Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Want to work at Google? Company's Lead Engineering Recruiter Shares Job Hunting Tips with SDM Students

Want to work at Google? Company's Lead Engineering Recruiter Shares Job Hunting Tips with SDM Students

By Lois Slavin and Kathryn O'Neill

Jeff Moore, a lead engineering recruiter for Google, recently had lunch with students in MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) Program and shared job hunting tips for those who want to work at Google. Moore also provided information on Google's entrepreneurial culture and how employees can develop and advance their careers there.
Approximately 30 SDM students attended the event at the MIT Faculty Club, which was organized by SDM's Director of Career Development Helen Trimble.
Here are some tips from Moore:
  • Get an internship. Google tends to hire students who have interned there.
  • Network and build relationships with Google employees. Google favors applicants recommended by staff who currently work at Google.
  • Do your homework. Use the Web to do your research and look at information on the Google hiring process posted by the company.
  • Review blog posts by those who have been interviewed, but don't believe everything you read.
  • Be prepared for a lengthy interview process - typically two phone interviews, one to two in-person interviews, as well as a thorough check of credentials.
Moore noted that Google is growing fast - it's gone from 5,000 employees to 25,000 in the past five years - and it's also rapidly evolving because the its needs and products are constantly changing. That said there are opportunities in everything from energy and sustainability to new product development.
"It's not like we're a one-trick pony," he said. For those who want to work at Google, "it's a place where being creative is OK."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can Portfolio Management and Systems Thinking Improve Air Force Acquisitions Efficiency?

By David Rosenbaum

When Col. Dave Morgan was told by the Air Force that he was being sent to MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM) to study systems engineering to see if Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition processes could be improved, Morgan wondered whether he really wanted to go back to school. He already had a B.A. in math from Temple University, an MBA from Ohio State, and a M.A., Military Operational Art and Science, from the Air Command and Staff College, and he knew the people he'd meet at SDM would be younger than he and, he jokes, "smarter." Of course, as a career officer, if the Air Force tells you to go somewhere, you go. But now, on the eve of graduating from SDM with his M.S. in Engineering and Management, Morgan wishes he could stay a little longer."

Colonel Dave Morgan, one of two candidates selected for the United States Air Force's inaugural Senior Development Education at MIT, is set to graduate in February 2011. Col. Morgan's thesis addresses the application of Portfolio Management theory in Air Force weapons acquisition and how it can curb cost overruns and schedule delays.
Photo by Sgt. Joyce Woods

"I've learned a lot," he says. "I've acquired a mental model that helps me think about systems holistically. That's how you solve problems: driving ambiguity out of the system, adding flexibility, understanding risk, taking into account feedback loops. Not to mention that the professors and the cohort are great."

Col. Morgan's thesis, which he's worked on with MIT's Lean Advancement Initiative, focuses on the potential of Portfolio Management theory to improve DoD weapons acquisition. Right now, says Morgan, the acquisition system takes a lot of criticism on excessive cost inflation and late delivery dates. It is estimated 30% to 60% of all DoD projects are over budget and between 12-24 months behind schedule.

"Most people in acquisitions are frustrated," Morgan admits. "There are so many stakeholders—the GAO, Congress, the financial managers. I mean, when Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense, he told Congress the DoD didn't want a specific weapons system, and he wasn't able to convince them with sound logic and reason. So if the Secretary of Defense can't effect change . . ."

"My thesis models the current process and asks whether giving Project Managers a bit more authority within their portfolio of projects might improve the system's efficiency and save money," says Morgan. Right now, he says that managers don't have the power or enough power to move resources—people and money—between projects even if they know that one may be compromised and another, given increased support, would have a better shot at success.

"My model suggests that giving greater latitude in apportioning resources to the project managers could improve the system incrementally," says Morgan. "And given the money these weapons cost, even a small percentage savings equals a great deal of taxpayer money."

Morgan does not expect his thesis suddenly to reform the DoD's acquisition processes, nor to inculcate systems thinking theory and systems engineering practice in the Congress or in any of the other major DoD stakeholders. "After all," he says, looking through a systems thinking lens and incorporating stakeholder psychology, "increasing one person's authority means decreasing another's, and people don't give up authority easily, especially when it concerns money. At best, I hope my thesis is a conversation starter."

Applying Systems Engineering and Systems Thinking to DoD Acquisition Reform

By David Rosenbaum

Typically, the Department of Defense (DoD) relies on contractors for systems engineering, "but we needed to develop systems thinking expertise on our side," says Col. Gregory McNew, a fellow in MIT's System Design and Management Program.

Photo by L. Barry Hetherington

As Deputy Program Manager for the U.S. Air Force's Joint-Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) program, it was McNew's responsibility to "get the warfighters what they need, when they need it and to get it at the best price." This, he explains, is why the Air Force first sent him to MIT and why he then chose SDM, which is where he could get the grounding he needed in systems engineering and systems thinking to address this complex interdisciplinary challenge.

For example, McNew came across a Carnegie-Mellon University Software Engineering Institute study on patterns of failure in software acquisition and felt that the "patterns were generic enough to apply to the entire DoD acquisition system." He is now working with MIT's Lean Advancement Initiative to conduct his thesis work, which focuses on applying those patterns of failure to DoD acquisition in order to create greater awareness when "a program starts heading down the wrong path. This is not a fix," McNew underlines, "it's a tool for program managers."

One of the failure patterns McNew has experienced personally is "firefighting," in which "you take people away from one project to fix another."

For example, McNew was working on a radar system attached to the belly of airplanes so they could track enemy ground movements for targeting by both ground and air fighters. "The contractor took used 707s," McNew explains, "tore them down to the skin and stringers, determined their structural soundness, fixed what needed fixing, and then replaced the old systems and attached the new radar system." But when the plane got to the last test station, some structural problems still had not been fixed, meaning the systems that had been installed had to be ripped out to fix the problems, and then the systems had to be reinstalled. In order to get that last airplane out the door on time, firefighting became the order of the day. "We had most of the people in the plant working on that one plane while other planes up the line were falling farther and farther behind schedule."

Says McNew, putting on his systems thinking hat, "You think you're going to get a one-to-one ratio of effort-to-result but you don't. There's no linear correlation. The project you're firefighting isn't helped as much as you think it will be, and the other project falls farther behind as it's operating with fewer resources. In other words, you've doubled the dysfunction.

"You spend dollars on firefighting," McNew concludes, "and those are taxpayer dollars. At the end of the day, our responsibility is to be a good steward of the taxpayers' dollars." At SDM, McNew believes his research and his newly honed systems engineering and systems thinking skills will help save those precious taxpayer dollars.

Monday, November 22, 2010

SDM Alum Finds Dream Job at Thomson Reuters

by Lois Slavin, SDM Communications Director
November 23, 2010

Recent SDM alum Mona Masghati was recently profiled on the website of her new employer, Thomson Reuters, where she was hired as Director of Technology Strategy. In the article, which appears near the bottom of the page, she references her SDM thesis research in cloud computing and discusses how this helped lead her to what she calls her "dream job." Congratulations, Mona!

FYI, Mona and her husband have one child and are expecting their second in early 2011.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

SDM Student Juggles Coursework, Company, Speaker Series

By Kathryn O'Neill, managing editor, SDM Pulse
October 1, 2010

MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM) attracts many students with master's degrees, but perhaps no one has entered with more academic credentials than Charles Iheagwara, who joined the 2010 cohort with four advanced degrees-including a PhD in computer science.

The founder and chief technology officer of Unatek Inc., a US government information technology contractor, Iheagwara has also taught at the university level and has 40 published works to his name. Nevertheless, he said that studying at SDM has been "fantastic."

"Going to MIT is the dream of every engineer," he said. "The coursework and the curriculum [at SDM] are the best that anyone could imagine."

