process.

I decomposed the full system down into four key subsystems, using the DSM tool as taught in SDM. Because the system was so new, it required many judgment calls about which components to lump together into subsystems. Here, I relied heavily on principles from MIT's System Architecture course. In the end, the system was broken down into four key subsystems: combustor, air subsystem, fuel subsystem and controls.

Each subsystem had an owner, and each owner had design authority over his piece. With this structure in place, the experts called the shots, and my job became focused on integration. For example, conflicts would arise between the air systems team (who wanted a small, inexpensive air source) and the combustor team (who wanted more air for more complete combustion). My job was to help them work together—and sometimes, to force them to work together.

My SDM experience ultimately taught me how to manage the people and the technology successfully. We were able to create a viable product from the technology, and systems thinking made it happen.

Engineering R&D isn’t the only part of my job that I do better thanks to the SDM program. Tools from SDM also help me interact with customers during the product design process. In my current role at Eaton, we take a strategic view of product design. This means developing a deeper understanding of our customer and tuning our value proposition precisely to their needs.

Ultimately, what's most important is for our engineers to make decisions that drive value for our customers. When my team members understand the customer, they can design and develop products accordingly; I get involved only where necessary. MIT gave me the insights and education to lead a systems-oriented team.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

SDM women offer perspectives on the program - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles spotlighting women in the SDM program.

The women of the System Design and Management Program are a diverse group of highly skilled individuals united by their interest in stretching beyond technical competence to understand and integrate whole systems for the benefit of their companies and their industries.

Three women currently enrolled in the program recently took the time to describe their experiences in the program for the SDM Pulse@MIT.

Aparna Chennapragada SDM ’06 works for Akamai Technologies as a software architect. She received her master’s in computer science from the University of Texas-Austin and her bachelor’s in computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras.

Linda Nguyen SDM ’07 comes to MIT from Procter and Gamble, where she is a senior product engineer. She received her S.B. in mechanical engineering from MIT.

Kelly Yedinak SDM ’07 is a deputy program manager at Northrop Grumman. She received her B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Washington.

Q: Why is SDM the right program for you?

KY: In large corporations it is very difficult for engineers to get exposure to different aspects of an entire system. Most positions are not highly interactive but rather require a lot of individual time spent in front of a computer. I decided that I wanted more out of my career than a computer screen.

AC: I wanted to combine my interest and experience in technology with relevant business foundation and management skills. I considered regular MBA programs but preferred a curriculum more rooted in technology. I was also attracted to the "D" in SDM, because I have observed the increasing importance of design and holistic thinking.

LN: SDM is a great balance between the two worlds. A technical leader needs to understand the business side and be able to communicate in business terms. SDM provides a means to evolve existing engineering skills into systems thinking as well as develop the business mental models that engineers with traditional academic backgrounds often lack.

Q: What strengths (technical or business) do you bring to the SDM cohort or the teams on which you participate? What strengths have you seen that others bring that impress you?

LN: I bring more than eight years of product development and manufacturing experience, as well as team management and organizational skills. Maintaining balance is a critical part of my life, so I like to work hard but play hard as well; I try to share this philosophy with my teams to encourage having fun while grinding away under the workload.

My background in Internet infrastructure services and experience in a start-up environment helps me bring my unique point of view to classroom discussions and projects, particularly in technology strategy and innovation. Working with people from a variety of industries has helped me understand the commonalities and differences among different industry structures. From a commander who served in Iraq to an aspiring entrepreneur building solar generators in Africa, the SDM cohort is full of diverse individuals who have enriched my learning.

I am always thinking of all of the pieces of the system, rather than of any single one. Often I find myself being more aggressive than ever before in challenging other people's ideas. But, I always listen closely to people's answers and try to help them develop their thoughts and concepts. Knowing how you get the answer is just as important as knowing what the answer is.

Q: Tell us about your best SDM experience so far.

LN: As grueling as it was, the monthlong January “boot camp” was extraordinary. Because most of us have been out of school for quite some time, the immersion was critical to getting us back into student/learning mentality. I had forgotten how much fun—and how much work—being a student could be! Nothing beats playing with Legos!

KY: I think some of my best experiences have come during “crunch time,” when I'm working with a group and must get things done quickly. I remember knocking out most of a 10-page paper only hours before it was due, and having a yelling (but good-spirited) debate on an important section of the paper with one of my teammates five minutes before turning it in. The fun part was not so much the yelling but that we each improved our own thinking and knowledge by challenging the other. This openness will help me help my colleagues at work.

