Wednesday, June 23, 2010

SDM alums' speech indexing company featured on NVIDIA blog

CEO Ben Jiang of speech indexing startup, Nexiwave, was recently featured on the Nvidia blog. Ben co-founded the company with fellow SDM '08 alum Cynthia Munoz as a result of a class project while they were students in the program.

Ben Jiang, SDM '08

Cynthia Munoz, SDM '08

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Workshop in interviewing skills held for SDM students

By Mona Masghati, SDM ‘09

I recently conducted a one-hour workshop on interviewing skills for my fellow SDM students. Its purpose was to emphasize the basics that can actually make or break a job interview. Here is an overview, along with links to resources referenced during the workshop.

I chose to conduct this workshop because too often we focus on the meaning of the MIT SDM brand and may neglect some critical aspects of a successful job interview. The MIT brand is a rather strong signal that we are smart and technically savvy. Furthermore many of us have a very strong technical work experience. Knowing this, interviewers will often try to ascertain how well we can lead inside the organization and whether we can be put in front of the board of directors and senior executive to present our ideas.

Because visual presentation is so very important, I recommend that both men and women get assistance in choosing a conservative dress suit and complement that with clean, sharp grooming. Here are some tips:

When in doubt about what to wear, always choose the suit. If you are not sure of what to wear, you may inquire before the meeting. If you are fortunate enough that a contact you met on an informational interview or by networking has hand-delivered your resume to the hiring manager or otherwise made an introduction, you may ask them for their advice. However, no matter what you wear, it is imperative that your appearance conveys that you can be put in front of the CEO and the company’s most important customer and deliver a killer pitch. I therefore believe that the suit works best, even for an interview with a start-up. Here is a recent study by Duke University on why looks matter for CEOs.

There are two types of interviews: behavioral and the case method.
Behavioral interviews assume that you are fluent in the STAR method. Have your answered rehearsed clear and to the point. Practice your answers. Get feedback on them, then refine and practice, practice, practice.

This is important for any situation but it is even more so for a job interview. Learn about active listening. Your job is to read between the lines, understand what the interviewer is looking for, and then respond appropriately.

The case method is not used only in interviews for jobs in management consulting. While it was not covered by this workshop: here are some resources and tips:
  • Practice for months beforehand – an average of 6 hours per week. Without a foundation in economics, you will need to practice even more.
  • Find some practice buddies and set up regular times to work together.
  • Join the MIT Sloan Consulting Club and the MIT Consulting Club.
  • Get really good at Mental Math
  • Read and practice with this book: Case in Point
  • Your notes and thoughts must be structured and count during the interview.

Finally, a few topics that emerged from the Q&A:
  • Case interview preparation will be held during the summer 2010 business trip. Attend this session!
  • Set-up a buddy system to practice at least 2-3 cases a week.
  • Management consulting firms start the hiring process in late August.
  • Some companies pay to come as early as possible on campus to scoop up the smartest students. Find out who is coming on campus, be entrepreneurial and take the initiatives to make contacts.
  • Do not assume that jobs for MBAs are for people with less experience than an SDM has. Check them out!
  • Network with everyone you meet at school, on the soccer field, in a pub, at church, etc.
  • During career fairs, go to every booth even if there are no jobs for experienced candidates. Get a name, contact info, and follow-up by making a connection.
  • Informational interviews and networking are part of an on-going process!
  • There are delays: efforts started in the fall may take until the summer to turn into a job. You never know which connection will really matter.
  • Leverage your thesis to learn or add a skill that is marketable, such as expertise in pricing, project management, or an emerging new technology.
  • Take classes with professors who are connected with industry.
  • Read jobs descriptions carefully and tailor each resume that you send accordingly.
  • If you need a job in May 2011, start looking now!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

SDM helps EMC build bridge to innovation - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Burt Kaliski, Rob Masson, and Rahul Pradhan, SDM ’09

Editor’s note: In this article, two executives from EMC Corporation—Burt Kaliski and Rob Masson—team up with EMC software engineer and SDM student Rahul Pradhan to describe how the company works with and benefits from its association with SDM.

As a company founded in Massachusetts, EMC has long-standing partnerships with universities in the Boston area. One partnership we’ve particularly benefited from is with MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM). Over the years, nine employees from EMC have completed the program, bringing valuable skills in technology management into the company at the systems level. The knowledge gained at SDM not only serves to advance the individual employee’s career, but also helps the company as a major producer of hardware and software systems for managing information. The participants, in effect, build bridges between MIT SDM and their organizations to transfer new insights about systems thinking into the company.

Burt Kaliski, director,
EMC Innovation Network

Rob Masson, director,
EMC Research Cambridge

Rahul Pradhan, SDM '09
and software engineer, EMC
EMC’s philosophy is that a company needs a strong bridge to external knowledge communities, including university research, if it is going to be successful in deriving value from what those communities are learning about changes in the technology landscape. Bringing in top students is one of the ways a company can increase its connections—indeed, every hire of a recent grad represents an infusion of new knowledge and relationships into the company. Another way is to send employees into the university programs, such as SDM, as students or collaborators.

