Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rich agenda planned for SDM partners meeting - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By John M. Grace, SDM industry codirector

The annual meeting of SDM industry partners will take place on October 22, 2008, at the MIT Faculty Club from 8:30 am to 4 pm.

SDM industry partners are firms that actively support students in SDM programs. Such support can range from full to partial funding for an SDM master’s student, full support for an SDM certificate student, or support of thesis research. In all of these situations, close interaction between the industry partner, SDM student, MIT faculty, and the SDM program is encouraged.

This year’s meeting provides an opportunity for partners to exchange ideas with their peers, SDM directors, and MIT faculty as well as to share information about their educational and research needs. MIT’s open environment, coupled with a meeting format structured to promote active discussion among companies, faculty, and program staff, provides opportunities that cannot easily be duplicated.

The agenda for the October 2008 meeting includes:
  • An update on SDM curriculum modifications and options resulting from a yearlong review
  • Faculty presentations on “Systems Engineering for Changeability” and “Commonality and Software Systems Engineering,” with ample time for questions.
  • A look at the SDM certificate program—growth, potential, and opportunities—and the options it offers partner companies to build or strengthen systems thinking internally.
  • Leadership development within SDM’s curriculum and its relation to industry partner needs. Summaries of various partner companies’ leadership programs will be presented and discussed.
  • Summary of scope and content of award-winning SDM theses for 2008 will be presented. Discussion and comments from firms will be encouraged.
  • An open forum discussion on engineering systems issues in service industries. This area is of great interest to both MIT’s Engineering Systems Division and to SDM, which are actively seeking industry input.
The annual partners’ meeting has historically been viewed by SDM industry partners and the program as an excellent way to obtain feedback on direction, needs, and current issues facing both the program and its critical customer base in companies.

For further information, please contact John M. Grace, SDM industry codirector,, 617.253.2081.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

SDM 2008 conference explores systems thinking for contemporary challenges - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Lois Slavin, MIT SDM communications director

Systems thinkers from around the globe will convene at MIT on October 23–24, 2008, to hear MIT experts and industry leaders discuss how to apply a systems approach to large-scale, complex projects. The theme of this year’s conference, which is sponsored annually by SDM, is “Systems Thinking for Contemporary
Challenges.” Topics to be covered include sustainability and the environment, product design, entrepreneurship, and software.

According to conference chair Vineet Thuvara, SDM ’06, the conference has been carefully crafted to offer practical information that can be applied across industries. “The intent is for attendees to be able to provide demonstrable business and technical value to their companies when they return to the office,” said Thuvara, a senior manager at Microsoft.

Insights from academia, industry Speakers from MIT will include Peter Senge, founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning, MIT Sloan senior lecturer, and author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization; Yossi Sheffi, professor of engineering systems and civil and environmental engineering, director of the MIT Engineering Systems Division (ESD), director of the MIT
Center for Transportation and Logistics, and director and founder of the Master of Engineering in Logistics
Program; Olivier de Weck, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems and
associate director of ESD; Pat Hale, director, MIT SDM Fellows Program, senior lecturer MIT ESD, and president of the International Council on Systems Engineering; Nancy Leveson, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems; and Annalisa L. Weigel, the Jerome C. Hunsacker assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems.

Industry speakers include Valerie Casey, co-head of software experience practice, IDEO; John deVadoss, senior director for technical strategy, Microsoft Corporation; Paul Murray, director of sustainability, Herman Miller; Girish Kumar Navani, cofounder and CEO, eClinicalWorks; Michael Schulte, head of consulting services, Capgemini; Lee Ng, director of new business creation, Agilent Technologies; and Dharmesh Shah, founder and chief software architect, HubSpot.

Look for coverage of the symposium in the next issue of the SDM Pulse.

Friday, October 10, 2008

SEAri plans fall research summit - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

The MIT Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEAri) will hold its annual research summit on October 21, 2008, at the MIT Faculty Club. The summit is designed to showcase the group’s ongoing research into the theories, methods, and effective practice of systems engineering. The event will bring research sponsors and invited experts together with SEAri researchers, students, and affiliated faculty to evaluate the relevance and potential impact of ongoing projects in SEAri’s research portfolio.

The current research portfolio includes projects related to socio-technical decision making, designing for value robustness, systems engineering economics, and systems engineering in the enterprise. SEAri research outcomes are synthesized and formulated to provide strategic guidance in the form of books, process documents, and policy recommendations.

Interim research results were shared at various conferences in 2008. SEAri work received the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Systems Conference Best Paper award, both of the best paper awards at the International Council on Systems Engineering’s annual symposium, and the Responsive Space Conference’s Best Student Paper award.

The SEAri research group interacts with its sponsors on a regular basis as research projects progress, but the summit provides added value to all attendees, encouraging a richer dialogue and cross-project insights. Last year’s attendees found the summit to be informative, and also noted the value of having a research-oriented dialogue with peers from other sponsoring organizations. SEAri Director Donna Rhodes remarked that the event is the highlight of the group’s fall semester, “providing us with insight into how we can make adjustments to our research program in order to have real impact in the systems community we serve.”

For more information, visit the SEAri website at or contact the leadership team at

Thursday, October 9, 2008

SDM grads offer employers competitive edge - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Helen M. Trimble, director, SDM Career Development

Fellows from MIT’s System Design and Management Program are experienced professionals representing a wide range of industries. This, coupled with their 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. Companies can interview and hire self-funded candidates year-round by requesting resumes or visiting the MIT campus. A major recruitment event this year will be held November 11–14, and it will provide an opportunity for company representatives to interview many SDM fellows.

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 a search at key technical leadership levels such as manager or director easily costs $40,000—or 20 percent to 30 percent of the annual salary. Even with today’s increased transportation costs, airfare from your city plus lodging and food expenses for one to two days in Cambridge (approximately $325/day at a first-rate hotel), campus recruiting still provides impressive savings.

William Taylor III, SDM ’01, now COO of Clemson University’s Computational Center for Mobility Systems, recruited SDM graduates for Eaton Corporation when he worked for that company. “Recruitment week is a chance for industry to get engaged with SDM students, find out what their interests and abilities are, and hopefully find a good match for some leadership positions,” said Taylor. “It helps to interact with them both inside and outside the interview room. Recruitment week offers chances to do that.”

From the student perspective, Trinidad Grange-Kyner, SDM ’07, now a senior consultant at Deloitte Touche, stated, “I participated in SDM recruitment week because of the targeted manner in which all activities were designed and conducted. It was a gathering of targeted companies that already knew what they were looking for in SDM students so there was no need to ‘sell’ them on the value of the program.”

For information on SDM recruitment activities and attending recruitment week—November 11–14, 2008—contact Helen Trimble at or 617.258.8256.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Engineering Systems Symposium slated for June 2009 - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Kathryn O’Neill, managing editor, SDM Pulse

MIT will host the second Engineering Systems Symposium on campus June 15-17, 2009, in Wong Auditorium. The event is open to the public.

Although the symposium is still in the planning stages, two keynote speakers have been confirmed: Charles M. Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and former president of MIT, and Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation. The symposium is being cochaired by ESD’s founding director, Daniel Roos, professor of engineering systems and civil and environmental engineering, and Christopher Magee, professor of the practice of mechanical engineering and engineering systems.

The tentative symposium schedule calls for two days of plenary sessions and one day of breakout sessions on specific research areas. The plenary sessions will include:

1) Joint presentations from university and industry representatives demonstrating how research advances have been practically applied to significant engineering systems problems.

2) A discussion on how engineering systems can address the current and future needs of industry.

3) A discussion of the field’s intellectual agenda—including engineering systems concepts and frameworks—and application to challenges in specific domains such as energy and health care.

4) A broad look at the future of engineering and the role of engineering systems in engineering research and education.

“This is very much an evolving field,” Roos said, noting that engineering systems programs are organized differently at different universities. Timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the MIT Engineering Systems Division (ESD), the symposium offers an opportunity to explore the best ways to move the field forward, he said.

The first Engineering Systems Symposium, held at MIT in 2004, was very much a “call to arms,” Roos said. “The resounding conclusion of the first symposium was that this [field] is terribly important to pursue.” The event, which was at capacity with more than 300 people attending, led to the founding of the Council of Engineering Systems Universities (CESUN).