AC: One of my best SDM experiences was the January boot camp. The team-building workshops and the design challenge competitions helped me forge a strong bond with my classmates.
Another learning experience for me was my entrepreneurship course. I worked with bright and motivated students across campus to develop a business plan to commercialize research from an MIT lab. This helped me learn about technology risks, market opportunity and raising capital. And, our business plan won an MIT $1K Award in the run-up to the annual MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

Q: What have you found within the SDM program that you would like to share with others?

AC: Professor David Simchi-Levi's class on operations management was very stimulating and helped me understand the complex interaction between design, manufacturing, logistics and distribution. And, Professor Tom Allen's class exposed me to some fascinating research on how organizational structure and architecture can affect innovation.

LN: The diversity of our cohort has impressed me the most: backgrounds, country of origin, as well as industries. I have learned so much from my classmates, in and out of the classroom. SDM is truly a global environment.

KY: I wish everyone could take courses that teach, as SDM does, the value of looking forward. I want my company's attitude, and the attitude of those around me, to always be thinking about the future and how to be better, rather than how to be just good enough.

Q: How do you anticipate the SDM program will help you meet the challenges you will face in your career?

LN: I have always been a systems person at heart, needing to see the bigger picture to put context around the engineering details. SDM will develop my systems mind, providing me with the skills and mental frameworks to manage more and more complex projects throughout my career. The networking and relationships established from SDM will be invaluable as well.

AC: Going forward, I see three major trends. One, the role of technology in almost every industry is increasingly central. This will require future leaders to apply business skills not in a vacuum but within the context of technology. Two, the complexity of systems is only going to grow. It’s critical that we apply holistic thinking and understand all the factors (regulatory, environmental, cultural, technological and business) to solve problems. Finally, organizations are increasingly global. We as future leaders need to be able to build strong teams and collaborate effectively across countries, cultures and companies. The SDM program and my experience at MIT helped me hone my skills along all these dimensions and I look forward to applying this in my career!

KY: In the future I think the lessons learned in SDM will allow me to stay one step ahead of the competition, and keep the company that I work with at the forefront of technology. System design refers not just to a physical system, but also to technology ecosystems, organizational structure, technology evolution and much more. Having a thorough knowledge of how to analyze a system will allow me to lead a company to develop systems that are often first to market, but more importantly will dominate their market.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

6 The Core of SDM: Systems engineering at work at Cummin - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

Editor’s note: The core courses for the MIT System Design and Management Program are:
>System architecture, which focuses on artifacts themselves and includes concept, form, function and decomposition
>Systems engineering, which targets the processes that enable successful implementation of the architecture, and includes QFD, Pugh Concept Selection and Robust Design
>System and project management, which involves managing tasks to best utilize resources and employs tools such as CPM, DSM and System Dynamics

This article, the first in a series on the SDM core, introduces one aspect of the systems engineering 2007 summer course: industry case studies. These studies are chosen to show the applications of system engineering principles discussed in class. The Cummins Inc. case outlined below shows the type of creative and integrative system thinking that these studies highlight.

The challenge
Cummins Inc. is a global power leader comprising complementary business units that design, manufacture, distribute and service engines and related technologies, including fuel systems, controls, air handling, filtration, emission solutions and electrical power generation systems.

In this case, Cummins was challenged to develop a new turbocharged diesel engine for the heavy-duty Dodge Ram pickup truck. The engine had to be capable of meeting strict 2010 emissions standards in all 50 states. And, they had to work within the context of maintaining and building the Ram’s excellent reputation among Dodge’s diesel customers.

Improvements in power, torque, low levels of audible noise and imperceptible catalyst regeneration were also specified. These goals were to be attained while providing the same or better fuel economy as its current diesels while cutting emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter dramatically.

The approach
Cummins not only built on its longstanding expertise but also introduced a systems perspective into its development concepts.

The engineering team relied on Cummins’ intense interaction with the customer throughout the project to define and refine system requirements.

The team also developed a framework and architecture for the entire engine system. This allowed the engineers to develop the engine system concept and to identify significant suppliers for critical subsystem development.

To meet the 2007 emissions regulations, Cummins employed the following engine subsystems: cooled exhaust gas recirculation (used for the first time in a pickup); new air handling concepts, including a Cummins Variable Geometry Turbocharger; and a diesel oxidation catalyst, diesel particulate filter and a NOx trap for emissions control.