Last June, the company took another step forward in connecting with the Boston area’s knowledge communities when it launched the EMC Research Cambridge initiative. Anchored to a corporate sponsorship at the MIT Media Lab, the initiative brings together a "virtual research team" of business and technology leaders from the company’s Boston-area offices with local academics to expand the company’s knowledge of emerging technologies.

EMC Research Cambridge is part of the overall EMC Innovation Network and as such seeks ways to apply new knowledge to the company’s research and development program around the world. This follows the network’s key principle—"Expand knowledge locally: Transfer it globally." Indeed, one of the great things about applied research is that you don’t always know at the outset where it will prove useful. A network of connections creates more opportunities to find surprising applications.

With EMC Research Cambridge in place, we’ve been looking for such surprises from our SDM fellows and asking where these EMC participants’ new knowledge might benefit the company in new ways. Conversely, what areas of interest to other parts of the company might the students benefit from exploring? The answers to these questions will help make the bridges, now part of a larger network, even stronger. We’re still getting started making these connections, but the promise is already quite evident from looking at what the company’s talented cadre of SDM fellows is currently working on:

Eugene Gorelik, SDM ’09, is a senior application systems engineer at EMC. He previously held software engineering and information technology (IT) positions at such companies as Panraven, BEA Systems, and SunLife Financial. Gorelik’s primary areas of focus at SDM are technology strategy, entrepreneurship, and product marketing.

Rajesh Mishra, SDM ’08, is an embedded systems engineer within the Microcode Group of EMC’s Symmetrix Engineering Division, responsible for designing and developing firmware for remote data replication features. Mishra has more than 15 years of experience in embedded systems across a broad range of industries, including office automation, information systems, and health care, and in several technology areas, including digital signal processing, radio frequency identification, and data storage and analytics. His research centers on data visualization and predictive models of large data sets.

Rahul Pradhan, SDM ’09, is a principle software engineer with EMC’s Unified Storage Division, responsible for designing and developing software for EMC’s next-generation storage systems. Pradhan has a master’s and a bachelor’s degree in computer science and more than 10 years of experience leading product development teams in telecom and storage industries. As a researcher, he is interested in understanding the dynamics of competitive strategy and managing innovation in technology intensive enterprises.

Sooraj Prasannan, SDM ’08, is a senior systems performance engineer with EMC’s Unified Midrange Storage group. His responsibilities include designing storage solutions for potential customers and proposing performance analysis methodologies for products under development. Prasannan has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering and nine years of experience in system performance and product development. As a researcher he is interested in understanding the architecture of complex products and using it to guide product design, organizational layout, and business strategy decisions. For his SDM thesis, Prasannan proposed a macro-micro system architecture analysis framework and applied it to two industry-leading smart grid meter data management systems.

Ritesh Shukla, SDM ’09, is a senior software developer working on the next generation of cloud optimized storage platforms. He has a master’s degree in electrical engineering (his research focused on wireless security). Part of the team responsible for releasing EMC’s storage virtualization platform, he led key projects for two Version 1 products while at EMC. He is interested in identifying product gaps in the cloud ecosystem. Shukla is studying adoption patterns for cloud computing and strategy planning in and around cloud computing.

Systems thinking is the only way to address the challenge of managing the huge volumes of information that organizations deal with every day. It is also a mechanism EMC can use to explore new areas of opportunity. Smart grid infrastructure is just one area of recent interest. Using the techniques and methodologies taught in the SDM program, Prasannan has been able to understand the various vendor offerings more quantitatively and thus provide insight into how EMC’s own software could better integrate with those offerings.

Whether storing, securing, or deriving intelligence from the information—or managing the underlying IT resources that support these operations—a systems view helps an organization see how all the IT parts (both the "information" and the "technology") add up to deliver business value. The projects these SDM fellows are exploring will help EMC and the industry as a whole understand the larger technology landscape, what changes may be coming, and how technology is managed for many years to come.

About the authors

Burt Kaliski, who received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from MIT in electrical engineering and computer science, directs the EMC Innovation Network, the global research program of EMC Corporation connecting its local research and advanced technology initiatives with external knowledge communities and also leads industry standards and technology community programs in the corporate CTO office.

Rob Masson is the director of EMC Research Cambridge, the company’s research initiative in the Boston area, and is also an architect in the corporate CTO office’s Advanced Technology Ventures Group.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Applying systems dynamics to global health challenges

MIT SDM student Rafael Maranon models impact of Internet-based clinical information in Third World countries

Increasing the quality of clinical information available in resource-limited settings, where a high number of treatable illnesses is associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality, was the motivation for our team project in the MIT Sloan course 15.875 Applications of System Dynamics: Global Challenges.