CESUN is now a thriving organization with more than 30 members—and a sponsor of the 2009 symposium. To date, the International Council on Systems Engineering and the Institute of Industrial Engineers have also signed on as sponsors and many of their members are expected to attend. “With so many other universities now involved in engineering systems, I couldn’t be happier,” Roos said.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gordon Program extends leadership training to MIT undergrads - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Kathryn O’Neill, managing editor, SDM Pulse

With the launch of the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program this fall, MIT has expanded its commitment to the same kind of engineering leadership training that is the hallmark of the System Design and Management Program.

Founded with a $20 million gift from the Gordon Foundation, the new program is designed to ensure that undergraduates in the School of Engineering are prepared to become engineering leaders. Professor Edward F. Crawley of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems, a founding codirector of SDM, is the program’s director.

“It’s not that there is a lack of opportunities for leadership at MIT,” said Joel Schindall, interim industry codirector of the Gordon Program. “It’s that there’s no roadmap and no integrated approach.”

MIT alumnus Bernard M. Gordon, SB ’48, SM ’49, has a vision to change that. The holder of more than 200 patents and the founder of Analogic Corporation and NeuroLogica Corporation, Gordon has been instrumental in seeding a number of engineering leadership programs around the country through the Gordon Foundation. MIT’s is the first to target undergraduates.

“In view of increasing global competition, we need to reinforce product engineering education—the education of those who innovate and put products into production—for which the United States has a great demand,” Gordon said in announcing his gift to MIT last July. “MIT and its students, as potential leaders, have an obligation to the nation to do this.”

The Gordon Program will provide structured leadership training in conjunction with hands-on project work—an effort to return a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done mentality to engineering education, which has become more theoretical and research-oriented over the last several decades, according to Schindall, who is also the Bernard M. Gordon professor of the practice of product engineering.

The program has four main components, the first of which is to enhance the curriculum of every engineering student with hands-on leadership training and practice. The second is to provide additional knowledge and experience for students with an interest in engineering leadership. In addition to advanced courses, the program will provide resources and mentoring to students who pursue extracurricular leadership opportunities at MIT—from design competitions to the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program to entrepreneurship. “One of the exciting things about the Gordon Program is that we don’t have to invent new activities. We’re going to use what’s already here,” Schindall said.

A third component of the program provides for about 30 students each year to become Gordon Engineering Leaders, a special track that requires a two-year commitment (similar to the commitment required for a minor) plus ongoing involvement as alumni. Fifteen students were admitted into this year’s pilot class of Leaders. As the program gains ground, deliberate efforts will be made to disseminate best practices. This fourth component is particularly important to Gordon, because MIT is a role model for engineering education.

Schindall stressed that “There are some great synergies between the Gordon Program and the work that MIT’s Engineering Systems Division is already doing through SDM and other programs. We have already discussed some exciting opportunities for collaboration, and we are looking forward to working together.”

Monday, October 6, 2008

SDM, ESD make mark at INCOSE symposium - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Lois Slavin, MIT SDM communications director

SDM and MIT’s Engineering Systems Division (ESD) played a prominent role in the annual international symposium sponsored by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) that was held June 15-20, 2008, in Utrecht, Netherlands. The conference theme was “Systems Engineering for the Planet.”

Scholars from ESD’s Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEAri) won the two INCOSE best paper awards at the conference:

• ESD research scientist Adam Ross and ESD senior lecturer in engineering systems and principal research scientist Donna Rhodes were honored for “Using Natural Value-centric Time Scales for Conceptualizing Systems Timelines through Epoch-Era Analysis.”

• ESD PhD candidate Matthew Richards, ESD Professor Daniel Hastings, Ross, and Rhodes won for “Two Empirical Tests of Design Principles for Survivable System Architecture.”

In addition, SDM and ESD PhD alumnus Rudolf Smaling and Associate Professor Olivier de Weck were honored with the best journal paper award for 2007 by Systems Engineering for “Assessing Risks and Opportunities of Technology Infusion in System Design.”

Sharing best practices
Several representatives from ESD and SDM played major roles in the conference. Pat Hale, director of the SDM Fellows Program and president of INCOSE, noted that participation in INCOSE is extremely beneficial for SDM and ESD. “Many of us are active in running workshops and making presentations, which helps forge strong alliances to help evolve and advance the fields of engineering systems and systems engineering,” he said. “SDM is also making use of many of the conference materials in its systems engineering classes, to infuse them with the most forward-thinking best practices.”

ESD’s participation included conducting a day-long workshop on engineering systems for members of the Council of Engineering Systems Universities, conducted by ESD Professor Daniel Roos and Rhodes. According to Rhodes, who is a past president of INCOSE, the event was designed to give attendees a larger perspective on current engineering systems research, while also enabling them to share interests and broaden their networks. More than 60 people attended.

ESD faculty and students also made several presentations, including:

• “Collaborative Systems Thinking Research: Exploring Systems Thinking within Teams” by MIT student Caroline Lamb and Rhodes

• “Measuring Systems Engineering Success: Insights from Baseball,” by MIT student Craig Blackburn along with MIT research associate and INCOSE treasurer Ricardo Valerdi

• “Safety-Driven SE Methodology” by Nicolas Dulac MIT PhD ’07, Professor Nancy Leveson, and others

• “Strategic SE—Changeability and Commonality” by de Weck

Valerdi also participated in team presentations on “COSYSMO Reuse Extension and Proposed Modification to COSYSMO Estimating Relationship” (COSYSMO stands for Constructive Systems Engineering Cost Model).

Throughout the symposium, ESD and SDM staged an exhibit at which ESD students showcased their research and ESD and SDM literature was distributed.

“Topics covered in this year’s conference were broad, ranging across many different domains and approaching the same scope in which ESD is interested,” Rhodes said. “Next year’s event will be held in Singapore, and ESD and SDM are definitely planning to be there again.”

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Certificate student applies systems thinking to simulations - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

Rupesh Goel
SDM ’07 Certificate Program
By Rupesh Goel, SDM ’07 Certificate Program

Editor’s note: Rupesh Goel is a student in SDM’s one-year, career-compatible graduate certificate program. The program is designed to provide companies with a rapid infusion of systems thinking and to update the toolset of senior engineers. Certificate program students typically attend classes at a distance—Goel is participating from India—and work on a capstone project of interest to their employers. In this article, Goel describes his SDM project.

The challenge
I work as practice head for simulations at Tata Interactive Systems (TIS), a company that provides simulation software for business process optimization as well as risk/change management training. Last year my team was assigned an interesting project—we were to produce a new technical architecture for an older product platform (TOPSIM) that the company had recently acquired.

Our goals were:

• Re-architect the application layers to allow for customization in the client front end
• Infuse new technology into the existing product
• Increase reusability of the code source for future application development

We also wanted to improve the platform’s usability andoverall features. Essentially we set out to design a second-generation TOPSIM without starting on a clean sheet.

A typical simulation development project requires the teamwork of software engineers, a system modeler,
graphic and instruction designers as well as usability experts. Programs must be delivered on time, on budget,
and with minimal risk. Reusability (from past projects and for future projects) is a key metric apart from the operation project metrics. I had both management and design roles on the team.

TOPSIM is a business simulation platform with complex parts, deployed under various scenarios, including in workshops and on the web. It really is a system, with several moving parts—including an authoring platform for creating new what-if scenarios, a user system for playing the simulation, as well as modules that help optimize, debrief, and report. The simulation can be made competitive and multiplayer to simulate economic and market models.

The delivery of the product also relies on support of personnel, printed material, web-based learning assets, and network equipment to support multiplay. At the heart of every TOPSIM is a systems model of the business process and entity that is customizable.

The solution
First we benchmarked TOPSIM against other vendors in the market. SDM Professor Edward F. Crawley’s framework for critiquing and re-architecting system architecture was really useful in arriving at the basic set of changes, viewed from a user perspective. We also ran a survey to capture both software delights and pains, in addition to overall user experience. We used quality function deployment to capture our first-cut analysis.

We then crafted new system performance goals and, through a variety of design tools (a design structure matrix was actively used), we arrived at a new design. We also evolved new process maps for the modeling, design, and development of the new architecture. Care was taken to allow for the various “ilities” as they are key to the revenue stream of software applications.