Iheagwara said he is particularly benefiting from the management portions of the curriculum. "I haven't had any formal management education. So this is the opportunity for me to learn about the theoretical and practical aspects of management and leadership," he said. "In today's corporate world, technology is an indispensable tool .... [SDM] demonstrates how effective management can lead to better utilization of technology to enhance the bottom line."

He said he is already putting his new SDM skills to use on the job—particularly the lessons he learned about forging alliances in SDM's course in technology strategy. "I don't think in the past I was able to do that so well at Unatek. But immediately after [taking the course] I was able to strengthen areas where I was weak," he said.

Never one to do things by halves, Iheagwara is not just working and going to school full time. He is also organizing SDM's speaker series as a member of the program's Industrial Relations Committee, a student-led group that works to forge links between SDM and the business community.

As both an executive and an academic, Iheagwara said he felt a responsibility to put his resources to use for the benefit of the SDM program. "I thought I could tap contacts I had to help promote the program," he said, noting that he had organized several big conferences at Unatek. "I believe that if you are part of an organization, you should work to advance the interests of that organization."

The first series of talks organized by Iheagwara took place this past summer. Highlights were a keynote address on entrepreneurship and leadership by Mamoon Yunus (MIT '93, '95), president and CEO of Crosscheck Networks, and a panel discussion among Ajay Mishra, global head of innovations management at Nokia Siemens Networks; Rob Kramer, chief of applications development and operations at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority; and Darren Hammell, co-founder and executive vice president for business development at Princeton Power Systems.

"I like the panel sessions because, if nothing else, they make it possible to have more speakers from a diverse spectrum of the work force," Iheagwara said, noting that the series has three main goals:

  1. To give the SDM cohort the opportunity to learn directly from high-caliber professionals on the front lines of industry.

  2. To disseminate information about the program to the speakers themselves, who come to MIT from different companies and organizations.

  3. To promote the program more generally. "Each time we invite speakers and have speaker events, it generates some sound bites that can help promote the program," Iheagwara said.

Typically, the SDM speaker series is open only to members of the SDM community, allowing SDM students to meet with speakers in small groups and to ask questions during presentations and afterward. Iheagwara and others on the Industrial Relations Committee have been working to line up other speakers for the fall and have a commitment from Luwanda Jenkins, Maryland's special secretary of minority affairs. They're also reaching out to many chief technology officers and entrepreneurs and expect to have an exciting program lined up, Iheagwara said.

"We think the fall and spring will be very busy with events," he said.

For current SDM event information, go to and

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series

Date: November 8, 2010
Time: Noon - 1 p.m.
Open to: All

Speakers: Akshat Mathur, SDM alum and Ted Piepenbrock, Ph.D.

Akshat Mathur

Ted Piepenbrock

Title: The Evolution of Business Ecosystems: Interspecies Competition in the Steel Industry

Abstract: This presentation builds on the work of Theodore F. Piepenbrock, whose 2009 MIT doctoral thesis, "Towards a Theory of Evolution of Business Ecosystems," proposed that firms in the same industry vary systematically in performance over time as a result of differences in architecture. Piepenbrock defines architecture in terms of the strength, closeness, and the specific morphology of relationships that exist between the core firm and the four markets that are its key stakeholders-product markets, capital markets, supplier markets and labor markets. Mathur extends Piepenbrock's model to examine its validity in commodity industries, specifically the steel industry from the 1860s to the present.

Akshat Mathur is a recent SDM alum and an accomplished operations and supply chain management professional. Graduating with a Metallurgical Engineering degree in 1995, he went on to a career in various operations management, strategy and planning roles in the steel industry in India, before joining the SDM program in 2008. While at SDM, his interest was strongly piqued by the path-breaking research of Ted Piepenbrock in the field of evolution of business ecosystems. With his background in the steel industry, he explored about the applicability of Piepenbrock's framework to the Steel industry and other commodity industries. His thesis, the topic of this webinar, is the result of his working closely with Ted to analyze and examine the applicability of the Theory of Evolution of Business Ecosystems to the US steel industry.

Dr. Theodore Piepenbrock is an international researcher, lecturer and consultant in strategic management, leadership and macro-organizational change to leading universities and global Fortune 100 companies. Throughout his career, he has worked in over twenty countries, lectured on management and engineering in many of the world's leading universities (e.g. MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, UCL, Tokyo Institute of Technology), has appeared in various international news media (e.g. CNN-TV, BBC-TV, ITV, SKY-TV, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel) and his work has featured in the business press (e.g. Forbes and MIT Sloan Management Review).He received an interdisciplinary B.Sc. in engineering & humanities as a Da Vinci scholar, an M.Eng. in nonlinear structural dynamics from the University of California at Berkeley, a dual M.B.A./M.Sc. as a Leaders for Global Operations Fellow and an interdisciplinary PhD in strategy, organizational behavior and system architecting from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Engineering Systems Division. He was as a researcher with MIT's Lean Advancement Initiative and Communications Futures Program and is currently a postdoctoral research associate at MIT's Sloan School of Management, where his research focuses on inter-organizational architectures, inter-species competition and the evolution of business ecosystems.

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Date: Monday, November 8, 2010
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Beyond Engineering to Enterprise Leadership: A New Toolkit

By David Rosenbaum

SDM fellow Matt Harper has been a chief engineer and a product manager (most recently at Prudent Energy International). He's led teams, launched products (including battery stacks to smooth the spikes produced by wind turbines and solar cells), and registered patents. He amassed a toolkit of skills that allowed him to analyze problems as an engineer, including system design thinking. But two years ago he woke up thinking, "I've done everything I've wanted to do. What's next?"

SDM Fellow Matt Harper in the product verification lab at Prudent Energy, Beijing, China.
Photo by Mr. Eldon Mou.

Harper, who graduated in 2000 with a B.A.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of British Columbia, wanted "to learn how to engage customers and stakeholders while integrating engineering and operations." He needed, he realized, a broader toolkit.

Harper never seriously considered an MBA program ("I'd be sitting among a bunch of 25 year olds with, at best, no more than a few years of real business experience," he says) but at SDM "I sit among men and women with deep experience across a broad range of industries, a deep experience from which I can learn."

At SDM, Harper will not only earn an MS in Engineering and Management, but he's also acquiring a toolkit he believes will enable him to lead an organization at the highest levels. In addition to taking courses in leadership, systems architecture, product design and development, and marketing, he also chairs MIT SDM's Industrial Relations Committee (IRC) which engages with SDM's industrial partners while providing career development opportunities for the SDM cohort.

IRC hosts events designed to introduce industry to the SDM cohort and visa versa. Its focus is on exploring the value SDM grads, grounded in engineering, management, and systems thinking, can add to any organization. IRC also sponsors a speaker series that exposes students to industry leaders. This year's luminaries have included Microsoft Senior Director of Technology Jim Miller talking about Cloud computing reliability; National Renewable Energy Laboratory Executive Director Neil Snyder discussing carbon dependency reduction strategies, and Crosscheck Systems founder and CEO Mamoon Yunus delving into the entrepreneurial mindset.

Another IRC goal is to give SDM students opportunities to work on real business problems—a process that benefits partner companies as SDM fellows are often successful executives themselves.

For example, IRC recently brought a company that builds large-scale power conversion products for tying solar power to the electric grid together with a group of students working on a project for SDM's leadership and management lab. Grid operators are conservative and change—e.g., deploying new technology—is culturally and organizationally difficult.

"The challenge for this company," Harper says, "is how to go beyond the traditional sales model and get to partnerships and co-development arrangements that will add value on the managerial and strategic sides of the business. To do that, you have to understand buyer psychology."