Working together with UpToDate, Inc., a U.S. market leader in providing peer-reviewed information to health providers via the Web, we modeled the impact of implementing donated UpToDate subscriptions in hospitals and medical centers in Rwanda, Malawi and South Africa.

As part of this project, Jeremy Lai, MIT ’10, and I worked closely together throughout the project to build a model that simulated the dynamics of Internet-based medical resources in underserved areas. SDM ’10 student James Peruvankal provided input during the consulting phase.

By continually iterating the process involving problem definition, dynamic hypothesis, analysis, policy and implementation, we came up with a model that enabled us to better understand the needs of providers in resource-limited settings. In addition, we developed recommendations for UpToDate that could make its existing grant subscription program more attractive to hospitals and medical centers.

This course, taught by Senior Lecture Anjali Sastry, was an excellent opportunity for us to address global challenges and interact with other stakeholders, including the Global Health Delivery (GHD) Project team. In addition, working together with UpToDate enabled us to develop valuable management consulting and system thinking skills.

We also learned much from others teams’ class projects such as the Joint Task Force in Haiti, GlobalGiving, Climate Interactive: Helping Simulation Insights Lead to Action, Homestar/Enerpath, Community Health System Transformation, Red Cross/Red Crescent and Gates Foundation/Business-Higher Education Forum.

For students who want to continue to learn how to apply systems thinking to real-world global challenges, MIT offers two new courses taught by Anjali Sastry as well: 15.965 Global Health Delivery and Management in Fall H2 2010, and Global Health Delivery Lab in Spring 2011.

SDM certificate project evaluates in-vitro diagnostics market - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Vincent Balgos, SDM ’10

Vincent Balgos, SDM '10
Editor’s note: In this article, Vincent Balgos, SDM ’10, outlines the major points covered in the capstone project he completed to earn his Systems Design and Management Program (SDM) graduate certificate in systems and product development. The certificate program is frequently used as a jumping off point for the SDM master’s program, which Balgos has since joined.

The increasingly complex US health-care system poses several unique challenges for product developers; risks include disruptive technologies, emerging industry needs, and evolving regulations. Employing “systems thinking” can both manage the inherent complexities and interdependencies of the system and can accommodate future uncertainties—which is critical in the case of products that directly influence human health and welfare.
As suggested in Clayton Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Prescription, an emerging trend toward decentralizing hospital care and testing could prove disruptive to the incumbent system of centralized lab testing. This is further supported by a 2007 study by the Point of Care: Journal of Near-Patient Testing & Technology, which indicated approximately 70 percent to 80 percent of the hospitals surveyed performed point-of-care (POC) testing, and showed continued growth in this market. Clearly, changes are under way that will affect the in-vitro diagnostics (IVD) market space.
My SDM certificate sponsor and employer, Instrumentation Laboratory (IL), develops and manufactures POC diagnostic analyzers for the dynamic IVD market. For my SDM certificate capstone project, I had the unique opportunity to help develop a new universal POC blood analyzer to address this market uncertainty. I found this exciting as I had the chance to apply my SDM skills to a project with real-world implications, aligned with my company’s goals. Together with other SDM certificate students (David Abichaker, Guy Criscenzo, Duc Vo, Sassan Zelkha) and IL, I formed a team to undertake this complex, yet engaging project.
Figure 1. In this systems engineering V model, the blue circle
indicates the areas of focus for Vincent Balgos’ capstone project.
We soon realized the project scope would be immense and decided to focus on the first three stages of the systems engineering “V model” (see Figure 1): defining customer attributes, establishing system requirements, and developing an initial systems architecture for the project.
Figure 2. This chart shows the flow of value among
stakeholders for the point-of-care analyzer.
Since Instrumentation Laboratory is a leader in the IVD market with POC analyzers, several in-house experts were surveyed to determine market trends, customer needs, and the future of POC analyzers. An external interview of a lead user at a well-known local hospital was also conducted to help refine the realistic POC needs. Next, the team performed a value flow analysis using the techniques taught by Professor Edward Crawley in SDM’s system architecture course. Our value map (see Figure 2), defined the priority needs from all stakeholders throughout the POC ecosystem, allowing the capstone team to recognize the variety of needs from different stakeholders and how they interact. The value map provided a holistic view of all values and their interdependencies so that we could prioritize the project needs.
We determined that the primary POC needs are:
•    Flexibility and adequacy of testing for all POC locations
o    Test menu flexibility and breadth
o    Portability for ease of transport
•    Affordable cost
•    Simple and easy-to-use interface
o    Safe and fully automated system with little user dependence
•    Efficacy and quality of results
o Precision and accuracy equivalent to central lab
•    Laboratory oversight and quality control
o Data and quality control management
o Integration ease with existing infrastructures
System requirements were derived from the value map and needs using quality functional deployment methods such as the “house of quality” diagram taught in SDM’s product design and development (PDD) course.  We particularly focused attention on requirements for the test menu system since it was a significant design driver. A wide variety of testing was needed for each department, so our central challenge was how to develop a single, universal system to address these disparate needs.
For example, while the respiratory therapy department needed testing for blood gas, electrolytes, and Co-Ox, the neonatal intensive care unit requires an additional specialty test for their patients. In the operating room, two different coagulation tests are mandatory, whereas the emergency room particularly requires cardiac markers and pregnancy diagnostic utilities.
Finding an innovative solution required several brainstorming sessions, during which we found it useful to employ many techniques from PDD, including visual illustrations, literature research, and reviewing feasible technologies, which ranged from optical to mechanical and electrochemistry technologies. After much research, we decided to treat these technologies as a “black box”—essentially an empty container to be filled in later—and to focus the project on the design of the whole system.
Several innovative concepts were generated, and by using the Pugh concept selection method from PDD, we were able to converge on a single design concept: modular system with multiple sample ports.
The modular concept incorporated several important features. First, the main system was designed as a common platform with all the user and external interfaces. It was also designed to accept up to three specialized analytical test modules. This platform would supply standard interface configurations so the system could accept various analytical test modules for data acquisition. These modules would incorporate the “black box” technology previously researched, which would ultimately depend on the company’s goals and resources. Furthermore, these analytical modules could be made flexible enough to allow future technologies to be incorporated.
Figure 3. This systems block diagram shows how
the point-of-care analyzer could be integrated into
the Emergency Department.
Finally, each specialized analytical test module would require its own specialized consumable cartridge to carry out the tests. These cartridges would hold the necessary reagents, sensor technology, and waste management to provide users with a single solution to their testing needs. The cartridge could be custom-built to fit the unique needs of a specific user. For example, as seen in our systems block diagram (see Figure 3), the Emergency Department requires the largest breadth of tests, and the capstone project allows that flexibility. However, if a respiratory therapy requires large volume of blood gas testing, the system would be able to adapt by using multiple blood gas analytical test modules and large volume blood gas cartridges.