The new architecture also required us to approach development, especially of the model for complex numeric model, in a different way. This change is an ongoing one, but we have already defined new templates for the modeling which allow us to develop a prototype in Microsoft Excel and import it into the new architecture. We are now investigating a change to a visual way of modeling, customized to our needs, in which modelers can show the flow and design of a complete business process through a graphical interface. The model could then be imported into an object-oriented source code library.

The new product architecture is now being tested with one of our clients in Florida.

As we discussed the project in the MIT SDM certificate reviews, we also realized that the visual modeling method when combined with an Applications Service Provider delivery model could be used to generate a totally different revenue stream—from Internet-based users who can access the solution from different locations, which allows for scalability as well as authorship by independent consultants. MIT faculty and reviewers gave invaluable input on how this could be commercialized, and my group is now preparing the first set of specifications on how to take this to the Internet-based model.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hot Pockets cofounder shares success story with SDM - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Emad D. Zand, SDM ’08

Editor’s note: In spring 2008, Emad D. Zand, SDM ’08, organized a lecture titled “The Story of Hot Pockets and an Entrepreneur’s Life,” delivered by David Merage, cofounder of Chef America, which was launched in 1977. Zand, who is copresident of the MIT Sloan Middle East Business Club, offers his impressions of the talk.

Many SDM students, myself included, have entrepreneurial aspirations when they arrive at MIT. The plan is to leverage rich technical experience, combined with new skill sets in systems thinking and business developed during the program, and take the business world by storm. Hearing real-life stories from prominent entrepreneurs helps all of us to understand the many factors that contribute to success—not just leadership skills but also vision, determination, the ability to choose good partners, and the willingness to make sacrifices and to take risks along the way.
David Merage, cofounder of Chef America (known for its Hot Pockets)
poses with Emad D. Zand, SDM ’08, and others during his visit to MIT
last spring. From left: Patrick Zeitouni, MBA ’09, copresident of  MIT
Sloan Middle East Business Club; John M. Grace, SDM industry codirector;
Shimrit Ben-Yair, MBA ’09, copresident of MIT Sloan Marketing Club; Zand;
Merage;  Pat Hale, director of the SDM Fellows Program; Peter Kurzina,
MIT Sloan senior lecturer;  David Weber, director of MIT Sloan corporate
relations; and Faisal Alibrahim, MBA ’09, copresident of MIT Sloan
Middle East Business Club
In spring 2008, David Merage, cofounder of Chef America, delivered a lecture at MIT titled “The Story of Hot Pockets™ and an Entrepreneur’s Life.” Chef America is a national frozen food manufacturer known for creating and marketing many innovative and successful products, including Hot Pockets, Lean Pockets, and Croissant Pockets. In 2002, Chef America was sold to NestlĂ©. At the time of its sale, it had reached $750 million in annual sales, employed 1,800 people, and was growing at a rate of 15 percent per year, making it one of the fastest growing food companies in the world. NestlĂ© acquired Chef America for $2.6 billion.

Secret of success
In his talk, Merage said that the entrepreneurial spirit runs strong in his family; his father encouraged him to build a family business as a strategy to foster personal and family strength. But it was also clear that Merage had drive, competency, and the resourcefulness needed by a successful entrepreneur.

During a business trip to Europe, Merage and his brother discovered Belgian waffles, which had yet to be introduced to the American market. Inspired, they went to work, researching business models and testing concept viability before concluding that manufacturing and distributing a frozen waffle product to coffee shops and restaurants would yield the highest return.

With a lot of drive but without any previous technical expertise or any experience in the food industry, the team spent nights and weekends engineering equipment, formulating recipes, and creating products in a garage-like setting. In 1977, Merage, his brother, and their father formed Chef America and began mass production of their Belgian waffles. Building on that success, they soon began research and development on a frozen lunch product that they called the “Hot Pocket” and sold to schools, caterers, and vending companies.

Merage stressed that employees’ dedication to the corporation’s goals was crucial to the venture’s success. The founders were able to create a sense of community and respect for employees and not allow room for politics in the organization. The transparency of the organization boosted employees’ sense of belonging and kept them motivated. Transparency and respect are much more effective than financial incentives in motivating employees to meet corporate objectives, Merage said.

More than 80 students and faculty members attended the talk, which was open to all MIT students. Sponsored by the System Design and Management Program, MIT Entrepreneurship Center, MIT Sloan Jewish Students Organization, MIT Sloan Marketing Club, and MIT Sloan Middle East Business Club, the lecture was followed by a luncheon at the MIT Faculty Club for a small group of students, who had the opportunity to dine with Merage and ask more specific questions in a less formal setting.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tea anyone? New mug wins SDM design competition - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Leigh Gautreau, SDM ’08

Traveling down the stairwell of Building 9 to our basement classroom, none of us in SDM had any clue how ESD.40 Product Design and Development (PDD) would unfold. Some students had already thought about products they would like to develop, while others were directionless but hopeful.

I found myself on a team with Jeremy Katz, Kenneth Liu, and Michael Johnston. Jeremy works on kernel development at Red Hat, Kenneth is a computer and electrical engineer, Michael is a mechanical engineer
who works as a captain in the Coast Guard, and I am a chemical engineer, but that is one of the most interesting aspects of SDM in general and ESD.40 in particular. Each unites people with a wide range of expertise on projects outside their comfort zones. We created the team name JKLM out of our initials, but none of us knew exactly what we wanted to develop. We just knew we didn’t want it to involve software.
Members of team JKLM pose with Peter Morley from the
MIT machine shop, center, and their prize-winning tea
mug. Team members are, from left, Jeremy Katz, Michael
Johnston, Kenneth Liu, and Leigh Gautreau.

One day after class, while talking with teaching assistant Alyson Scherer about markets with underserved needs, the subject of tea drinkers on the go emerged. This group seemed to have good market potential since there appeared to be no adequate solution to the problem of what to do with used tea bags. Moreover, because tea is growing in popularity, we think convenience is an important key to expansion. Our goal was to revolutionize the tea market so that on-the-go tea is as common as coffee in the United States.

I believe our prospects are good. Already a process that began at the start of term as a simple practice of identifying user needs has solidified into a viable product—the T2Go mug—which won first place and $1,000 worth of American Express gift checks in the 2008 PDD design competition, the capstone to the ESD.40 class.

ESD.40 is both a class and a competition; groups form and compete to identify a concept, develop a design,
build a prototype, and evaluate the business case for a product that surpasses those of other groups. The
course structure helped JKLM focus on a need and single out a user group, both of which led to JKLM’s realization of a timely idea. ESD.40 provides students with a framework within which to develop products. Lectures about identifying and interviewing user groups, for example, were followed by presentations on how teams employed the techniques taught. Likewise, lectures on the House of Quality (which ranks engineering characteristics in terms of how they address user needs) and Pugh Selection Process (used to select the product attributes that best address user needs) were also followed by presentations demonstrating the implementation of these techniques by the various groups.

Our team found the experiential learning aspect of ESD.40 most valuable; it transcended the classroom.
The four of us listened to users, observed them carefully, and engaged them in the product development
process. Narrowing down the user group and needs was a challenge. Often users jumped directly to answers, while we struggled to get them to focus on problem statements. But once the problem was clearly defined, the solution began to define itself almost naturally.

JKLM’s product was designed to fill the needs of tea drinkers who want to grab their cup and go—board a
train, catch their carpool, or walk to work—without having to worry about bitter tea or tea bag disposal.

JKLM faced strict budgetary ($800) and time constraints (a 14-week semester), which were overcome by utilizing some of the techniques described in ESD.40 to bound the proposed solution. Results of user interviews and surveys were narrowed down with the House of Quality methodology. Once viable engineering characteristics were identified, these were used to generate concepts, which were then compared to a datum (an existing travel tea mug) using the Pugh Matrix. Then the best concept or amalgamation of concepts was selected. JKLM conducted thorough patent and commercial product searches and refined the design to improve upon and surpass existing products. We also developed a business case for the product looking at costs in the development, manufacturing, and distribution domains.