Psychology rarely is part of the engineering toolkit. But through his engagement with IRC partners and his SDM studies, Harper is learning how to integrate buyer psychology into his systems engineering expertise. The result is an engineer with a new toolkit, better prepared to lead not only an engineering function but an entire business.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Systems Thinking and Telecommunications

By David Rosenbaum

System Design and Management (SDM) student Amparo Canaveras, Project Manager at Nokia Siemens Networks, saw a revolutionary change coming in telecommunications, one that would transform the telecom playing field. Wanting to play a significant role in this transformed landscape, Canavaras, who holds both a B.S. in Computer Science and Telecommunications from Universidad Politecnica de Valencia, and an Executive MBA from EAE Business School in Spain, and is an Andalusian scholar as well, knew she needed to deepen her understanding of how technology goes to market, how products and services can be monetized, how consumer trends could be predicted, and how to model the complexity of globalized systems. And she suspected that knowledge could be found at MIT SDM with a degree in Engineering and Management.

Amparo Canaveras confers with members of her SDM cohort, Donnie Holaschutz (left) and Khalid Al-Ahmed.
Photo by Kathy Tarantola

The change began in Nov. 2008, after the federally mandated transformation of analog TV to digital, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which previously kept frequencies open ("white space") on either side of licensed broadcast channels to ensure the clarity of analog TV transmission, voted unanimously to allow the unlicensed use of that white space.

At the same time, new wireless technologies and data processing techniques are making it possible to develop and offer new products and services to businesses and consumers, potentially changing both business models and revenue streams in the telecommunications space.

Canaveras has made the question of what this opening up could mean for business the focus of her SDM thesis. "What is the impact on operators and users, big and small?" asks Canavaras. "How will it affect Wi-Fi services, Internet providers, cell phone companies? How could it be used in business-to-business transactions, for data mining, for tracking inventory, for connecting machines on the shop floor?" The possibilities, thought Canavaras, were exciting, endless and, most importantly, complex.

Learning how to deal with that complexity-how to model a system, and then how to make that system efficient-was what brought her to SDM. Canavaras says her MBA helped bring her out of her engineering box, teaching her about the importance of aligning employees to a common goal and how to keep an eye on costs, but she wanted the focus on technology and system design thinking SDM offered. She was awarded an Andalusian Scholarship, provided by the state of Andalusia to promote the overseas studies of promising executives, and began her SDM studies.

"After 10 years," says Canavaras, "I'd seen everything at Nokia. My MBA was very valuable to me, but it was too general. I wanted to focus on engineering, on technology, because they are at the core of technology companies. And I needed to find a template, a process, for handling complexity. At SDM, all courses lead to an understanding of system complexity. In telecommunications (which will become increasingly global) that kind of understanding is invaluable. There will be new products, services, customers, and business models. Everything is changing."

And, Canavaras says, after graduating from SDM, she expects her role at Nokia will change as she becomes a part of that change.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

SDM Co-Sponsors Workshop on Using Social Media in Job Search

By Kathryn O’Neill

Social media may seem new and scary to the uninitiated, but the point is still to make and maintain relationships-something that's always been central to the job search, according to experts from MIT and Google who spoke at "Social Media: Convergence of Old and New Recruiting Practices," a talk held at MIT on October 13.

SDM Fellows Azamat Abdymomunov, Rafael Maranon, and Leyla Abdimomunova with Google’s Jeff Moore and MIT’s Nancy Richmond (center) at the social media workshop co-sponsored by MIT’s System Design and Management Program and the MIT Social Media Club.
Photo by Gaurav Agarwal, SDM

"We don't eliminate the old, such as the resume and cover letter, but we do need to venture out into the new and use those [tools] as well," said Helen Trimble, career development director for MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM), who introduced the 1 1/2-hour-long presentation sponsored by SDM and the newly formed MIT Social Media Club. Hosts for the event were SDM Fellows Rafael Maranon, Azamat Abdymomunov, and Leyla Abdimomunova. Other members of the team that spearheaded the event included Trimble and SDM's communications director Lois Slavin.

Featured presenters Nancy Richmond, MIT's assistant director of career counseling and exploration, and Jeff Moore, lead engineering recruiter for Google, explored the value of using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to get and stay connected to a wide range of professional contacts.

"Why do this instead of a business card?" Richmond asked. "Because people move around. Every three to four years, people move to new jobs." Making contacts electronically keeps the "Rolodex" up to date, she said.

Moore stressed the importance of using every tool available for job searches-including social media. "You never know when you're going to need a new job," he said. "Apply online, reach out to friends, network with fellow alumni.... Do everything you can to make sure your resume is seen by the people who need to see it."

Richmond noted that it's not enough just to start a LinkedIn or Facebook account-you have to use it. "If you're not having conversations with people and you're just connected, you're not really getting the value. You need to participate in discussions," she said.

"The trick is sharing information that's relevant to your career goals," said Moore, who pointed out that writing a blog about your dog, for example, is not as likely to impress a recruiter as writing one about the latest developments in your field.

Moore suggested that reading blogs and other posts online is a good first step for those new to social media. "Find like-minded people and watch what they do," he said, noting that for the first three months that he was on Twitter, all he did was "listen."

While touching upon the use of other social media, both Moore and Richmond concentrated their remarks on the use of LinkedIn, which is more business-oriented than Facebook or Twitter, suggesting that joining LinkedIn is a good first step for those new to social media.

Richmond offered a number of tips for people getting started on LinkedIn, including:

  • Fill out your profile page completely

  • Personalize requests for connections

  • Don't try to connect to people who don't know you

  • Don't reject requests-simply ignore or archive them

  • Join groups and participate in discussions

"Don't just ask for favors or jobs," Richmond said. "If you don't remember anything more, remember this: Give more than you take."

Both Richmond and Moore stressed that it isn't necessary to spend a lot of time and energy on social media-just steadily include it among other tasks, like checking email.

"If you start today, you'll get there," Moore said, noting the value of connecting to a broad community. "I'm at a point in my social network where I feel like I could find someone within a degree or two at any company in the world."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SDM Holds Annual MIT Systems Thinking Conference

By David Rosenbaum

Over 300 attended the two-day conference MIT SDM Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges to hear experts from MIT, industry, and government discuss how they use systems thinking to solve some of the world's most pressing and complex problems.

Sponsored by Global Project Design, Werfen Group/Instrumentation Laboratory, John Deere, Merck, MITRE, and United Technologies Research Center (UTRC), the conference addressed Large Complex Systems; Sustainable Systems; Service Systems, and Health Care Systems.

Commissioner George Apostolakis of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) delivered the keynote presentation. He described how the NRC, charged with ensuring that nuclear use is as safe as possible, is implementing a synthesis of Defense in Depth with a Risk-Informed approach based on system thinking. The goal is a safety culture that takes into greater account the psychology of individual behavior.

Mark Jenks, a VP in Boeing's 787 Program, described the complex process of how the 787 was brought to market, followed by Kevin Otto, founder and President of Robust Systems and Strategy, a research and development consultancy, who addressed issues affecting the construction of Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) that will reduce rather than enlarge the atmosphere's already untenable carbon load.

Satish Narayann of UTRC described a methodology for optimizing NZEBs, which are more costly to build, and more systems-dependent than traditional buildings. MIT Professor Andrew Scott then discussed his work with Sekisui House, Japan's leading home builder, in which Scott and his team devised a plan to reduce the town's carbon footprint by 80%, convert 50% of its open space to sustainable agriculture, achieve 100% grey water reuse, and have it produce 100% of its energy on site-all by 2050.

Whirlpool's Bruce Beihoff scaled down the discussion to the individual home - specifically sustainable systems that reduce waste and improve energy efficiency. The technology, Beihoff insisted, is already here; what's needed is "the preparation of leaders to make it happen, leaders developed at places like SDM."

Professor John Sterman concluded the day with a presentation on climate change. He believes the general failure of governments, leaders, and individuals to understand system thinking is responsible for the current climate change policy. "Our mental models," he said, "are short-term, siloed, linear, and uncomprehending of risk" while complex systems, like the climate, are "non-linear, dynamic, and governed by feedback." Unless people begin to feel the impact of their actions on the climate, Sterman fears little will change. "There is no TARP program for the planet," he said. "Nature does not give bailouts."