In conclusion, the developed SDM capstone project provides several advantages in technological expandability, test menu versatility, and customizable solutions for the user. These flexibilities would allow the system to adapt to many different POC user needs and would mitigate some future market uncertainties. The systems thinking approach, coupled with the SDM certificate program tools, provided the holistic approach necessary to design a complementary system to fit the needs of many in a dynamic environment.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

SDM students learn what it takes to market successful products - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Qi D. Van Eikema Hommes, research associate, MIT Engineering Systems Division

Research Associate Qi D. Van Eikema Hommes
teaches Product Design and Development.
Excitement, drama, and laughter filled the Bechtel Lecture Hall on May 7, 2010, as 14 judges from industry, venture capital, and academia watched students from the Product Design and Development (PDD) class showcase such creations as a new adhesive, a new grill accessory, and a new chef’s tool—the results of a semester of hard work in this required course in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM).

The judges were impressed by the quality of the products that the students developed, and so was I. As the lead instructor for this class and a new faculty member of the SDM program, I felt very proud of what our students had achieved. I can see how SDM provides the interdisciplinary knowledge and experiences that students need to meet the challenges in today’s world—and that’s very exciting.

PDD is an interdisciplinary class that gives students a full experience of designing and developing a new product. Many SDM students come from technical backgrounds and are good at solving technical problems or designing technical systems. However, many do not have significant experience in considering user and market needs. The most important lesson that students take away from this class is that a product is only successful when it answers real unmet user needs. The class teaches them how to look for unmet needs, collect user and market information, and allow the knowledge of both users and markets to guide product design and development activities.

For example, one team in this year’s class started out with a technology—an RFID tracking device—rather than a need. Team members wanted to design a web-based system to track everything from documents to parts and information. In class, the students were urged to find out why the world would want their system. Using techniques learned in class, they interviewed and observed people, ultimately identifying a need among parents who sometimes lose their young children in busy areas. The team felt that these parents would like anyone who finds their child to be able to contact them quickly. Based on this need, the students developed an attractive RFID
bracelet for kids and a companion web-based tracking system. The team is now exploring the possibility of collaborating with Verizon to produce such a system.

As a new member of the SDM faculty, I was impressed by the degree to which the diverse backgrounds of SDM students greatly enriched the learning for everyone. The group’s industry experiences and real-world knowledge has brought all class discussions to a higher level. Some students knew more about marketing research and were able to use more advanced marketing research techniques and tools to help pinpoint product attributes their team needed to consider. Others contributed expertise from manufacturing sectors, helping their team build realistic prototypes. Some students brought software and web skills to the class and developed websites and iPhone apps for their products. This diversity of skills and backgrounds enabled teams to move quickly through every stage of the product design and development process, starting with understanding customer and market needs, ideation, then prototyping, manufacturing, and advertising.