Staff in the MIT machine shop helped us understand what was feasible, given the time and money allotted.
The shop’s supervisor, Peter Morley, in particular contributed to our success by making our prototype in his
free time.

The tea mug JKLM designed features an integrated infuser in its lid that opens for steeping and closes to end steeping with a turn of a knob. This feature keeps the tea from getting bitter without forcing the user to remove a dripping tea bag. JKLM’s design also incorporates an insulated cup to keep the tea the right temperature and storage at the bottom for sweeteners or extra tea. The mug can be used for either tea bags or loose leaf tea, and it is dishwasher safe.

Our prototype mug faced off against some terrific products in the PDD design competition—including an
automated mail delivery system, a solar-powered refrigerator, an umbrella dryer, and a touch-up paint dispenser—so our team was extremely proud to win first place. This success has inspired us to continue our work. Since the semester’s conclusion, JKLM has identified several companies that may be interested in producing the T2Go travel mug. Only time will tell how far this traveling tea mug will go.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sojourn to India offers hands-on lessons in needs assessment - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Leigh Gautreau, SDM ’08

One of the advantages of the System Design and Management Program is exploring all that MIT has to offer. This past spring, I had the chance to take a class offered by MIT’s Media Lab called Design Lab: Information and Communication Technologies for Development. Although I’ve never worked in the information or communication technologies sector (I hold a master’s degree in chemical engineering), I took the class to learn the strategies involved in implementing such technologies in the developing world.

I joined SDM to transition from a career in process development to one in management consulting/strategy,
and this class offered me the chance to get hands-on experience. This experience perfectly illustrated the value of SDM’s systems approach. By listening directly to customers and gaining an appreciation of their context, I learned why it’s not enough simply to develop new technologies. Harsh reality is the final determinant of what is possible and what is not.
Leigh Gautreau, SDM ’08, got an up close and
personal view of the needs of villagers during her visit
to Rajugela in Uttar Pradesh, India. Gautreau was
investigating the village’s communication
technology needs for her Design Lab class.

Design Lab began with presentations on prospective projects, after which the class was split up according to
preference. Each team worked on a prescribed project in a developing country with the aid of a nongovernmental organization. I was teamed with three other SDM students (Leonard Francis, Sangita Subramanian, and Kenneth Liu), and we worked closely with representatives of the India School Fund, an organization founded in 2005 to establish a school in the village of Rajugela in Uttar Pradesh, India. The goal was to leverage the strength of the newly opened school to start a microfinance program in Rajugela. Our team, Smart Microloans, was charged with helping villagers gain access to microloans at competitive interest rates by employing a LendingTree-like methodology.

Our original plan was for an honest agent employed by the India School Fund to enter villagers’ data into a web-enabled loan application database. Banks and microfinance institutions could then assess villagers’ financial data (i.e. loan applications) without having to travel to the village. Villagers could shop for the best loan terms and interest rates, shifting bargaining power from the banks to the villagers. The hope was that villagers would use small loans to finance microbusinesses set up with guidance from the India School Fund.

The proposition seemed solid from our perspective in Cambridge, so I traveled to Rajugela for two weeks
between the spring and summer terms to assess whether the program we had devised would work. While there, I had the honor (and sometimes the discomfort) of full immersion: I slept outside on a cot under a mosquito net, and I ate food cooked atop a buffalo dung fire.
This school in Rajugela was founded by the India School
Fund. Leigh Gautreau, SDM ’08, worked with
representatives from the fund on her India project.

I faced a number of challenges in Rajugela that I could never have anticipated, not least of which was the unwillingness of banks to use a one-off, outside developed computer program. In addition, the India School Fund’s local representative was concerned about the risk of having too many loans in the village. Another major hurdle was women’s economic inequality and the reluctance of village men to allow for their empowerment. All of these challenges were unearthed in interviews aimed at assessing villager needs. Overcoming these challenges and retrofitting our program offering required brainstorming.

I was able to identify one institution, the Indian Overseas Bank, that was willing to offer loans to self-help groups (groups of 10-20 villagers who obtain loans from banks collectively) within the village at interest rates of 10 percent, with very flexible repayment schedules. So, instead of developing information technology for the loan application process, we could help villagers manage their loan repayments and track credit history.

The risk associated with having a lot of loans could be mitigated by having villagers with a common goal get
together around one loan. For instance, women capable of sewing could borrow money for materials and then give garments to a textile reseller on credit. The textile reseller would compensate the women after the sale, taking a small profit for himself.

Setting up producer groups could also mitigate the risk associated with overborrowing. Villagers would benefit from economies of scale, pooling resources to gain bargaining power in price negotiations. Information and communication technology could be employed to manage the membership in a producer group (i.e. what share of produce a particular villager has contributed and therefore the share of the proceeds he/she is entitled to) and to facilitate supply chain management.

Unfortunately, many of the ideas I formulated required women to play an integral role, and I learned quickly that this might not be possible because of the local attitude about women. While the initial project—implementing a web-based loan application program—seems infeasible, our team did come up with a solid alternative. However, even this alternative did have local impediments to overcome.

Overall, I certainly learned a great deal about the “total system” approach. I better understand what the villagers need and what possible solutions could be implemented to serve those needs. In a way, my experiences with the actual customers and their environment in India helped me further appreciate what I had learned all semester in SDM’s Product Design and Development class. Thanks to SDM, I was also able to interview the villagers more effectively, focusing their attention on their problems rather than prying them for possible solutions. Through surveys and focus group discussions, I developed a needs assessment that can be used to evaluate future concepts.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Integrating knowledge: An MIT story - SDM Pulse, Fall 2008

By Luke Cropsey, SDM ’08

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles addressing how SDM alumnus Luke Cropsey is integrating knowledge from various MIT resources and transferring it to his employer, the US Air Force (USAF). Cropsey represented the USAF as MIT's Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI) Fellow for the '07-'08 academic year, while completing his SDM degree. In this article, Cropsey outlines how he synthesized resources from four communities—LAI, the Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative, SDM, and the USAF—to come up with an overarching methodology for examining and addressing the complexities of integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the National Airspace System.

John Steinbeck once remarked that “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” This characterizes my experience in the SDM program and provides a convenient starting point for discussing integrating knowledge.

SDM is all about instilling “systems thinking” as a mental framework for evaluating the world, and this methodology is integrative in its very essence. Combining systems thinking with the tools and rich course content of SDM’s curriculum has produced an explosion of ideas from a whole host of different communities that I have had the privilege of working with while here at MIT.

I came to MIT with 12 years of experience as an Air Force officer working primarily in research and development or other early life-cycle development engineering roles. Ostensibly, the Air Force sent me to MIT as the 2007 Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI) Fellow so I could learn to improve processes. However, once my foot was in the door, the legendary opportunities afforded
by MIT were too powerful to resist, and I found myself deeply engaged in several additional forums, including SDM.

SDM ultimately transformed my most basic mental models for understanding complex systems. The common tie between the SDM and LAI communities was the Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEAri) spearheaded by Director Donna Rhodes, who also served as my thesis advisor.

I began to address a problem of significant scope and complexity, namely how to integrate unmanned aircraft
systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS), drawing knowledge from each of these MIT communities. As Figure 1 illustrates, there was a free-flowing dialogue between these four groups—the US Air Force (USAF), LAI, SEAri, and SDM—that helped me develop a methodology central to solving this challenge. The insights provided by each combined not only to provide a way to advance the specific Air Force problem, but also to produce a general methodology extensible to value-focused, enterprise architecting efforts beyond just the immediate problem of flying UAS in the NAS. What follows is a discussion of how knowledge from each of these communities was integrated to solve the problem at hand.

To deal with the complexity surrounding UAS airspace integration, I borrowed a page from Professor Edward F. Crawley’s system architecting playbook and chose to abstract the problem to a level of complexity that I could wrap my head around. Figure 2 represents my modification of Crawley’s model to include key elements from LAI (value) and SEAri (context). As used in my research, “value” refers to what the individual stakeholder perceives as the problem to be solved or benefit to be delivered. “Context” is the exogenous environment in which the activities needed to deliver the desired value are taking place. For the UAS airspace integration (AI) problem, there were all kinds of traditional systems engineering going on inside the “gray box,” but “architecting” (the translation of function to form through a specified concept) was largely absent, and neither the context nor the value state were ever explicitly considered in the ongoing UAS AI activities.