The morning session of day 2 focused on Service Systems. MIT Visiting Lecturer Irving Wladawsky-Berger analyzed the global growth of the service economy, contrasting the change from the Industrial Economy's focus on physical objects with the Service Economy's focus on people and information. Professor Richard Larsen followed with an analysis of the burgeoning service economy that subtracts labor on the provider side and adds it to the customer side, as is the case with ATMs. Industrializing service through technology is the next frontier, he suggested, and advocated improving education through distance learning technologies.

Kristin Kloeckl, a fellow at the Senseable City Lab, described his team's work on improving the lives of urban populations through better system design and better distribution of information. Kloeckl said that in the future, a real-time copy of the physical city will be accessible digitally to all its citizens, allowing individuals to make better short-term decisions regarding, for example, transportation. This can (through feedback) improve conditions for everyone.

Professor Deborah Nightingale discussed her work in applying system thinking to the preventing and treating of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, from which five to 20% of vets returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer. A panel discussion and Q&A of all Service Systems speakers followed.

Health Care systems were discussed in the conference's final segment. Dr. Blackford Middleton of Partners HealthCare System suggested that the current system is not a health care system focused on the prevention of disease, but a disease system, focused on treating sickness. He said healthcare IT can change that, while improving quality by removing the major source of medical error: the lack of timely, accessible information.

Dr. Roberto A. Rocha discussed how to provide physicians with Computerized Decision Support (CDS) in a time when "the scientific literature has doubled in the last 20 years." Unfortunately, the barriers to adopting CDS are many, ranging from a lack of downloadable, structured data to the absence of accepted, standardized ways of describing diseases.

The conference concluded with MIT AgeLab Director Joseph F. Coughlin's provocative (and system thinking-derived) argument that the real cost center in the health care equation is the individual. He suggested that prognostic engineering, used to predict failure in machines, could be applied to humans to transform the current, expensive disease model of health care into a less costly, more productive system.

Presentations from the conference can be viewed at Videos are scheduled to be made available on by mid-November.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

SDM grads are in high demand - SDM Pulse Fall 2010

By Helen Trimble, SDM director of career development

Helen M. Trimble
As companies across all industries become increasingly aware of the criticality of systems thinking to compete effectively in global markets, graduates of MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) continue to be in high demand. Their interdisciplinary studies in engineering and management, coupled with SDM’s emphasis on leadership, innovation, and systems thinking, give them the unique ability to work and lead effectively across increasingly evolving organizational and geographic boundaries. Moreover, because SDMs have an average of seven years experience (and many more than two to three times that), they are able to hit the ground running.

Industries that hired recent SDM grads include retail and e-commerce (Sears Holdings Corporation), construction (Thoughtforms Corporation), telecom (Verizon), consulting (Booz Allen Hamilton), software (Redhat and Tibco), IT (EMC), patent commercialization (IP ValueManagment), and others. Their titles include chief operating officer; vice president of engineering; IT strategist; senior manager; intellectual property licensing; strategic business development manager; senior systems engineering; product marketing manager; and director of technology.
Moreover at least one SDM student has already been hired—months before he is scheduled to graduate! SDM ’10 student Irfan Mohammed secured a position as vice president of engineering at India’s largest producer of cell phone apps, Sourcebits, last summer.
Recruitment activities are now under way for prospective employers of upcoming SDM graduates. Please contact me at if you would like to learn more.

Making Renewable Energy Work is a Systems, Not an Engineering Challenge

By David Rosenbaum

Renewable energy, specifically wind power, is very much in the news today, and the news is mixed. The Boston Globe on Oct. 10 revealed that when (or if) the proposed 130 turbines of the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound begin generating electricity, it will cost up to “twice as much” as hydroelectric power and raise the average New Englander’s monthly bill about two percent. Two days later, the New York Times reported that Google was investing almost two billion dollars to build an energy transmission infrastructure for a proposed giant offshore wind farm stretching from New Jersey to Virginia.

Neil Snyder, Executive Director, Systems Engineering and Program Integration at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory spoke on Oct. 5 to the System Design and Management (SDM) cohort as part of SDM’s Industrial Relations Committee speaker series.

Clearly, Google thinks wind power will someday be profitable. Just as clearly, we’re not there yet. Fossil fuel consumption is still rising, as are CO2 emissions. Fossil fuels are still cheaper than renewables, and look to remain that way for some time, a point vividly made by Neil Snyder speaking Oct. 5 to the System Design and Management (SDM) cohort as part of SDM’s Industrial Relations Committee speaker series. Snyder, Executive Director, Systems Engineering and Program Integration at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), believes the normal timeline for technology and systems evolution will not be fast enough to provide the U.S. with the sustainable energy it needs to end the environmental depredations of fossil fuels, free it from the price volatility caused by oil dependency, and bring an end to the global instability brought about by the oil economy.

“The Wright brothers flew in 1903,” Snyder said. “It took 30 years before a commercial aviation industry was established . We haven’t got 30 years.”

The mission of NREL, a MIT Partner organization, is to bring renewable energy to widespread use by accelerating the development cycle. In order to do that, Snyder told the SDM cohort, he needs them.

“We need to overcome a great deal of inertia,” said Snyder. “Industry is resistant to change because change is expensive. The tools needed to overcome that inertia are those that help engineers deal with people, culture, and with business and economic systems, not just engineering systems.”

Snyder said NREL needed “engineers who can look beyond engineering.” In other words, it needed engineers trained in systems thinking and the associated disciplines taught at MIT System Design and Management.

“Right now,” Snyder told the cohort, “renewables represent only six percent of the total U.S. energy system. To increase that percentage, we need disruptive and breakthrough technologies. But the recession hit investments in renewable energy R&D hard while the fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidized. So to accomplish change, we need to replace the some of the infrastructure that feeds the fossil fuel industry’s interests, and we need to change the political culture that revolves around those interests.”

Snyder said that NREL’s goal is to get renewable energy up to 20 percent of the U.S. energy system by 2030. To reach, or even approach that level, Snyder said, looking out at the SDM cohort, “we need the engineers in this room who are learning about marketing and social policy.

“Technology,” he said, “can’t do it alone.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