In addition, students gain a wealth of knowledge from seeing so many different projects developed and presented. Through midterm and final presentations, the whole class is able to follow the evolution of a fascinating mix of products through the process.

As in past years, many of the products designed in this class have high potential to become commercial successes. Several teams are planning to pursue intellectual property rights to their creations.

In summer 2010, I will be teaching SDM’s systems engineering class. After experiencing all phases of the design and development of a small product in the PDD class, students will learn about what to do when the product is a large and complex system. The class will showcase the latest systems engineering research and teach students to think critically about existing methods and tools. Research Associate Qi D. Van Eikema Hommes teaches Product Design and Development.

Monday, June 7, 2010

PDD team sharpens skills designing chef’s tool - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Hank Roark, SDM ’10

Hank Roark, SDM ’10, demonstrates the chef’s
tool he and his team created in SDM’s course in
product design and development.
I was attracted to MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) because of its focus on product design, systems engineering, and entrepreneurship. To augment my professional experience in software and new product development, I enrolled in Product Design and Development this past spring.

The course centers on a semester-long project in which small teams identify potential markets, select a target market, identify user needs, and design a product that satisfies those needs. The class has both a strong emphasis on the practical application of market research methods and systems engineering. Furthermore, each student works in a small team with others whose experiences run the gamut, mirroring a commercial environment.

The goal of the course is to build a business case and prototype product within a set budget and time frame. The course concludes with team presentations to a panel of judges. Each team’s work is judged for understanding of the user needs and the market opportunity, the product concept, the quality of the prototype, viability of the business case, and quality of the final presentation.

My team (Candice Johnson, SDM ’09, Michael Schlichtman, SDM ’09, Jared Bernstrom, SDM ’09, Yujie Zhang, SDM ’09, and I) considered three markets, including health conscious but sedentary professionals and avid bike riders, before settling on the needs of the home cook. This first step was challenging in that it required five people with different interests and experiences to decide on a target market. We used several market research methods taught in class to help us make this decision. These research methods included interviewing potential users from each potential market segment, observing them using existing products, interviewing lead users, and quantifying the potential market size. The home cook won out as the market size was appealing and there were clearly articulated needs that interested the team.

Our next step was to conduct additional user research to define the needs of these users. This included additional interviews and additional observations of users while cooking. From there we had to select the top needs we were going to address. Because almost everyone on our team works in electrical engineering or software development, we intentionally looked for needs that could be addressed without electronics or computers. The safe environment of the classroom allowed us to experiment and to build skills and knowledge in areas with which we were unfamiliar.

After selecting the top needs we looked at the competitive landscape, researched existing intellectual property, preformed various exercises to develop concepts, and developed the product attributes that would meet the user needs. Along the way we did various user surveys and interviews to guide our development.

In the end we developed a product that would make it easier for users to cut items with a kitchen knife when two-handed knife operation is required. It was important to users that the product was easy to clean and store, suitable for the dishwasher, safe and comfortable to operate, and did not damage knives. Each of these criteria required design trade-offs that led to the development of multiple concepts.

To aid in determining the ultimate design we developed various prototypes that allowed us to test both the look and function of the product. Some of the prototypes were "looks like" prototypes (made from Play-Doh, in our case) and some were "works like" prototypes (in our case, made from scraps of lumber and plastics). These quick iterations proved valuable as we honed the functional interface of our product. We were also able to use these prototypes as a way to get feedback from potential users and the faculty as we progressed toward a final prototype.

Our team benefited from a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. Geographically dispersed across the United States, our team was well-placed to consider regional differences in our product design. Also, as a team we were able to leverage the skills each team member brought to the table, including experience in business case development, materials and plastics, manufacturing engineering, marketing, website development, modern computer-aided engineering and 3D modeling, and prototype development. I personally learned about injection molding, computer-aided engineering, and the material properties of plastics. Further, I honed skills in how to leverage other team members’ strengths on the project.

The course also included lectures on industrial design, sustainability, manufacturability, sourcing strategies, venture capital, entrepreneurship, and large-scale product development. The class is also augmented with Product Design and Development by Ulrich and Eppinger and outside readings.

This year, to extend the cross-disciplinary theme, the Product Design and Development class teams were paired up with others in Real-Options in Systems Design and Management. This pairing helped us deal with uncertainties both related to the product and to the business case. For example, we had decided to use a contract manufacturer in the business plan for our product. The real-options teams developed plans that would enable us to best develop the contract based on expected uncertainties in product demand. This helped improve our overall business case and decreased the potential financial downsides of introducing the product to the market. For both teams this proved a safe environment and exercise in how to consult and how to accept consulting.