Drawing from LAI’s rich history of lean development, I put an overarching model of value-creation in place to unify the analysis. Figure 3 provides a graphical depiction of this framework from E. Murman et al. in Lean Enterprise Value. Not only was this an effective model for unifying the value analysis (depicted horizontally across the top of Figure 3), but it also speaks directly to a process for scoping out the size of the enterprise to be examined (depicted vertically on the left of Figure 3). This analysis clearly defined the scope of my work addressing value-creation for the three largest UAS platforms in the Air Force.

Within each stage of the value-creation framework (i.e. value identification, value proposition, and value delivery), I developed a method to rigorously connect the methodology through each stage and link it to the activities in the adjacent space. For value identification, depicted in Figure 4, methodology was drawn from all three MIT communities. For the purposes of this discussion, the emphasis is on communicating the contributions of SDM, SEAri, and LAI. More details will be enumerated in future editions of the SDM Pulse.

The enterprise purpose statement construction was accomplished using Crawley’s approach to building system problem statements. An enterprise is an integrated entity that efficiently creates value for its multiple stakeholders by employing lean principles and practices. The complex stakeholder analysis requirements of the UAS AI problem are addressed using a model developed by Ignacio Grossi out of LAI and adapted to a second construct from Adam Ross (of both LAI and SEAri).

Once the enterprise purpose is defined and stakeholders are identified, the value definitions of each stakeholder are aligned using an adapted X-matrix approach developed by Deborah Nightingale and Alexis Stanke in LAI.

Stage 2 of the value-creation framework, called value proposition, is where the analytical “heavy lifting” occurs. As Figure 5 shows, two significant models were used in creating value propositions.

The approach is centered around the enterprise architecting models proposed by Nightingale and Rhodes (LAI and SEAri repsectively) and implemented through a rigorous Object Process Methodology (OPM) adapted from Dov Dori by Crawley (SDM).

Once the alternative enterprise architectures are created using these two tools, a preferred architecture is selected using an approach developed by the Software Engineering Institute called the Architecture Tradeoff
Analysis Method (ATAM), which I discovered through discussion with an LAI researcher.

The final step in value-creation is the value delivery stage. The primary methods used in this portion of the analysis leverage the ATAM method results highlighting key architectural leverage points with the LAI Enterprise Transformation Roadmap. The result is a concrete, actionable plan for moving the enterprise forward in delivering the specified value.

Where does the impact of integrating these methodologies show up? Fundamentally, the result of combining these constructs is a rigorous, methodical approach to achieving value flow in complex stakeholder enterprises operating in a context that is dynamic and highly fluid. Using a well-established value foundation grounds the method. Implementing both the system and enterprise architecting approaches allows the strengths of each perspective to inform the other. The system architecting perspective is significantly expanded through use of the enterprise architecting lens, but the enterprise architecting practice is significantly bolstered by the application of rigorous OPM approaches from system architecting.

The resulting methodology is a robust approach to tying value directly to an enterprise architecture that provides a seamless transition to detailed product design later in the development cycle. This approach is especially useful in situations that involve a large number of stakeholders and/or government agencies and regulators where arriving at a common definition of value can be extremely challenging.

In the next article, tools used in the methodology just described will be examined in more detail. Practical examples will yield insights that a trip down theory lane will not provide. The third and final article in this series will provide a glimpse of the potential impact and value delivery the analysis may have on the UAS airspace integration challenge. This last article will include a summary discussion concerning the extensibility of the approach to other venues and will round out the methodology development.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SDM annual conference to explore best practices in systems thinking - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

By Lois Slavin, MIT SDM communications director

Each year SDM alumni plan and host a two-day conference focused specifically on topics of leadership, innovation, and systems thinking. Held annually since 2001, the conference is open to all members of the SDM community, including partner companies, alumni, students, faculty, and staff.

The theme for the 2008 is “Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges.” Industry experts and MIT faculty will discuss best practices for applying systems thinking to areas that include sustainability and the environment, product design, technology strategy, entrepreneurship, and software.

“The SDM conference is an opportunity for systems thinkers to learn practical applications from best-in-class academics and practitioners,” said conference chairperson Vineet Thuvara, SDM ’05, and senior manager for worldwide Windows server enterprise marketing at Microsoft Corporation. “Attendees will find ample opportunity to have their questions answered and to share their own experiences as well.”

We invite you to join us on October 23-24, 2008! For details and registration information, contact John M.
Grace, SDM industry codirector,, 617.253.2081.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SDM certificate program offers quick start in systems thinking - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

Flexibility is a hallmark of MIT’s System Design and Management Program, which offers a suite of academic options to help companies implement systems thinking throughout their organizations. For companies that need a rapid infusion, SDM offers the career-compatible one-year graduate certificate program.

Companies that choose the certificate program often enroll several students at a time, all of whom continue to work. Typically, classes are attended at a distance, through videoconferencing. Certificate students take three SDM core courses, one each semester during the year. They spend two one-week sessions on campus and complete a capstone project.

Developed in 2002 to address the need to infuse systems thinking more quickly into some engineering organizations, the certificate program now also serves as a refresher course for senior engineers and as preparation for students who may enter the SDM program at a later date. Created at the request of United
Technologies, the certificate program has grown significantly, drawing 35 students this year, more than three times as many as in that first year. In addition to the United Technologies companies (Pratt and Whitney, Hamilton Sundstrand, Otis, UTC Fire and Security, UTC Power, UTC Research Center, and Sikorsky), John Deere, Boeing, ArvinMeritor, the Instrumentation Laboratory, Wachovia Financial, Tata Interactive Systems and others have become involved in the program.

The classes required for the certificate program are the core courses taken by the SDM master’s students: system architecture, systems engineering, and product design and development (the core SDM courses are fully described in previous issues of the Pulse, available online at ). SDM master’s and certificate students take these courses together.

The weeks spent on campus serve two purposes. The first is to bring certificate students together as a group for special lectures by MIT faculty that address system design and management issues and supplement the coursework. These sessions allow students to interact with one another and the faculty to develop a sense of the multidimensionality of systems thinking. In addition, representatives from sponsoring companies are
encouraged to attend and become exposed to the material the students are learning in the program. This latter aspect has been shown to be of high value for putting systems thinking into action within the corporation.

The capstone project generally addresses a problem of interest to the sponsoring company. Ideally, a team of two or three students work together on the capstone, integrating and applying their SDM lessons for the benefit of the company.

The certificate program begins this year on July 10. For more information on the program, contact John Grace at, David Erickson at, or Helen Trimble at

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

SDM Professor Leveson’s book will focus in on accident modeling - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

Professor Nancy Leveson
David Chandler, MIT News Office

SDM faculty member Nancy Leveson, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems, has already revolutionized risk analysis for complex systems such as nuclear power plants and space shuttles. Now, she’s finishing up a book on her integrated approach that will be issued by MIT Press this fall.

"We used to build systems that were simple enough so that you could test everything, and test the interactions," she says. "Now, we're building systems so complex that we can't understand all the possible interactions." While traditional analysis assumes a linear, causal chain of events, accidents in complex systems often unfold in very nonlinear ways.

Leveson calls her new approach STAMP, for System-Theoretic Accident Model and Processes. She has set up a company to implement the system in analyzing a wide variety of systems in different fields, and chapters of her upcoming book are available on her website (

Leveson says the turning point came in 2000, when she realized that after about 20 years, nobody was making any progress in figuring out how to manage the risks of complex systems, she says. "Usually, that's means there's something wrong with the underlying assumptions everybody is using."

She realized that the basic component-based approach to assessing risk was something that had prevailed atleast since World War II, and it just didn't apply to many of the highly computerized technological systems in operation today. "Accidents just occur differently. Risk has changed as the technology has changed." So she started developing her new approach, based on systems theory.

At first, she was afraid that nobody would take her radical new approach seriously. "I thought people would just think I was nuts," she says with a laugh. But when she started applying her new approach to specific cases, such as identifying the potential for inadvertent launch in the new missile defense system, it clearly worked: it identified significant hazardous scenarios that nobody had noticed otherwise.

"We tried it on extremely large, complex systems, and it worked much better than what people do now," she
says. "I realized we could solve problems that weren't solvable before."