SDM helps student take on global development challenges - SDM Pulse Fall 2010

By Alex Shih, SDM ’09

Alex Shih, SDM ’09, far left, and Jennifer Woodfin,
MBA ’10, far right, gather with patients and
family members in Uganda with whom they
worked on a project to combat AIDS.
When I joined SDM in January 2009, I expected to get a top-tier education in engineering strategies and management principles that would further my career working on large-scale, complex solutions at Raytheon. I also expected systems thinking to provide a powerful approach to combating problems related to domestic poverty—a personal passion of mine.
I was right on both counts—but I have also gained much more.
Thanks to SDM and the connections I’ve made through the program’s unique position in both the MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT School of Engineering, I have not only learned about management, leadership, and the importance of systems thinking. I’ve also expanded my personal interests, developing a passion for tackling larger, global challenges containing multiple dimensions such as technology, business, and policy.
SDM has provided me with opportunities to take on projects in India, Uganda, and Israel, and led to my decision to pursue a dual master’s with MIT’s Technology and Policy Program—all of which, I hope, will further my efforts to address sustainable, international development and social justice in the future.
Tackling illiteracy in India
India has an illiterate population of approximately 300 million, a majority of which live in rural areas. At the same time, the country boasts a mobile phone penetration of about one third of the overall population, a figure that is expected to grow to about two-thirds within the next couple years. It seemed reasonable to consider whether this prevalent technology might be used to address a common social ill.
During the summer of 2009, I took an MIT class called NextLab, which focuses on using mobile technologies to address global challenges. A class assignment soon brought me to Jhansi, India, a rural area south of Delhi, where I co-led a project called Celedu (Cellular + Education) that aimed to spread literacy in the developing world using cell phone applications.
Our team of SDMs, MBAs, and computer science students developed and deployed a pilot study to assess the effectiveness of an interactive game application to address illiteracy. While technology was crucial to our application, we built our business model around the culturally relevant theme of community-based learning. It was designed to be interactive in order to leverage India’s existing social system and to encourage community involvement and accountability.
Considering cultural context as the broader system for our application allowed us to build a more successful model. We used technology that required very few behavioral changes from users, and that decision contributed to the results showing quick adaptation. Ultimately, we were able to demonstrate receptiveness from our target users to an unfamiliar technology, and we found that our application dramatically quickened short-term learning relative to the current book- and even computer-based method.
In SDM’s system architecture class the following fall, we retroactively identified areas for improvement. We mapped out the system architecture of Celedu’s model and identified gaps between the function of different subcomponents and the form they should have taken. For example, while we were sponsored by Development Alternatives (a nongovernmental organization) and partnered with Nokia for our pilot, we needed to better understand the stakeholder network and the value flow among them in order to align the incentives of each contributor. I am currently in the process of further developing the software and establishing a long-term partnership through courses at MIT and government agencies.
While researching sustainable household income in Uganda, Alex Shih, SDM ’09, found that raising
chickens was often a good business prospect for AIDS patients. Chickens (left) were fed feed containing
vitamins and other nutrients (center) and their eggs were packaged and transported to market (right).
Fighting AIDS in Uganda
The project management, business analytics, and systems thinking skills I’ve learned at SDM also proved useful for the project I undertook last fall for the Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab), a premiere international internship course at Sloan. In G-Lab, my team worked with a project partner in Africa to address business and operational issues related to health-care delivery.
The Sustainable Household Income Project (SHIP) I worked on was developed to help HIV/AIDS patients in Uganda to increase their individual income generation. Prior research and collaborations with patients had demonstrated that an increase in household income improved treatment adherence, a critical factor in health-care outcomes. While many patients of the clinic we worked with were able to obtain free antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, they often had difficulty funding the associated costs, such as transportation to the clinic, opportunity costs for the time and labor spent getting care, and additional food required. Many patients in rural Uganda were actually spending 30 percent to 50 percent of their income on transportation alone to pick up monthly refills.
SHIP set out to fund income-generating activities (IGAs) with a central income generator, a lemongrass distillery. My team was tasked with assessing and analyzing the profitability of the distillery, determining the feasibility of independent household IGAs, recommending an optimal governance structure, and identifying major project risks.
We discovered that the estimated profits generated by the central lemongrass distillery would only sustain SHIP operations for about three years due to the high capital expenditures and operating losses of the distillery. Ways to augment distillery profits included building a visitor center and marketing products using an organic/fair-trade brand. SHIP could also cut operating costs by running a leaner organization, scaling up more gradually, or creating strategic partnerships with other nonprofits that may fill in gaps in competencies/expertise.
More significantly, when we examined the distillery plan within the larger system of individual households, we found that lemongrass growing at that level required substantially more land than other IGAs and carried more risk as a cash crop. In contrast, other IGAs—such as chicken coops and fruit growing—were more suitable for many patients. Best practices advised that each participant should draft a custom business plan considering resource availability and costs specific to his or her household.
Our home visits, subject expert and faculty interviews, and secondary research further demonstrated that each household’s characteristics and resources uniquely affected the feasibility and profitability of any given IGA. What could be an outstanding success for one household is likely to be a disastrous failure for another. Furthermore, many households took on a variety of IGAs simultaneously, ranging from crops to animal rearing to clothing products, adding further layers of complexity to the already unique system of each household.
Overall, we determined that the distillery project would only be feasible with better governance and project management, compelling SHIP to proceed with caution. This experience helped to cement for me the importance of risk transparency so that all project stakeholders and participants can better mitigate internal risks and plan for external risks. Plainly, any effort to relieve a social ill must examine and consider the whole social system involved.
In his paper “Doctors Without Orders,” Josh Ruxin writes that the failure to construct viable public health systems in the developing world has helped create the conditions for the pandemics of today. He emphasizes that these health institutions and infrastructure in developing landscapes cannot be treated as independent silos and disconnected projects. There are too many projects only focused on water, education, or specific diseases. Instead, integrated approaches—those that take into account water, sanitation, economic opportunity, education, and infrastructure along with health—have a better chance to address public health needs both sustainably and adequately.
Both Ruxin and the World Health Organization contend that the “complex matrix of development” requires systems thinking, financial knowledge, and management. We must bring together perspectives from economists, sociologists, management consultants, and politicians, and create solutions that focus on every aspect of life that contributes to health, from the management of care programs to agricultural productivity to telecommunications improvement and the provision of clean water. This means that we must not only recognize that Uganda’s economy can affect the country’s national health-care system and vice-versa, but embrace its interconnected-ness and integrate all the current initiatives out there that are still largely in siloed operations.
I am now in my third and final year at MIT. I returned from a summer in Jerusalem working for a nonprofit educational organization called Middle East Education through Technology (MEET), whose vision is to bring Israeli and Palestinian youth together through the language of education. There, I taught business and entrepreneurship to high-school students, while gaining a glimpse of the complex challenges engendered by prolonged conflict.
It is the beginning of a new academic year, and I hope to continue internalizing classroom teaching and perspectives gained from global experiences into my courses and eventual thesis. I am convinced that society’s problems must be dealt with holistically and owned by the beneficiaries in order for solutions to be sustainable.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

SDM aids Instrumentation Lab’s health-care mission - SDM Pulse Fall 2010

By Gene Achter and Jessica Levesque
Gene Achter
Editor’s note: In this article, two executives from Instrumentation Laboratory—Gene Achter, vice president of advanced development and technology and chief technology officer, and Jessica Levesque, human resources manager—team up to describe how the company works with, and benefits from, its association with SDM.
Instrumentation Laboratory (IL) develops, manufactures, and markets in vitro diagnostic (IVD) systems. To put it in personal terms, when you visit a physician and a blood sample is drawn, IVD systems test the blood to provide analytical results that the physician uses to make clinical decisions—in effect, in vitro diagnostics provide the link between the patient’s vein and the physician’s brain.
At every stage of development and manufacture, our products integrate a wide range of disciplines, technologies, and subsystems. Systems thinking and effective system management techniques are essential for dealing with these complex interactions, hence our interest in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM).
Jessica Levesque
IL focuses on two main areas within diagnostics—hemostasis and immediate care. Hemostasis deals with clotting—the delicate balance between excessive bleeding and thrombotic events such as pulmonary embolism, heart attack, and stroke. Immediate care deals with blood gases, electrolytes, and similar parameters where time is of the essence.
The underlying physiology, biochemistry, and medical science define the parameters to be measured and the clinical relevance. The measurements are performed using electro-optical or electrochemical sensor systems, aided by biochemical and chemical reagents that selectively interact with components of the blood sample or calibrate the measurements. For example, some of the electrochemical sensors incorporate enzymes within polymer membranes deposited over metal electrodes. The engineering implementation includes mechanisms, electronics, thermal control, and multiple layers of software for user interface, direct control of the measurement processes, data analysis, and data connectivity to report the result to the physician.
IVD products are regulated to assure safety and efficacy. Our products are marketed worldwide, and must meet regulatory requirements and customer expectations in each country as well as differences in health-care delivery systems.
As you can see, our products and our operations are multidisciplinary and deal with multifaceted systems. However, most of our people focus on their primary disciplines—electronics, mechanics, biochemistry, and so forth. A few of us tend to be generalists, speaking everybody’s language to some extent and working to forge bonds between the disciplines. However, this intuitive approach is only part of the answer. IL looks to the SDM program to help us develop people who are well trained in systems thinking and the enlightened use of modern tools for system design and management.
Instrumentation Laboratory has been involved in the program for three years, and to date we have had six students earn SDM certificates. Of the six, two have gone on to enroll in the master’s program. We are planning to enroll at least three more students in the next session of the certificate program.
We encourage engineers from all IL disciplines to consider participating in the program. We run an internal application process, starting with an onsite Graduate Record Exam (GRE) prep course for potential students. Because some of our applicants have been out of school for several years, we thought this would help potential students remember how to study and would refresh the basic information that they will need to be successful at MIT.
Our selection process includes looking at the applicant’s work performance, years of experience and length of service, undergraduate major, GRE scores, and an essay that asks the applicant why they want to participate in the SDM program. In the past, SDM Industry Codirector John Grace (now retired) has helped us select students from the pool of applicants based on the aforementioned information. We found John’s assistance invaluable as he had insight as to which candidates were most likely to succeed based on his knowledge of the SDM program and the academic rigors it would present. We matched that information with what we knew about each candidate as an employee, and made our selections from there. We can easily say that not only did each student succeed in the program but every one maintained a high level of performance at work while participating in the program.
The affects of the SDM program on the scientists and engineers of Instrumentation Laboratory are still taking shape. In some areas, we see such evidence as diagrams left on a white board or a group gathering around a graduate who is explaining a systems concept. One of our graduates, Guy Criscenzo, explained the impact of the SDM on his thinking as follows: “The SDM program has provided me a system to increase the effectiveness and value of my system engineering capabilities by focusing all of my past product development knowledge and experiences using clear and concise principles, methods, and tools.” He went on to say, “The SDM program has changed everything, and product development will never be the same.”
Another one of our certificate graduates, Sassan Zelkha had this to say: “SDM’s certificate program has had a great impact on both my professional and personal life. Through the program, I have learned how to think globally while acting locally. I have become a systems thinker for life. I have also gained many valuable tools such as DSM, OPM (object process methodology), SysML (systems modeling language), and many others that are aiding me to be more effective system engineer.
“Another great benefit of this program is the interaction and connection made with many great minds such Professor (Edward F.) Crawley and other system engineers from different industries. The benefit of the program was so great that I decided to continue the program part time to get my master’s in SDM.”
Instrumentation Laboratory designs and manufactures complex medical instrumentation that is sold around the globe. Although so far only a small fraction of our staff have been trained in the SDM concepts, their efforts to impart that knowledge to others within the organization has already had a positive impact on how we do business.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SDM teams address Hawaii’s clean energy challenges - SM Pulse Fall 2010