I enjoyed the class: it brought me an integrated view of the multiple disciplines required for product design and development, presented a healthy environment for experimentation, and developed a renewed interested in entrepreneurship.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New and established companies reap benefits of SLaM Lab - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Kathryn O’Neill, managing editor, SDM Pulse

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles introducing the new Systems, Leadership, and Management Lab.

In fall 2009, MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) launched the Systems, Leadership, and Management Lab (SLaM Lab) to give students hands-on experience focused on using system architecture and technology strategy skills while working on real business problems.

The first class began with team formation. Students completed Belbin Team Role assessments to learn about their different work styles, then evaluated how best to create teams with a range of strengths and skills. This step was important, according to senior lecturer and course instructor Michael Davies, because leadership is less about the qualities of the individual than about organizing groups of people to work together.

"The nature of most business work is, it is done effectively in some kind of team," said Davies, who is the founder and chairman of Endeavour Partners, a boutique consulting firm focused on technology businesses. Davies described the class process of team-building as "a very close analog for a classic managerial project." The students, like business leaders, had to consider such questions as: How do we organize ourselves? What are the mixture of skills needed? and Which combinations of people will work together effectively?

Next, students were given overviews of about half a dozen potential projects, ranging from creating a marketing strategy for a fabric that heats up to analyzing the standards landscape for an MIT startup. All projects presented systems challenges, related leadership or management challenges, and real-world impact. The three selected and pursued (based on student preference) ranged from a major global company to a nascent startup, still at the concept stage. The projects— for Nokia, Witricity, and Venture Café—are detailed below.

Project described by team member Ritesh Shukla, SDM ’09

Some members of the SLaM Lab Nokia team pose
with their cellphones. They are, from left,
Andrei Akaikine SDM ’09, Sahar Hashmi SDM ’09,
Ashok Dhiman SDM ’08, and Ritesh Shukla SDM ’09
SLaM Lab team members met with Isaac de la Pena, head of Internet Strategic Initiatives for Nokia. The challenge posed to the team was: How can Nokia reach the hearts and minds of US developers?

Some background: Although Nokia is a world leader in the cell phone market, with about 40 percent market share, and as high as 80 percent or 90 percent in some parts of the world, the company has a very small presence in the United States—less than 10 percent market share. While smart phones are a hot commodity, and America has emerged as a leading player in this field, most Americans don’t even think about buying such a phone from Nokia. This lack of mindshare is also present within the emerging mobile developer community in the United States. This is a concern because it means that the next generation of innovation is not being created for the Nokia platform.

The SDM team therefore set out to investigate who is developing applications (apps) and what might interest them in creating apps for Nokia. They determined that developers could be split into four groups:
  • Hobbyists — Those who create apps for fun and aren’t necessarily motivated by cash
  • Individual software developers — More serious developers who want to earn a little extra money or build their resumes; some members of this group are also interested in social rewards, such as the kudos that come from writing a cool app
  • Revenue-motivated companies — Gaming companies and others that expect to make real money from applications
  • Service companies — Facebook, Yahoo, Fandango, and others that don’t expect revenue for an app, but use cell phone applications to reach their markets; in these cases, the app is a means of delivering a service
Next the team surveyed mobile developers, conducted interviews, and researched relevant literature. One key finding was that writing an app that can run on the various Nokia models is fairly involved and much more difficult than writing one for Apple’s popular iPhone. Also, there are several limitations on who can publish apps on Nokia’s official app store.

In addition, they found that the higher one goes up the cell phone value chain, the less relevant platform specifics become. The business of writing applications is what matters. Though Nokia has a richer development environment, it has not been able to cash in because other factors hamper the motivation for writing apps.

In making its final presentation to Nokia, the SLaM Lab team closely followed the teachings of Edward Tufte, a noted expert on presenting information graphically. They created a single slide that showed the developer segments, their interests, Nokia’s current status, the relationships between the various interests, and the ideas/suggestions for Nokia. The presentation also included a prioritized list of recommendations. All this dense information was presented parallel in space rather than sequentially, as in traditional presentations. Team members then presented their recommendations to Nokia senior management. The presentation format fostered a rich discussion because it allowed everybody at the meeting to have all the relevant information on one page. The content of the presentation as well as the presentation format was well received.

"The Nokia team’s result was outstanding," Davies said. "[The managers at Nokia] were delighted; it gave them a whole fresh perspective on what’s going on."

Project described by team member Jeff Davis, SDM ’09

WiTricity is an MIT startup founded to enable distance charging of electronic devices. The company’s technology creates a beam of electromagnetic radiation which, in resonance with the receiver system, spreads out to cover a distance of up to a few yards, allowing devices such as cell phones to recharge wirelessly.

The company is small and still working on its intellectual property (IP). It’s also not the only company working to provide wireless charging, and some of its competitors have been trying to create standards that could affect its business. WiTricity therefore asked the SLaM Lab team to assess the standards landscape in interfaces for wireless charging. The fundamental question was: Should the company spend time now helping to create standards for this burgeoning industry, or table that concern until its IP portfolio is complete?