The new approach to analysis led to a whole new way of dealing with the risk management of complex, sociotechnical systems. Instead of looking at the individual components and trying to minimize the chances that each would fail, "what you really want is to enforce safety constraints" on the behavior of the entire system, Leveson says.

"Nancy Leveson has developed a control-based modeling approach to systems safety which can be applied to complex networks of hardware and humans," says MIT Professor of the Practice Jeffrey Hoffman, an aero-astro colleague. "Her work has elicited considerable interest inside NASA, where safety analysis has traditionally concentrated on the reliability of individual pieces of complex systems."

While NASA is using her new approach to analyze risks in the development of the Orion spacecraft that will replace the shuttle, and in developing a future robotic planetary probe, the Japanese space agency has gone even further: They sent two engineers to work in Leveson's lab for a couple of years and observe how she does her analysis; they have been applying the lessons learned to their space systems while creating improved tools.

Though her work focuses on disasters, Leveson is upbeat about what she does. Using the old ways, she says, "it was discouraging to have something that only works in a small subset of cases." But with her new
approach, she says, "it's very exciting to have something that actually works, and to be able to apply this in the social and organizational realms."

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hale named president of INCOSE - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

By Lois Slavin, MIT SDM communications director

Pat Hale, director of MIT’s System Design and Management Fellows Program, became president of the
International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) in January after serving for two years as president-elect. INCOSE is a not-for-profit membership organization founded to develop and disseminate the interdisciplinary principles and practices that enable the realization of successful systems.

A member for more than 14 years, Hale has served on INCOSE’s Board of Directors for eight years. He was president of the New England Chapter from 1994-1997, a member and later chairperson of the Communications Committee, and also served as treasurer.

Hale’s professional interests include application of systems engineering in commercial product development, complex naval system design, and engineering process frameworks and methods.

Prior to joining MIT, he completed a 22-year career in the US Navy, qualifying in both the Surface Warfare and Submarine (Engineering Duty) communities, and culminating in managing the design and construction of submarines in Groton, Conn. Following his Navy career, Hale held executive-level systems engineering positions in defense and commercial system and product development organizations, including serving as director of systems engineering at both Draper Laboratory and Otis Elevator Co., where he developed and implemented Otis’ first systems engineering process and organization.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

SEAri enhances access to research - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

The MIT Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEAri) seeks to advance the theories, methods, and effective practice of systems engineering applied to complex socio-technical systems through collaborative research. The group actively shares its research through engagement with sponsors and via events and publications for the wider systems engineering community. Recognizing that websites are proving to be another important mechanism for sharing knowledge, over the past year the research group has worked to enhance its website to provide timely access to its work.

Launched in the summer of 2007, the SEAri website provides public access to a large number of knowledge
assets. Website visitors can find information about the research group and its program as well as gain access to four types of documents: presentations, publications, theses, and working papers. Where possible, all documents are available for download in the spirit of open information sharing. At present there are more than 100 conference, journal, and working papers online, covering many systems engineering research topics.

While the primary purpose of the site is to be a portal to research knowledge, SEAri is also using the website as a research tool. SEAri research scientist Adam Ross, architect of the website, describes its importance: “Our graduate student researchers can share information and documents, and they have a mechanism for research exchange via a wiki environment. Our hope is that use of the website will encourage higher levels of information exchange within the research team, as well as better preservation of research results for successive research projects.”

“Our overall strategy is to continue to increase the availability of research knowledge to the systems engineering community—in final form but also the interim results,” said SEAri Research Director Donna Rhodes. One mechanism to both accelerate the sharing of ideas and to help SEAri researchers gain valuable feedback to develop better research outcomes is the recent addition of working papers, which are available on the website before they have been formally published, Rhodes said.

Other information online includes SEAri research bulletins, notices of upcoming events, information on educational courses, and links to sponsors, partners, and other organizations in the systems community. In the future, SEAri intends to develop the website further as a mechanism for interactive collaboration between researchers and practitioners in the systems community.

Visit the SEAri website at or contact the leadership team at

Saturday, June 7, 2008

SDM lessons help alum launch startup in solar-powered refrigeration - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

Sorin Grama, SDM ’07
By Lois Slavin, MIT SDM communications director

Editor’s note: In spring 2007, SDM student Sorin Grama was part of a prize-winning team in MIT's $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. His team, Promethean Power, proposed developing solar turbines made of car parts and plumbing supplies. The innovative microgenerator was to combine solar thermal concentration with a simple thermodynamic cycle to generate heating, cooling, and electricity for various applications in underdeveloped countries.

Since graduating in June 2007, Grama has devoted most of his time to building a company inspired by this project—Promethean Power Systems. The business is developing an energy-efficient, grid-independent solar-powered refrigeration system for small and midsized enterprises in the developing world. The company’s product converts solar energy into cooling using technology that requires no moving parts or ozone-depleting refrigerant gases.

Q. Tell us about the evolution of the product over the past year. What's different now?

A. Much has changed in the last 12 months. Your readers may be scratching their heads trying to understand
how our technology has evolved from a microgenerator made of car parts to a refrigeration system that requires no moving parts. Instead of using solar thermal concentrators to generate heat and then electricity we’re now using photovoltaic (PV) panels and thermoelectric modules to provide cooling only.

Several factors led to this decision. Last August we conducted a market study in India. We visited more than 40 different villages and talked to farmers, business owners, and village leaders. From this study we concluded that a cold-storage solution for fruits and vegetables is what’s most needed, so we’re now focusing only on providing a refrigeration solution.

The decision to drop the car parts idea was a little more difficult and convoluted. When we started this project we had a team of five and we incorporated as a nonprofit. After winning the MIT prize, two of us wanted to pursue a for-profit venture because we could get more funding and make a bigger impact, but the other three members wanted to keep it as a nonprofit while continuing their studies at MIT. Moreover, because they wanted to retain the technology licensing rights, we had to negotiate an agreement between the nonprofit and the for-profit entities. We couldn’t reach a simple agreement, so the team split up and we—myself and my current business partner—decided to pursue the for-profit opportunity with a different technology.

Q. What stage is the company in now? Prototype? Testing?

A. After the split, we took some time to reevaluate things. We were back to square one. We had a fabulous market opportunity, but no technology and no team to implement it. We were just two guys with an idea. Still, we didn’t want to give up on the idea, so we began to slowly build the business by looking at alternate technologies.

This is how we ended up with the PV panels and thermoelectric cooling solution. We received a small amount of funding from an angel investor and we’re now building a proof-of-concept prototype. We plan to test the unit this summer in Boston.

Q. What are the challenges?

A. Funding is always a challenge. It’s a catch-22: nobody will give you money unless you have a prototype, but you need the money to build the prototype (this is why, I think, so many startups come out of research labs or universities—because they’ve already built the prototype as part of someone’s research work).

Funding is always a challenge for us because we’re targeting developing world markets, which many investors perceive as both risky and unable to sustain a profitable business. Of course, we disagree. We just have to look for the right investors who understand this market.

Q. What surprises have you had and what lessons have you learned in the past 12 months?

A. Well, the team split was a bit of a surprise and a disappointment, but I understand why it happened. We’re moving on. The licensing issue was the last issue I thought would hold us back and, in the end, it was the single most important concern. I should have paid more attention to it early on.

A startup must constantly adjust to changing conditions. It must evolve, but not too quickly—otherwise it can lose focus and alienate people. I’ve heard that, at most, a startup has one or two opportunities to completely
change its technology strategy. Anything more than that will make investors and employees nervous. Well, we
took that opportunity and now I feel much better about our chances to succeed.

Throughout this roller-coaster ride, we’ve kept a laser focus on the customer, and we’re still very passionate about doing something for developing world markets. Our new technology strategy is just another form that fits the same function—something I learned from Professor Ed Crawley’s system architecture course.

Speaking of SDM classes, I’ve relied heavily on the lessons learned in our product design and development
class, such as conducting customer interviews, ranking user needs, and generating target specs. All of these lessons came in very handy when we started designing a new solution for the market need.

Q. What's next?

A. Pushing for ward with our prototype, signing up new team members and strategic partners and, of course, looking for funding.