By Karl Critz, SDM ’10, and Donny Holaschutz, SDM ’10

Editor’s note: In this article, Karl Critz and Donny Holaschutz summarize the work of two teams of students in SDM’s class in systems engineering. The teams investigated the impact of renewable resources on Hawaii's transportation and electricity systems.

Karl Critz
SDM ’10
The state of Hawaii has great incentive to pursue renewable energy projects. The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) has provided top-down pressure for change by setting targets of 40 percent renewable energy and a 30 percent increase in energy efficiency by 2030. Electricity costs triple the national average, and gas at the pump is 50 percent more expensive than on the mainland. This combination of political and economic drivers encourages Hawaii to test new systems for energy efficiency and sustainability significantly before such systems are explored on a national scale. For this summer’s course in systems engineering, SDM students undertook to find ways to help Hawaii reach its targets in these two areas: increased transportation efficiency and stable renewable electricity production.
Team Rental Car Efficiency: Electrifying the Rental Fleet

Donny Holaschutz
SDM ’10
Team members: Swope Fleming, SDM ’10, Khalid
Al-Ahmed, SDM ’10, Chang Bae Park, SDM ’10,
and Donny Holaschutz, SDM ’10.
Team Rental Car Efficiency looked at ways to help the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative increase energy efficiency within the islands. Creating the infrastructure, incentives, and policies that would encourage alternative forms of transportation could substantially help HCEI meet its goals. According to Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, 18.8 percent of Hawaii’s oil usage comes from transportation.
Figure 1. This system dynamics model illustrates how the current ethanol policy promotes the
development of more gasoline-consuming infrastructure.
The SDM team discovered that current policy emphasizes reducing short-term petroleum consumption, rather than the long-term solution—making the island’s transportation systems less petroleum-intensive. Some current policies even have side effects that undermine the potential success of other transformational policies. For example, through the creation of a system dynamics model, the SDM team discovered that the current ethanol policy is promoting the development of more gasoline-consuming infrastructure by subsidizing and mandating the introduction of 10 percent ethanol to the gasoline mix (see Figure 1). The policy sends mixed signals to the private sector and could potentially compromise the investment in the electric infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
Team Rental Car Efficiency was committed to finding ways for HCEI to incentivize small, effective changes that would help it meet its targets and would lead to positive, long-term changes in the energy consumption ecosystem. After exploring a large number of focus areas, the team zeroed in on the car rental fleet. The team found that if managed properly, the car rental industry could be used as a platform to introduce more efficient vehicles into the islands.
As the team discovered, the car rental company is quite different from the private car owner. Car rental companies will replace their car rental fleets with newer cars every 2-3 years. If car rental companies began purchasing plug-in hybrids or hybrid cars and were incentivized to sell their used cars to the islanders, an alternate car market of more efficient vehicles could be created, serving the more cost-sensitive islanders who prefer to purchase used vehicles.
The team deployed a complete set of systems engineering tools to test its policy recommendations. By using system dynamics, the team was able to develop a model that could test the effects of various policies related to different mile per gallon (MPG) mandates and subsidy levels for alternative vehicles such as hybrids and electric vehicles. The current MPG mandate is set at 27.5 MPG, and the federal government provides a $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of a plug-in hybrid. The team used trade space exploration to determine how the various stakeholders—including the rental car industry, government, and tourists—perceive important attributes of these policies, such as the subsidy level, the time taken to change the MPG mandate, and the increase in MPGs in every policy change.
The team found that a policy sensitive to the tourism economy would take into consideration the extra costs imposed on car rental companies by the MPG mandate. Currently electric hybrids have a premium of ~$5K over a comparable gasoline powered vehicle and a PHEV has a premium of ~$20K over a comparable gasoline powered vehicle. If an aggressive MPG mandate were passed without the appropriate subsidy level, then the price premiums paid on the alternative cars would have to either be absorbed by the car companies or passed on to renters. The team found that changing the MPG target at a rate sensible to the car companies is important to achieving a significant reduction of oil consumption in this sector.
Team Grid: Intermittent Resources, System Adequacy
Team members: Kacy Gerst, SDM ’09, Karl Critz, SDM ’10, Matt Harper, SDM ’10.
Much economic and policy research has already focused on how to structure incentives in order to meet a 40 percent renewable portfolio standard. Team Grid therefore chose to focus on the less-studied systems issues and incentives involved in integrating intermittent sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, into the electrical grid. While some renewable energy sources, such as biomass or biofuel, act like the status quo fossil fuels and can be ramped up or down as needed, others do not. Geothermal energy installations usually have a fixed maximum capacity and have limited ability to respond to demand variation. Worse, wind and solar sources are entirely at the mercy of nature. A grid supplied by these intermittent sources must work harder to meet demand when the wind stops blowing.