To address this question, team members examined the standards options under consideration, evaluated WiTricity’s IP portfolio, and researched the competition. They then laid out a decision tree (a tool taught in SDM) to evaluate various options— walking through a number of scenarios from decision to result. Using skills learned in SDM’s engineering risk benefit analysis class, the team also analyzed the probability of various outcomes and their consequences.

Through this process, the team determined that it’s unlikely that standards will be passed that are incompatible with WiTricity’s technology. Furthermore, the stronger the company’s IP portfolio is, the more likely it is that any standards passed will accommodate their technology. The team therefore recommended that the company focus its efforts on developing its IP.

The WiTricity team presented its recommendations to company CEO Eric Giler. "The CEO’s response was, ‘This gives me a better way to explain what’s going on here than anything else I’ve seen,’" Davies said.

Venture Café
Described by team member Carrie Stalder, SDM ’09

Of the three projects undertaken by SLaM Lab this year, Venture Café was at the earliest stage. Although some focus groups of potential users had been held the previous summer and a survey had been conducted about needs, the business was still in its pre-launch period when SLaM Lab got involved.

Venture Café opened its
alpha location on the
11th floor of One Broadway
in Cambridge this spring.
The idea for the business was to develop a cafe in Kendall Square that would bring the area’s innovators and investors together in a physical space, while also providing a technological space for social connection among entrepreneurs. The SLaM Lab team was asked to help narrow down which business ideas the company should pursue going forward.

The SLaM team began by using the SCQA (situation complication question answer) technique from Barbara Minto’s "Pyramid Principle." That helped the group to structure its thinking and get to the point of creating a framework that would help the cafe make decisions about which features to implement.

The team also used system architecture tools to evaluate features, assessing how strongly each one would serve the cafe’s overall goals.

"The project gave us a structured way to think about things, which was really our goal," said Carrie Stalder, SDM ’09, who is also the manager of the Venture Café. The cafe launched its prototype gathering spot in March.

"Our interaction with the SLaM Lab has been nothing short of amazing," said Timothy Rowe, founder and CEO of Cambridge Innovation Center and founder of the Venture Café. "Three students—Carrie Stalder, Cyndi Hernandez, and Mario Montoya—sat down with us to map out the metrics that we should use to guide our planning and rollout. After developing these, they went on to take increasingly significant roles helping us actually roll out the concept, with Carrie emerging as the manager of the cafe, with Cyndi and Mario actively working alongside her to help get it off the ground. This is a great example of mens et manus, and is what MIT is all about."

Plans for SLaM Lab

In reflecting on SLaM Lab’s first year, Davies said that the only thing that matters in this course is whether the client is happy—and each one was. "In every case, this year’s projects had a positive impact," he said. "This is not an academic exercise; the motivation for this comes from the real world. You actually have to do this in front of real businesspeople."

"A very valuable part of the class was being able to connect with and learn about how the other teams were going through their process and using different tools to work through their problems, which may not be connected to ours in any way," Stalder said.

SLaM Lab will be offered again this fall, Davies said, adding that a pre-SLaM offering, SLaM Praxis, will also be offered this summer. "The plan is to make the lab more about projects and teams and put more of the decision-making into the summer course," he said, noting that interested students are very strongly encouraged to enroll in the summer class.

Designed to provide students with real, hands-on work experience, but in a supportive environment, SLaM Lab adds a key component to the SDM curriculum, he said. "These are the things that I found really helpful and useful in my 20 years experience—practical management skills," Davies said.

Stalder noted that SLaM Lab drew on tools from several SDM classes, including system architecture and product design and development. "It was a good capstone for the whole [SDM] program," she said.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Doctor finds multidimensional opportunities at SDM - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Dr. Sahar Hashmi, SDM ’09

Dr. Sahar Hashmi, SDM ’09
Arriving at MIT as a systems thinker, I was immediately impressed by the diverse opportunities offered by MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM). SDM allows students to do anything and everything they can possibly imagine, with innovation and creativity. You can be an entrepreneur, a scientist, an engineer—you can even enhance your managerial skills to help improve the health-care system, which is my area of interest.
I chose to learn data collection analysis and model-building skills by working as part of a team in Innovation in Health Care, a class taught by Dr. Stan Finkelstein and Institute Professor Joel Moses.
Students participating in this course were assigned field work with doctors at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). My team looked at planning for the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic at the hospital level and built a model to predict how many patients BIDMC could expect at the peak of the pandemic.
We discovered that predicting and managing a potential H1N1 surge is a dynamic problem because data inputs change daily. Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s H1N1 Impact 2009 model, which simulates the impact of the disease on the community, and the proprietary BIDMC filter, we were able to predict flu volume, flu spread, and impact on BIDMC.
The model results did confirm reports that H1N1 has reached a peak in the United States, with top volume occurring between Nov. 30 and Dec. 7, 2009. On the other hand, the patient volume to BIDMC predicted by our model was less than the volume actually experienced by BIDMC, which suggests that the model assumptions may be conservative here.
Figure 1. This chart reflects the SDM team’s
comparison of its forecasts with actual visits to
Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital for influenza-like illness.