Q. How can Pulse readers learn more?

A. Our website ( has minimal information right now, but we’re working on a new one, and we’ll have more updates in a couple of months. If anyone is interested in learning more about our work or even helping us change the rules of the game, contact me at Full details of the market analysis, business case, and economics of the system are available in Promethean's business plan.

Friday, June 6, 2008

On-campus sessions build SDM connections - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

Former IBM chairman Louis Gerstner shares views with students

MIT’s System Design and Management Program not only introduces students to the most current principles and methods in systems engineering—it connects talented students and their companies to each other, to MIT faculty members, and to leading experts in systems thinking from a variety of fields.

One way SDM builds these connections is by requiring all students to attend a once-a-semester weeklong period of on-campus activities.
Louis Gerstner, the former chairman and CEO of IBM and
author of Who Says Elephants Can't Dance,
signs his book for SDM students.

SDM students who return to campus for these activities continue their coursework, communicate with friends, touch base with faculty, and enjoy a number of special events—including lectures and private sessions with systems leaders who come to MIT to share their experiences with, and to learn from, SDM fellows.

A highpoint of the March 2008 session was a private breakfast meeting of SDM fellows with Louis Gerstner, the former chairman and CEO of IBM and author of Who Says Elephants Can't Dance, the story of IBM’s historic turnaround. Gerstner was introduced by MIT visiting professor Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who described the session in his blog.

Gerstner talked about the importance of company culture and ways to adapt culture to changing circumstances. To reform the culture at IBM, Gerstner had to retool compensation incentives to reflect overall company performance over individual unit performance. The change was difficult, but successful.

Gerstner also gave a public lecture at MIT to an overflow audience, focusing on the need for good leadership. According to Wladawsky-Berger, Gerstner emphasized the need for leaders to roll up their sleeves and work closely with the teams addressing complex problems. (Read Wladawsky-Berger’s blog at

Also during the March session, SDM students attended a luncheon presentation by Andrew Grace, vice president for engineering design automation tools at MathWorks, a major modeling and simulation software development firm.

Grace said that more and more companies—including Honeywell, BAE Systems, NASA, Rockwell Collins, and Lockheed Martin—are using model-based design for product development at various stages of the work flow, from research to product design, and from product implementation to product verification and validation. Grace demonstrated how modeling and simulation tools fit into the product development scheme at MathWorks and noted that model-based design is applicable in a range of firms from transportation to those involved with biological systems.

SDM cosponsored a major conference, Strategies for Balancing Risks and Opportunities in Global Product Delivery, during the week of the on-campus session. The conference featured a poster session on SDM projects, and students who entered posters received free admission to all talks.

The March session also featured an open forum, called the Town Hall, at which SDM fellows were able to identify issues of concern, offer feedback, and share other information. And, as no SDM program would be complete without a party, the March session had its special party for all the students, their significant others and families at Summer Shack in Cambridge.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Experts share risk strategies: Systems-based, life-cycle approaches turn risks into opportunities - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

By Kathryn O’Neill, managing editor, SDM Pulse

In March, hundreds of senior executives converged for a 1-day conference at MIT to learn how to apply a systems-based approach to risk and opportunity. MIT professors and industry experts offered strategies and tactics for managing risk throughout the product life cycle—from design to disposal.

How can companies design products with a view to the uncertain future? They need to foster innovation throughout their domain, said keynote speaker Nicholas M. Donofrio, executive vice president for innovation and technology at IBM Corporation. “Your ability to change successfully and deal with its problems, its risks, will ultimately determine your success,” he said. And adapting to change requires innovation.

“Innovation could be in the product, the process, even the management system,” said Donofrio, who emphasized that IBM takes a global approach to innovation—even confronting the effects of global environmental problems. “We’re doing a major study this year on water. We’re mapping the fresh water supply of the globe,” he said, looking at the full life cycle. “We have enough water but it’s not in the right place at the right time.”

Velcro USA Inc. president Joan B. Cullinane, who also keynoted, described her innovative efforts to structure an organization that takes a life-cycle approach to risk management. Cullinane, who is also vice president of Velcro Group Corporation, integrated Six Sigma into the business operations to minimize risk. She also clarified employee interconnectedness with a giant organization chart in order to ensure strategies were aligned throughout the company. As a result, Velcro is thriving—running 24 hours a day in New Hampshire and expanding its manufacturing capabilities.

Often, innovation comes in the form of new technologies that need to be infused into existing products—a process that comes with its own risks, said Olivier de Weck, MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems. Corporations often struggle to evaluate all the factors involved, so de Weck has created a technology infusion model to help decision makers see both the costs and benefits of potential product changes. “The question is, what is the value and what are the opportunities of new technologies? Technologies by themselves typically have no value—value only emerges once the technologies have been successfully integrated into a greater whole,” he said.

Stephen P. Hoover, vice president and center manager at the Xerox Research Center Webster, N.Y., suggested that innovation is partly about exploring potential risks at all stages of the life cycle—before you commit to a product.

“Look at market, technology, and value chain,” he said. “If you do the work early and quickly, you can save a lot of money on bad ideas.”

MIT Professor David Simchi-Levi of civil and environmental engineering and engineering systems and director for the Forum for Supply Chain Innovation, explained the advantages of redundancy, network planning, and risk pooling. He also discussed the modeling of a relatively new consideration for planners—the increasing demands to reduce a company’s carbon footprint.

Several presenters described the modeling and analytics they use to assess risk and prepare for uncertainty. Bindiya Vakil, program manager at Cisco, described the risk engine her company uses: “It generates thousands of scenarios. It bombards the supply chain with disasters and shows where risk lies, how much revenue is exposed.”

Vakil’s fellow presenter, Cisco director of supply chain risk management John O’Connor said, “These analytics really give us a picture of where to focus our energies.”

Jeffrey Tew, technical fellow and group manager Manufacturing Strategy and Planning Group for the Manufacturing Systems Research Lab at General Motors Research and Development, described how GM handles supply chain disruption and brand protection. The two are highly interrelated, he said. “There are 40,000 small-scale automotive counterfeiters in China,” he said—posing a major risk to the GM brand. Tew described how GM uses RFID tagging, text mining in foreign languages, and temporal database management to combat the problem.

As University of Michigan Professor Wallace J. Hopp said in his talk, “Supply chain disruptions can do more than just cost you money. They can cost you position in the market.” He illustrated his points with relevant case studies.

Another prominent concern in global product delivery is safety—an issue that must be addressed with a systems-based, life-cycle approach, according to MIT Professor Nancy Levenson of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems. Most accidents are not random; they result from complex interactions among system components, including organizational culture. The only way to ensure safety, Levenson said, is to enforce safety constraints in design, manufacturing, and operations at every step along the way.

That’s what the US Navy submarine safety program, SUBSAFE, has been doing for more than 40 years, explained Alfred H. Ford Jr., deputy director of submarine safety and quality assurance for the Naval Sea Systems Command. Set up in 1963 in response to the loss of the USS Thresher with all 129 people aboard, SUBSAFE is an organizational system specifically designed to minimize risk. SUBSAFE incorporates critical self-evaluation, attention to detail, continuous training, and an unrelenting pressure to meet standards, Ford said.

The conference also included a poster session featuring thesis projects by LFM and SDM students. Cosponsors were SDM, MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing Program, Industrial Liaison Program, and Forum for Supply Chain Innovation.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Applying systems thinking and lean techniques to produce better drugs - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

Ragu Bharadwaj, SDM ’07
By Ragu Bharadwaj, SDM ’07

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles that follow Ragu Bharadwaj’s progress through the System Design and Management Program. Bharadwaj holds a PhD in biochemistry and is a research scientist at a local biotech firm.

In the first piece, Bharadwaj introduced the problems inherent to the drug development activities of today’s pharmaceutical industry and posited ways to improve these processes through the strategies and techniques taught in SDM. In the second, he discussed problems inherent in the drug development process. In this installment, he describes how systems thinking and lean techniques can improve the drug development process.

As I move well into my second year in the SDM program, I find that SDM courses are enlarging my thinking about how to address the vastly complex and enormously expensive problems of new drug discovery and development.