Figure 2. This system dynamics model is designed to capture
annual energy balance, capital stocks, and power not served.
The SDM team deployed a rich set of systems engineering tools to address the problem (an example is a complex system dynamics model shown in figure 2). Characterizing the proposed electricity grid for 2030 exposed the scope of the problem on the minute and hour timescale. A model of the grid from today until 2030 revealed the connections between generation, demand, investment, equipment retirement, transmission, and stabilization. The team also developed a model of stakeholders to put hard economic values on the cost of blackouts, not-in-my-backyard attitudes, habitat destruction, and behavior change. By using experimental design, the team evaluated a set of portfolios for its economic and social costs. This analysis revealed an optimal set of stabilizers for assuring an adequate energy supply with intermittent resources.
The best portfolios focused on simple solutions that use existing infrastructure. It is not, strictly speaking, economical to maintain oil-fired power plants when they will only be used infrequently. However, compared to other storage technologies it is much less expensive (economically and socially) to keep these plants maintained and ready to step in when the sun and wind cannot provide. The team therefore recommended that the Public Utilities Commission guarantee that low-utilization oil plants be compensated by ratepayers.
Unfortunately, such plants are unable to take extra energy when the wind is blowing strong and demand is low (“down-regulate”). To react quickly to unexpected changes and stabilize the grid, the team also recommended the use of chemical energy storage devices such as batteries or fuel cells. Since the storage would supply broad grid benefits, it makes sense that it be controlled by the electric company and not by individual wind/solar developers. The general benefits of storage should also qualify investments for public subsidies similar to the producer tax credit offered for wind and solar developers.
In addition to these two themes, the team also found benefit in (1) dynamic billing policies to shave demand during emergencies and (2) streamlined siting for transmission lines and geographically distributed intermittent sources. Each of these policies will create the strong grid Hawaii needs to reduce its fossil fuel imports and assure the continued services upon which its economy depends.
These projects were developed in close collaboration with Michael Duffy at the National Renewable Energy Lab, who provided continuous feedback and guidance to SDM students throughout the course. Both teams thank Duffy (who received a master’s from MIT and a PhD from Ohio State University) for his mentorship.

Monday, October 11, 2010

SDM student helps DOE evaluate investment trade-offs - SDM Pulse Fall 2010

“The United States is, in fact, at a historical point where the nation’s energy innovation system is being examined, significantly expanded, and reshaped. As the country does this, it not only has a rare opportunity, but indeed a responsibility, to ensure that it improves the efficiency and effectiveness of this system to make sure that the country is getting the maximum payoff from its investments.”
                  —“Institutions for Energy Innovation:
                 A Transformational Challenge,” a report from
                 the Harvard Kennedy School, by Venkatesh
                 Narayanamurti, Laura D. Anadon, and
                 Ambuj D. Sagar
The Department of Energy (DOE) is in the process of making critical decisions under extreme uncertainty regarding the optimal size and shape of the nation’s public energy investment portfolio. Working with the DOE chief financial officer’s team through an independent study arrangement, SDM student Kacy Gerst had the opportunity to advise on the development of a large decision tool that will assist DOE leadership in evaluating complex investment trade-offs.
Kacy Gerst, SDM ’09, has been working to help the
US Department of Energy use systems thinking to make better
decisions about the nation’s energy portfolio.
These trade-offs address high-level questions within the DOE’s portfolio of programs and initiatives. Examples of trades investigated include: which would yield greater public benefit—a heavier investment in loan guarantees for nuclear energy generation or a larger investment in thin-film solar research and development (R&D); or which would have the greatest impact on US greenhouse gas emissions—greater funding for wind energy development or greater funding for carbon capture and sequestration R&D. Gerst’s research was guided by two knowledgeable research scientists working on tradespace exploration methodologies, Dr. Donna Rhodes and Dr. Adam Ross of MIT’s Systems Engineering Advancement Research Initiative (SEAri). Gerst’s work illuminated critical issues within the decision tool’s structure, as well as proposed methods for evolving the architecture to evaluate portfolio performance across changing futures.
A recent paper by Gerst, Rhodes, and Ross highlighted that as an organization broadens its investments—placing bets across market segments and technologies—it increases its vulnerability to market, technological, and political shifts, a risk that faces the Department of Energy. Given the DOE’s broad technology portfolio, which spans basic R&D to demonstration and deployment, investments are extremely susceptible to external policy, market, and technological disturbances. In fact, the only certainty is that such disturbances and context shifts will occur.
Several historic examples exist of market and policy shifts that dramatically affected the DOE’s ability to supply value to the public. One such example was the DOE’s investment in the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, a public-private entity that was charged with producing 500,000 barrels of oil per day by 1987. Initial cost-benefit estimates determined the investment to be economical in the static context of the day. However, when gasoline prices unexpectedly dropped, the external environment changed and the project became uneconomical. The investment decision was subsequently viewed by the public as a government boondoggle. A more robust initial analysis of possible changing futures as related to market dynamics, such as the impact of petroleum price variations, could potentially have prevented such an outcome.
Despite its place in a complex, changing environment, the results produced by the DOE’s current investment modeling approach will represent an evaluation conducted in terms of a static context. Yet it is critical for the DOE to have the ability to evaluate and select a portfolio of investments that performs robustly in the face of many possible futures. Gerst’s investigation focused on evolving the DOE’s current investment decision tool to allow for this type of scenario-based evaluation.
Using Epoch-Era Analysis methodology, developed by Ross and Rhodes, Gerst was able to make recommendations for the structural augmentation of the DOE’s decision tool. When fully applied, these enhancements will enable DOE leadership to visualize and evaluate portfolios of investments across changing needs and contexts.
According to MIT SEAri’s lead research scientist, Ross, “Epoch-Era Analysis incorporates a view of systems in the context of discrete time segments, similar to a movie composed of a series of static frames running in quick succession.” This snapshot depiction allows for the extension of a typical, static tradespace analysis to a dynamic analysis. A pictorial of viewing tradespace plots in a “movie real” format in shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Epoch-Era Analysis (Ross and Rhodes, 20081)
The investment decision tool being developed at the DOE is designed to create a portfolio optimized for the public good, as measured by utility, rather than maximum private profit. The proposed tool couples multi-attribute decision analysis methods with a global climate model, ultimately producing cost and utility trades between various investment portfolio configurations. To put it simply: the desirability of a portfolio of investments is calculated as a function of weighted benefits. Benefits, as determined by the DOE, include such things as greenhouse gas emissions reduced, jobs created, and barrels of oil saved. The value of those benefits, for each level of investment, is an output of a linked economy-energy-climate model. Portfolios with varying levels of technology investments can then be compared in a cost versus utility tradespace and the cost-utility efficient solutions identified and analyzed.
The DOE’s predicament is typical of government agencies that characteristically face highly dynamic funding and operating environments, but must frequently rely on decision making methods that do not perform well under extreme uncertainty. Gerst asserts that the proposed augmentation of the DOE’s decision tool with anticipatory analysis via applications of Epoch-Era Analysis will enable the DOE to better prepare possible responses and strategies in the face of a dynamic future.
SEAri has been evolving Epoch-Era Analysis in case applications from space, aerospace, and transportation systems. The research team looks forward to the opportunity to apply the method in other areas of the public sector. Meanwhile, Gerst is continuing to work with the Department of Energy’s Planning Analysis and Evaluation team on multifaceted strategic issues.
This article was contributed to the SDM Pulse by Donna H. Rhodes, PhD and principal research scientist; Adam Ross, PhD, SEAri lead research scientist, and Kacy Gerst, SDM ’09.
1 Ross, A.M., and Rhodes, D.H., "Using Natural Value-centric Time Scales for Conceptualizing System Timelines through Epoch-Era Analysis," INCOSE International Symposium 2008, Utrecht, the Netherlands, June 2008

Sunday, October 10, 2010

SDM thesis to focus on the dynamics of seasonal labor migration - SDM Pulse Fall 2010

