Saturday, October 6, 2007

Alumnae reflect on the benefits of their SDM education - SDM Pulse, Fall 2007

Lisa M. Cratty, SDM ’01
By Kathryn O’Neill, editor of the SDM Pulse

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


The women who have completed MIT’s System Design and Management Program are a diverse group of highly skilled individuals who have learned to comprehend and to integrate whole systems for the benefit of their companies and their industries.

Three SDM graduates recently took the time to describe what they got out of the program for the SDM Pulse.

Lisa M. Cratty, SDM ’01, came to SDM as a program management analyst at Ford Motor Company and later worked as an engineering supervisor at Lear Corporation. She is now an engineering director at Evenflo Company.
Monica L. Giffin, SDM ’06

Monica L. Giffin, SDM ’06, was a radar systems engineer for Raytheon when she joined SDM, and she still is. Recently, she took on a new role as deputy lead for a project to incorporate advanced algorithms into existing systems.

Shelley A. Hayes, SDM ’00, came to SDM with a background in software development and was part of an IT systems strategy group at a major document management company. She now works for the same firm as a line of business product manager. Her responsibilities include defining new products to bring to market and managing the achievement of the business results.

Q: What first attracted you to the SDM program?

LC: I was working on an MBA at a local university until I applied to SDM, but I felt that curriculum lacked a systematic, technical approach to solving the problems that present themselves in a product development environment. The “system” part of SDM is critical because although product development is a system in and of itself, it’s also affected by outside influences (purchasing, finance, engineering, manufacturing, logistics, the consumer, etc.). And each of those parties is also a system.
MG: I’ve always been interested in the way things work together—or don’t. SDM’s integrated approach to the curriculum really meshed with the way I think about problems: you can't engineer a product in isolation from political and cost considerations, and you can't manage a program without taking the technical issues into account.
SH: The SDM program dealt with the full value-chain of defining, developing, and managing a product. Upon graduating, I took a new position at my firm out of my area of expertise, and one of the first assignments my boss gave me was to lead a supply chain and manufacturing workshop. I was able to do it based on the competency I gained in SDM.

Shelley A. Hayes, SDM ’00
Q: What was your best SDM experience?
SH: It is hard to pick a best. It is impossible to be surrounded by such fabulously talented people and not have a great experience every day.
LC: I’d have to say meeting and having intense interactions with such an eclectic and interesting group of people. The depth and breadth of experience that SDM students bring into the program was as educational, on a certain level, as the course work. The automotive sector is such an established industry that the tendency has been to look inward to solve recurring problems. It was enlightening to find better, faster, and newer solutions by looking at seemingly disparate industries or companies.
MG: That’s a tough choice, but I think the winner was the behind-the-scenes tour of NASA's Kennedy Space Center. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Editors note: To learn more about this tour, visit the SDM website at sdm.mit.edu/NasaVisit.html.

Q: What advice do you have for professionals currently going through the SDM program?
LC: Take this time to identify qualities you think you lack, or want to develop further, and use the time and your colleagues to help you do so. You will go back to your company with much more to offer.
MG: Start early on your thesis, and make sure it’s something you’re really truly interested in and that will offer value to industry. Your thesis is an opportunity to synthesize all of the information thrown at you in the different classes and treat a problem from a lot of different perspectives.
SH: During the program, go to everything you can on campus and email/talk to your cohort as much as possible. Move to a new, stretch position immediately after graduating in order to maximize your contributions to your employer and keep your SDM learnings fresh. And stay in touch with your classmates. They will be an invaluable resource, both professionally and personally.

Q: How has your SDM education enabled you to contribute in ways that are different from colleagues with an MBA or an MS in engineering?
MG: I work in an industry that is grappling daily with larger and more complex problems. The ability to step back and consider the big picture—and all of the different interactions—with knowledge of both the technical and managerial concerns is priceless.
SH: I am able to look at a decision or activity and frame the set of impacts it can have across the business as well as within engineering. These complex and sometimes emotional tradeoffs across organizations and functional silos are never easy. For example, we were recently working options for product packaging. The decision impacted everything from sales to supply chain. I literally added value because no one else could identify and structure a process to resolve all the assumptions that had to be managed around price, technology, supplier relationship futures, sales, and service.
LC: From my experience, the emphasis placed on the holistic, systems-based approach just isn't there with the other types of advanced degree programs. As a supplier working with Japanese auto manufacturers, I’ve learned that the most effective way to get work done is to act as a single point of contact with the customer. They don't want to interface with finance, purchasing, program management, engineering, and so on to get answers.

Q: How has your experience in the SDM program helped you to advance your career?
MG: I’m a lot more confident about approaching strategic questions as a result of my time in SDM, and that’s important when you’re dealing with technology development. My SDM degree definitely expanded the set of options available to me at my company.
LC: At my current employer, very few people have been afforded the opportunity to attend an institution as highly regarded as MIT. So, at a basic level, just having completed the SDM program helped advance my career because of the prestige associated with the school.
SH: The SDM program gave me an official and prestigious degree. SDM also provided such fabulous multidisciplinary training that I am able take on any assignment in the organization. I’ve had so many opportunities that have broadened my expertise and at a faster rate than I would have without the SDM base of learning.

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