Today’s pharma industry is a classic systems problem waiting to be solved. The entire system from drug concept development through drug delivery and utilization is rife with problems, which has brought the industry to a crossroad.
Old patents are expiring, resulting in decreased revenue. The costly and decades-long process of developing a “blockbuster” product, gaining FDA approval, then marketing it, adds additional stressors in a market that is increasingly competitive. Given the departmental organization of pharmaceutical companies in general,  functional silos and cultural norms need to be transformed within the industry, its outsourcers, and throughout the supply chain.

In senior lecturer J. Bradley Morrison’s system dynamics class, I learned how the tools of systems thinking can—and must—be applied to optimize processes during drug discovery in order to determine where to extract more value, and consequently save money and time.

Morrison’s class opened my eyes to the multidisciplinary nature of this incredibly complex challenge. One of the main reasons is cultural. The pharmaceutical sector is well over 100 years old and many of the legacy structures and norms no longer serve today’s high-speed, high-tech global environment.

Functional silos are a major culprit, as they were in another “old” industry—manufacturing. However, while manufacturing has evolved, pharma still has a way to go—scientists remain organized by departments, communicating more within these departments than with the outside. Over time, as the softer sciences and disciplines comprising pharma research have matured, attributes such as throughput lead time and cycle times in iterative functions in research have become more important. Unfortunately, the industry has remained unchanged, and functional silos persist in, for example, development. These must be integrated in order for scientists to share information and work together more efficiently. This problem extends beyond the company’s walls to include outsourcers and vendors as well.

In Morrison’s class we learned to apply systems thinking and lean techniques to help make these changes happen. For example, taking a systems view of the cycle time and documenting the steps in the drug discovery process can help provide quantitative data needed to build a case for optimizing systems. Systems thinking can unequivocally show where cycle times can be reduced across multiple functions.

The harder challenge will be getting scientists to want to change how they work. Most are used to focusing in on one research problem rather than thinking about the big picture. In addition, most come from established academic labs where they train not to work in teams as much as with unparalleled excellence on a single problem. Furthermore, most of them have jobs that incorporate research and production components. Changing the work culture of these scientists is necessarily harder than doing so for other fields, mainly because we are attempting to change some portions of a scientist’s job without affecting other portions.

SDM’s course in systems dynamics has helped me see that there are opportunities for pharma companies to find additional revenue streams. For example, much of the data that is gathered in clinical trials is not used for FDA documentation submission. That data, however, still resides in the company’s computers and can be sold. Selling it would help reduce the cycle time in development of other drugs, potentially benefiting the system as a whole and ultimately, consumers and the health-care system at large. Right now, the old model simply involves selling the intellectual property in the form of patents, so this is an area that could profitably be optimized. Perhaps other assets of programs—such as aggregated structure-activity data, information showstoppers in the projects, could be examined for sale.

I plan to take Professor of the Practice Deborah Nightingale’s class, Integrating the Lean Enterprise, to learn tools and techniques to address the challenges of changing the culture. Applying lean optimization in the discovery process will help identify areas to increase speed and reduce iterations. For instance, if there is a two-to-four-week cycle time for a team of chemists to test new variants of a molecule, lean principles can be employed to determine the real time of the value-added portion of the cycle—which might be just one to two days for each week. Therefore if you double the number of cycles in each time frame, you will be making fewer molecules and utilize a smaller amount of the overall cycle time while producing richer information content (see diagram).

I believe that all of this can ultimately impact health-care policy. At present Institute Professor Robert Langer at Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) is looking at renewable organs and tissues. This raises huge social issues because as people begin to live longer there will be a significant strain on resources. There should be someone with a systems perspective involving engineering, management, and social science at a very high level looking at the potential problems.

I’m planning to take more classes at HST on the economics of health-care industries, new disruptive technologies, and how to evaluate biotech companies from a venture capital perspective. I also want to take a class at Harvard School of Public Health, where they are using systems thinking as the backdrop for looking at the current problems in Medicare, Medicaid, long-term care, health care, and insurance. (Publishers note: Cross-registration between MIT and Harvard at the graduate level can enhance the overall SDM educational experience.)

I’m now looking at almost everything with a systems lens and I believe I will apply my SDM learnings for years to come.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

SDM grad applies systems lessons to manufacturing, health care - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

Harris Lieber, SDM ’02
By Harris Lieber, SDM ’02

One of the most rewarding aspects of going through the MIT System Design and Management Program is the broad applicability of the lessons I learned. After many years at Ford Motor Company, in January 2007 I took a job as systems engineer at Bayer Healthcare Diabetes Care. I am happy to report that the skills I acquired at MIT are as applicable to health care as they were to the automotive industry.

When I arrived at MIT, I was already on the path toward a career in managing engineering tradeoffs between disciplines and taking a systems view of product development. I graduated in 1996 with a BA in engineering sciences and a bachelor of engineering, and then proceeded to get my master’s in engineering management in 1997, all from Dartmouth College.

My first job out of school was at Ford, and I was working on the electric power train of Ford’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicles when I joined the SDM program in 2002. After I graduated from MIT, I first officially held the title of systems engineer, working on a team developing an electric transaxle for a new generation of hybrid electric vehicles.

At Bayer, I am responsible for trading off interests of different functional groups, external partners, and suppliers, as well as making engineering tradeoffs. I evaluate the advantages of the lowest cost solution for a particular problem versus modular or platform architecture that can be flexible enough to optimize overall cost and development time for future expansion opportunities.

While Bayer may be most famous in this country for aspirin, it has a long history in the diabetes care business. Today, Bayer Healthcare Diabetes Care is one of the largest self-test diagnostic businesses in the world, with customers in 100 countries. Our products include two families of blood glucose meter systems and PC-based diabetes management software.

As small, portable consumer electronic devices become more ubiquitous, Bayer has become more focused on the design of our products and the overall user experience. Music players, PDAs, and cell phones concentrate on industrial design, touch and feel, and integration with their customers’ personal computers and other devices. We are taking our products in the same direction. The biggest challenge is that we cannot allow safety, accuracy, and ease of use to suffer as a result of improving these other attributes.

In my experience, the practice of systems engineering in the health-care field is similar in many ways to its practice in the automotive industry. The engineering practices of requirements management and risk management are used in both industries.

However, the influence of a systems engineer on the final product is, in my experience, very different. At Ford, two to six engineers were responsible for systems engineering on a very complicated subsystem of a vehicle. The subsystem sometimes fit into a platform that was already on the market and sometimes a totally new vehicle, but we always designed with very tight constraints. At Bayer, one systems engineer is responsible for two to six total product systems. The systems are far less complicated than a whole vehicle, but I deal with and understand the larger issues of product development and product marketing that were obscured by several layers of system design at Ford. I find that the systems engineer has far more influence over the final product at Bayer.

If there is one way in particular that my nine years at Ford prepared me for my career in the health-care industry, it is in the practice of failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA). This practice was an integral part of Ford’s system of robust product design, and it is also relied on heavily at Bayer.

The core courses of the SDM program definitely prepared me for life as a systems engineer. In particular, systems engineering and systems architecture are applicable everyday. I even found myself illustrating an architecture problem with an object process model, which I’ll admit I didn’t expect while taking Professor Ed Crawley’s class in system architecture. In addition, three classes I would highly recommend for anyone who wants to go into systems engineering in a product development environment are product design and development, manufacturing processes and systems, and entrepreneurship lab.

Looking ahead, I think the SDM program could focus more on the regulatory impact on systems design. At Bayer, I have learned a great deal about how health-care products are regulated, and I have had to become very familiar with the applicable standards and directives. Identifying the applicable standards for a product and understanding the design impact of those standards is a large part of my responsibility; identifying the correct requirements to meet the standards and protect the end user’s safety without over-constraining a product design is a challenge for every project.

Another area of great concern in the health-care industry is product and system risk management. Two techniques we use extensively at Bayer are FMEA and top-down hazard analysis as detailed in ISO 14971 (an international standard). There is a lot of work going on at MIT on managing risk, as evidenced by a risk management conference at MIT which I attended in March. The conference was cosponsored by the SDM program and several ESD faculty members gave fascinating presentations. I particularly appreciated the presentations by Professors Nancy Leveson and Olivier de Weck, which addressed new methods of more robustly quantifying and managing system risk. These professors’ work will make an excellent base for SDM theses in the health-care field.