By Rafael Maranon, SDM ’10

Editor’s note: Rafael Maranon is a telecommunication engineer who has worked on information technology projects for the public and private sector in Spain, and has also served at the United Nations headquarters in New York and at the Spanish consulate in Moscow. In this article, he discusses his SDM master’s thesis research, which is designed to improve the management of migration flows in his native Andalusia. (The work is sponsored by the Andalusian Ministry of Economy, Innovation, and Science.) The Pulse will follow up on Maranon’s work once his thesis has been published.
Rafael Maranon, SDM ’10, meets with Cartaya Mayor Juan A. Millan,
leader of the European Union project in circular migration,
after signing a collaboration agreement to model labor migration
flows between Africa and Andalusia.
In the last 20 years, Spain has been transformed from a region that emigrants left in search of employment to one in which immigrants make up 12 percent of the population. The driving forces behind this change have been low birth rates and fast economic growth in the agriculture and tourism industries, prompted by Spain’s 1986 entry into the European Union.
In Andalusia, a region in southern Spain, growth in the agricultural sector prompted concerns about a labor shortfall. In accordance with a 1997 state law, local administrators implemented a successful guest worker program to supply farms with foreign workers by managing migratory flow.
Circular migration
Agriculture labor migration in Andalusia is mainly seasonal; guest workers travel to the region to work on farms, return to their home countries after the harvest, then come back the following year—the migration flow is circular. To address the labor shortfall, Andalusia fostered a guest worker program that allowed farmers to hire guest employees in their home countries, creating a legal route for migration, and stemming the illegal flow of workers from Africa to Europe.
However, this program now needs to be improved and consolidated. Since the start of the recent global financial crisis, Andalusia’s unemployment rate has reached 26.3 percent—and native-born workers are willing to return to agricultural work. This shift in the labor market has led the Spanish government to limit the number of temporary visas it issues, and the local government is experimenting with severe adjustments in the size of the contingent of foreign workers.
Complicating the issue, native-born workers tend to consider farm work difficult and undesirable. They only take these jobs while looking for better paying work in the service sector. While farmers have been pressured to hire locals, many prefer the foreign workforce and do not wish to jeopardize it. Because of all these factors, circular migration continues to be an essential tool, allowing migration flows to be adjusted yearly according to labor market needs.
For my SDM thesis research, supervised by Dr. Ricardo Valerdi, a research associate in the Lean Advancement Initiative and a lecturer in the Engineering Systems Division at MIT, I plan to examine the history of circular migration in the city of Cartaya in Andalusia with the goal of developing a useful case study.
Cartaya, with more than 13 years of experience implementing labor supply management techniques, has become an exemplar in circular migration strategies under the European Union’s $3 million Aeneas project. This innovative program helps to develop and regulate legal migration, which annually benefits more than 300 farmers in Huelva (the province in which Cartaya is located), 33,000 foreign workers, and governments from different countries in Africa.
To date, I have been able to collect a considerable amount of data by working with governmental institutions in Andalusia, including local administrations, labor unions, farmer associations, the Foundation for Foreign Workers, and the University of Huelva. In order to analyze the implications of abrupt changes in the flow of this legal migration during periods of high unemployment, I am creating a model to help characterize the dynamics of managing the labor supply in Andulasia’s agricultural sector. Substituting stakeholders’ existing mental model for one based on systems dynamics, this research will provide specific recommendations on how to efficiently regulate migration flows under varying labor market conditions.
System dynamics modeling
In order to develop new conceptual instruments that will be incorporated into the current review of the circular migration program in a time of high unemployment, the question that this research will answer is:
How do we improve and consolidate the circular migration program to dynamically adapt to the flow of immigrants under varying economic conditions while maximizing value to all stakeholders?
To address the aforementioned question, further issues will be analyzed, including: why this tool that regulates labor migration flows was created; how it was successfully implemented in Cartaya; finally, how it is currently functioning during a period of high unemployment. Covering one city (Cartaya) and a time period of the past 24 years, this research will formulate a single case study about circular migration.
Among all the tools and methodologies we have been using in our SDM courses, I will approach my research using system dynamics to create the model of this multi-dimensional migration management system. Perspectives from economics, sociology, and public policy will all come into play, making this an ideal case for applying system dynamics. In order to formulate my dynamic hypothesis, I will consider in this model the social integration of guest workers as a key element to explain the benefits of implementing responsible labor supply management practices while having a just-in-time workforce.
In addition, some aspects and logistics of the international relations between Spain and African countries such as visa processing—aspects originally left out of the Cartaya process because of implementation difficulties—will be incorporated in the system dynamics model because the power of this modeling technique. Modeling the factors that made this circular migration program a success over the time, and using feedback loops and “stocks and flows” diagrams, will allow the stakeholders to better understand system constraints and design a robust and sustainable system of circular migration.
This research has been supported by the Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Science, Junta de Andalusia—TALENTIA Graduate Fellowship Program.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

SDM demystifies multidisciplinary system design optimization - SDM Pulse Fall 2010

By Genevieve Flanagan, SDM ’10

Genevieve Flanagan
SDM ’10
The concept of “model-based design” has generated a lot of buzz in recent years, primarily because virtual simulations and analysis can be used in conjunction with our existing product development processes to release a better, less expensive product in less time. (Figure 1 shows an idealized view of how this might be applied in a product development cycle.)
In practice, however, the application of model-based simulation and design has typically been narrowly scoped and focused on a single objective. While this works well during the early design phase of a component or subsystem, it is less helpful during early system-level specification development or system integration phases.

SDM’s class in multidisciplinary system design optimization provides a fresh design approach to developing complex engineering systems, one that combines both technical and qualitative objectives. Taught by Associate Professors Olivier de Weck and Karen Willcox, the course begins by defining the architecture of a model of a multi-disciplinary system. Design variables and objective functions are identified and categorized into subsystem disciplines. Dependencies are described in a N2 matrix format, and then optimized to reduce the coupling.

Figure 1. In this idealized view of model-based design,
development in the virtual domain parallels physical
development, speeding the product to market.
Published with permission from John Deere
With the model defined, the next part of the course is to examine single-objective optimization. Numerical techniques (i.e. Newton’s Method and Steepest Descent) and heuristic methods (i.e. Genetic Algorithms and Particle Swarm Optimization) are introduced. These are used to find the optimal design vector to satisfy a single system objective.
Once the basics of these optimization techniques are understood, the course moves onto multi-objective optimization. Using many of the same algorithms learned earlier, the trade-offs among the multiple objectives of a system are realized by displaying the relationship between objectives as their common design variables change within a design space. Simulation analysis methods are presented to help students understand the success of the simulation and design variable sensitivity.
Students complete five assignments during the semester to reinforce their understanding of course concepts. However, the class primarily revolves around a semester-long group project, which is generally taken from thesis research or from industry.
Figure 2. This graphic shows that very different
results come from optimizing on two separate
objectives independently—cost to manufacture
and total cost of ownership.
My group for the project included Justin Kraft (SDM ’09), a senior engineer for John Deere. We chose to work on optimizing the design of a battery powered autonomous vehicle for John Deere. A model of this product existed, but it was narrowly scoped. We supplemented the model with additional disciplines to add to its system-level functionality. Our new subsystems then used information from the initial model to input new cost, reliability, and other functions, resulting in no loss in technical fidelity while providing new quantitative and qualitative features to the model.
When we ran the single-objective optimization routines, the flaws in that type of analysis were clear. Optimizing on two separate objectives independently—cost to manufacture and total cost of ownership—led to two very different design vectors for the vehicle (see Figure 2). Reduced manufacturing costs resulted in a low-powered small vehicle while total cost of ownership focused on increasing efficiencies and battery life.
In the end we chose a multi-objective optimization using a heuristic genetic algorithm to visualize the trade-off between the two cost goals resulting in a Pareto front (essentially the balance point at which you cannot make progress toward one goal without detracting from the other). This chart (see Figure 3) showed the optimal necessary system design options and allowed us to evaluate the most appropriate design choices. Further analysis revealed design vector sensitivity so that we could see what design variables and model parameters would most affect our result—and where additional concessions could be made with minimal impact to the objectives.
Figure 3. Multi-objective optimization reveals the Pareto
front (or balance point between goals), making it easier
to visualize the trade-offs between cost goals.
An analysis like this one, which reveals design parameters and how the trade-offs necessary to reach multi-disciplinary objectives are achieved, is at the heart of our idealized view of model-based design. This is precisely the sort of information that so often is not available early in the process when its impact would be most useful.
Although this course required a significant investment in time and thought, I have gained the tools necessary to take complex problems out of the purely heuristic realm in order to address very real situations. Overall, I think multidisciplinary system design optimization is valuable for those interested in embracing model-based design to improve product quality, delivery, and production time.