Understanding the interdependence of the various systems and subsystems, Cummins engineers worked hand in hand with the catalyst experts at supplier JMI to specify the wash coat for the catalyst and the NOx trap.

In addition, Cummins developed all of the algorithms and software needed to control the complex subsystems and their interfaces. This feature of their system development program led to a significant competitive advantage, which will be emphasized in the case study discussion.

The results
The new 6.7L turbo diesel system for the Dodge Ram pickup has enhanced combustion performance designed through simulation and modeling of combustion kinetics and injection pulse profiles. And, it utilizes a third-generation, high-pressure, 1,800 bar (26,000 psi) common rail fuel system from Bosch. This subsystem is capable of up to five injection pulses during a single combustion cycle in a cylinder.

Ultimately, Cummins was able to build a diesel engine considered the strongest, cleanest, quietest and best in class. The new Dodge Ram pickup engine is the first to satisfy the strict environmental requirements not only of 2007, but of 2010—three years ahead of its time.

As the Cummins case study shows, significant technical understanding is critical to the development of complex systems. Software development is also becoming an ever more important component of complex system design. In the end, deep technical understanding combined with evolving systems engineering competence has led to a product with significant competitive advantages.

This case study and others will be presented in full during this summer’s SDM course in systems engineering. If you would like to sample the course, please contact John M. Grace, SDM industry codirector,, 617.253.2081. The course meets Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8:30-10:30 a.m. from June 12 to August 21, 2007.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Applying systems theory to produce better medicines - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles that will follow Ragu Bharadwaj’s progress through the System Design and Management Program. In this piece, Bharadwaj introduces the problems inherent to the drug development activities of today’s pharmaceutical industry. He hopes to find ways to improve these processes through the strategies and techniques taught in SDM.

Current and alumni SDM fellows are invited to contribute their thoughts on how best to address these issues by writing SDM Industry Codirector John M. Grace, Suggestions may be featured in a future issue of the SDM Pulse@MIT.

By Ragu Bharadwaj, SDM ’07

As a computational chemist who works in the pharmaceutical industry, I joined the 2007 SDM cohort to find ways to improve the industry through systems thinking.

Drug discovery and development are long processes—it typically takes 10 to 15 years and well over a billion dollars to bring a new drug to market. Much of the industry’s knowledge and expertise is tacit, so knowledge capture is difficult and not well implemented. And, the stakes are high—only about one in 10,000-15,000 compounds synthesized makes it to clinical trials—and that makes pharmaceutical companies secretive.

I am interested in introducing efficiencies to drug discovery and development—which today is a poorly understood, continually evolving system of processes, with poorly integrated supply chains and very high failure rates.

There are three main steps to bringing a drug to market: drug discovery, drug development and commercialization.

Drug discovery begins with evaluating the benefits of developing a drug for a particular disease or condition. Issues to be considered include cost, intellectual property rights, biological target validation and assay development. Drugs that get past this stage proceed to lab testing on animals and, with luck, to clinical trials.

During drug development, candidate molecules are tested in human trials. Drug materials and placebos must be available in the right doses at the right time, which makes it important to understand the supply chain. The supply chain takes on further significance when elements in the design and development process are globally distributed. Clinical trials usually cost $100 million to $200 million per year and involve simulation and statistics experts as well as doctors.

During commercialization, the FDA-approved drug is marketed to doctors and sometimes to patients who can influence their doctors.

How can systems theory, analysis and design improve these processes?

Drug discovery and development involve iterative cycles with feedback loops and decisions, currently addressed mainly by aggregated domain expertise.

The drug discovery process often starts with chemists evaluating literature, patents and assay results from compound libraries (assortments of diverse compounds) to identify promising "hits." New compounds are synthesized using input from medicinal chemists, computational chemists, pharmacokinetic experts and toxicologists. Variable cycle times for chemistry and assays introduce time delays in the information feedback cycles. System effects work in devious ways to slow down and reduce useful information obtained from each cycle.

I’m hoping that we can improve these processes using ideas from systems product development, systems dynamics, lean thinking and decision analysis.

After three to five years and about 10,000 compounds, multiple candidates are proposed to the development team, which tests them in animals for toxicity and other properties. There is a high chance of failure. Animal data takes a long time to obtain and is highly variable. Hard decisions are made with poor data during development.

Next, FDA permission is sought for clinical trials. Reliable data capture and statistical analysis are critical at this stage, yet trials are often carried out in multiple, remotely located hospitals. The documentation submitted to gain final FDA approval for a drug can easily exceed a million pages. Managing all this information requires precise coordination and control.

When a new drug is finally approved, there is still the hurdle of selling it to recoup costs and make a profit. What efficiencies can be introduced to this part of the system? Convincing a risk-averse doctor to adopt a new treatment is a costly exercise requiring a knowledgeable salesforce.

I’m hoping we can apply ideas from Systems Theory and Systems Dynamics to identify and change the slowest and least efficient parts of the system. Perhaps we can leverage ideas developed in other industries such as manufacturing.

Certainly, the challenges posed by this complex system are well worth tackling. After all, solving the problems of the pharmaceutical industry holds out the promise of better medicines for everyone.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

2007 INCOSE symposium features MIT presentations - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

MIT’s Engineering Systems Division, its System Design and Management Program and the Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative will be actively involved in the 2007 symposium of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) to be held in San Diego, Calif., June 24-28. Visit our booth at the Town and Country Resort (No. A-58) or attend one of the following workshops and presentations. Unless otherwise noted, all presenters listed are affiliated with ESD.

June 23
Systems Engineering and Architecting Doctoral Student Network (SEANET) Workshop (This session precedes the symposium)

San Diego State University, 9 am-4 pm
Workshop leaders: Dr. Donna Rhodes, MIT ESD, Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEARI); Dr. Ricardo Valerdi, MIT ESD, Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development, Lean Aerospace Initiative

June 25
Academic Forum, Systems Engineering Research An Integrated Approach to Developing Systems Professionals

Author: Dr. Heidi Davidz, alumna, MIT Engineering Systems Division, the Aerospace Corporation California Room, 10-10:25 am

Time-Expanded Decision Networks: A Framework for Designing Evolvable Complex Systems
Author: Olivier de Weck, Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems Royal Palm Rooms 1 and 2, 11:30-11:55 am

A Research Agenda for Systems of Systems Architecting
Author: Ricardo Valerdi
Sunrise Room, 2-2:15 pm

Incorporating Software Cost and Risk Assessment into Early System Development Trade Studies
Authors: Kathryn Anne Weiss, Ph.D., Jet Propulsion Laboratory, MIT AA/ESD; Professor Nancy Leveson,
California Room, 2-2:25 pm

The ROI of Systems Engineering: Some Quantitative Results
Author: Ricardo Valerdi
California Room, 4-4:25 pm

Divergence: The Impact of Lifecycle Changes on Commonality

Author: Ryan Boas, ESD Ph.D. candidate
San Diego Room, 4:30-4:55 pm

June 26
Full-day tutorial From Research to Reality: Making COSYSMO a Trusted Estimation Tool in Your Organization

Author: Dr. Ricardo Valerdi
Sunset Room, 9:45 am-5:15 pm

Architecture Frameworks in System Design: Motivation, Theory, and Implementation

Presenters: Matthew Richards, ESD Ph.D. candidate; Nirav Shah, Professor Daniel Hastings, A/A and ESD, and Dr. Donna Rhodes
California Room, 4:30-4:55 pm

June 27
From Research to Reality: Making COSYSMO a Trusted Estimation Tool in Your Organization
Author: Dr. Ricardo Valerdi
Towne Room, 1:45-1:55 pm

Standardized Process as a Tool for Higher Level Systems Thinking
Author: Caroline Lamb, MIT A/A
San Diego Room, 4:30-4:55 pm

Defining Changeability: Reconciling Flexibility, Adaptability, Scalability, and Robustness for Maintaining System Lifecycle Value
Author: Dr. Adam Ross, alumnus, MIT ESD
California Room, 4:30-4:55 pm

Saturday, June 2, 2007

SEA RI research advances systems engineering - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

By Donna H. Rhodes, PhD, director of SEARI
Donna H. Rhodes

MIT ESD’s Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEARI) researches advanced systems engineering topics to address the needs of individual sponsors and to serve the global systems community. The recently launched SEARI consortium serves as a neutral forum to bring experts from academia, industry and government together for collaborative learning and joint research.

According to SEARI Director Donna H. Rhodes, “Our research program seeks to advance the theories, methods and effective practice of systems engineering and to apply this work to complex socio-technical systems through collaborative research.”

The SEARI research portfolio has four focus areas:

> socio-technical decision making
> designing for value robustness
> systems engineering economics
> systems engineering in the enterprise

Socio-technical decision making investigates how to make effective decisions under highly complex and uncertain conditions. SEARI’s research, which involves studying the effectiveness of current decision processes, is leading to a better understanding of how decisions are made today. Current projects explore strategies for evolving collaborative systems; visualizing complex tradespaces and the saliency of information; and understanding and mitigating cognitive biases in decision processes. This research involves developing new constructs, methods and tools to represent socio-technical systems in a manner that allows impact analysis and complex decision analysis.

Designing for value robustness seeks to develop methods for concept exploration, architecting and design using a dynamic perspective for the purpose of realizing systems, products and services that deliver sustained value to stakeholders in a changing world. Current projects center on developing methods for dynamic multiattribute tradespace exploration; principles and strategies for designing survivable systems; and techniques for the consideration of unarticulated and latent stakeholder value. Recently, SEARI research has produced a method and associated metrics for quantifying the changeability of a system design as well as a change taxonomy for enabling more effective stakeholder dialogue on such qualities as flexibility, adaptability and modifiability.

Systems engineering economics aims to develop an economics-centric view of systems engineering to achieve measurable and predictable outcomes while delivering value to stakeholders. Research topics include
measuring productivity and quantifying the return on investment of systems engineering; advancing methods for reuse, cost modeling and risk modeling; applying real options in systems and enterprises; and developing systems engineering leading indicators.

Systems engineering in the enterprise uses empirical studies to understand how to achieve more effective practice in respect to the system being developed, its operational context and the characteristics of the associated enterprise. A project on collaborative, distributed systems engineering practice is examining how organizations perform an engineering program with geographically distributed teams. Research on the development of engineering systems thinking in the workforce is examining the development of senior systems engineers, the factors involved in the development of systems thinking in individuals and in teams, and the relationship of enterprise culture and engineering processes. A project studying the social contexts of enterprise systems engineering is expected to lead to published socio-technical systems studies and models, including teaching cases for systems engineering education courses.

The SEARI research program involves engagement with sponsors and includes collaborative projects with other research groups, other universities and professional societies such as the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). SEARI will hold its 2007 research summit on Oct. 16, in conjunction with the SDM partners meeting on Oct. 17 and the annual SDM Conference on Oct.18-19, to showcase selected research projects.

For further information on the research program and consortium membership, visit or contact the leadership team at

Friday, June 1, 2007

Hiring SDM graduates brings added value to companies - SDM Pulse, Summer 2007

Industry Representatives invited to Recruitment Week, Nov. 6-9

By Helen M. Trimble, director of SDM Career Development

Helen M. Trimble

Fellows from MIT’s SDM program are experienced professionals representing a wide range of industries. Their experience, coupled with extraordinary academic preparation in leadership, systems thinking and managing complex systems, makes them ideal employees who can work across organizational boundaries to solve enterprise-wide challenges.

Unlike other academic programs, SDM has a flexible recruitment cycle. Our self-funded candidates can be interviewed and hired year-round simply by requesting resumes or visiting the MIT campus. It is advantageous for employers, however, to attend the major, weeklong, recruitment event held each year, since many SDM fellows can be interviewed at one time during that event. This year’s SDM Recruitment Week will be Nov. 6-9.

The best news is that there are no preconditions for companies to participate in SDM recruitment activities, and it is very economical. Career development professionals estimate that the cost of a search at key technical leadership levels, such as manager or director, is easily $40,000, or 20 percent to 30 percent of annual salary. Compare that to airfare from your city plus lodging and food costs for one to two days in Cambridge (approximately $325 per day at a first-rate hotel) and the savings are impressive.

Agus Sudjianto, SDM ’99, senior vice president and global quantitative risk management executive at Bank of America, says, “SDM recruiting events give the bank the opportunity to interact with the candidates and hire top talent. Our SDM associates bring valuable skills and perspectives to the organization, enabling them to immediately and significantly contribute to solving complex issues. I look forward to participating in this fall's SDM event on behalf of Bank of America.”

From the student perspective, Dhiman Bhattacharjee, who will graduate in September 2007, says, “Attending the SDM Recruitment Week and interviewing with a number of companies resulted in an internship with Cisco and broadened my perspective on a career path, which led to my decision to join Oracle as a senior product strategy manager.”

For more information on SDM recruitment activities and attending Recruitment Week Nov. 6-9, contact Helen Trimble at or 617.258.8256.