A comparison between our forecast and BIDMC’s actual visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) is show in Figure 1.
Comparing our forecasts to benchmarks (Figure 2) indicate that our model is more conservative on total infections but aggressive on hospitalizations. (We must continually focus on the impact of our assumptions on the model’s fidelity.) The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) published a study that predicted that 40 percent of the population could be infected, which was deemed too high by BIDMC. Our model in comparison indicates a 13.4 percent infection rate. However, our forecasted hospitalization rate of 1.5 percent is higher than benchmark forecasts, indicating that the 42 percent ILI and/or the 30 percent hospitalization assumption maybe too aggressive.
Figure 2: This chart compares our model and benchmarks.
Taking this class helped me realize that such prediction models could be very useful and give us some idea of the situation but we can’t simply rely on them. We have to take important preventive measures to slow disease spread in a pandemic or epidemic. I am currently looking at the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions at the time of pandemic H1N1 2009. I am interested in finding out whether or not the health policies at MIT Medical, the Institute’s health center, were implemented by the MIT students or not and find ways to improve them.
Since education and awareness are important aspects of disease and health management, I also got involved in making a math flu video that teaches high school students how to protect themselves and the community from spreading infection.
My involvement with the video illustrates one way in which SDM gave me opportunities to pursue all my interests in an amazing style. I had the privilege to meet and work with an inspiring couple, Professor Richard Larson and M. Elizabeth Murray, who have created an initiative to educate the world in an innovative and creative, systems-based way—though Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies (BLOSSOMS).
I learned about the BLOSSOMS initiative when I first joined SDM in 2009 and met Larson and Murray. I had been involved with educational projects in Pakistan and India that aimed to spread health awareness to minorities and to the general population. It was a natural follow-up to get involved in an initiative that spreads knowledge to developing nations.
BLOSSOMS is a program sponsored by MIT LINC (Learning International Networks Consortium,, a group of educators from around the world who are interested in using distance and e-learning technologies to help their respective countries increase access to quality education.
The vision of BLOSSOMS is to develop a large, free repository of video modules created by gifted volunteer teachers from around the world. It was seeded initially by MIT faculty members with partner educators in underdeveloped countries.
I was privileged to participate with a team in developing and creating the flu math video module that was aimed at spreading preventive measures and awareness of flu pandemics in the community. Although it specifically focused on the H1N1 pandemic, we made sure to generalize the measures and knowledge for any type of viral respiratory infection. We even developed statistical math games and used an animated cartoon character to help keep the student viewers interested. This video is now available and can be downloaded at
We also created a flu website for the MIT community called “Flu101,” which is now also part of the Engineering Systems Division website. It contains recent postings, games, and flu information. We’ve also collaborated with the “health map” team at Harvard, which uses Twitter as one way to disseminate global updates on various infectious diseases around the world.
I hope that this illustrates the diverse dimensionality of SDM and the “infectious nature” of the program that allows students to create the path that’s right for them. In my case, “system design and management” implies designing systems to prepare for and respond to serious infectious diseases, such as pandemic influenza, and to manage those health systems well once they are activated.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Student committee forges links between SDM, industry - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Matthew Harper, SDM ’10

Matthew Harper SDM ’10
Editor’s note: This article is one of a series highlighting the work of SDM’s Industrial Relations Committee.

Students in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) continually work to improve the SDM program through a number of student-led committees. The Industrial Relations Committee (IRC), which I currently chair, works to provide a link between the SDM community and the business world.
The committee is off to a great start this year, primarily because of the excellent work done by last year’s committee members. Good systems thinkers all, they looked beyond their immediate tasks and realized that while planning their own activities was important, ensuring a smooth transfer to this year’s committee was equally critical.
For those of you unfamiliar with our work, the IRC is generally responsible for enhancing relations between SDM and industry. We take a broad view and therefore undertake a wide variety of activities, including maintaining contact with alumni, assisting the cohort with career development, and working to engage companies in the SDM program. This last focus has become particularly important in recent years, as more and more SDM fellows have been self-sponsored. Past students have found that they learn most effectively when working on real-world problems, and so have been keen to involve companies in both their class projects and thesis work.
The increased proportion of self-sponsored students is one reason this year’s committee has chosen to focus on defining and promoting what “system design and management” means. One of the tasks last year’s committee had hoped to accomplish was to develop a series of short “elevator pitches” that SDM students could use to describe the program and the “systems thinking” it espouses to people not familiar with either. But we realized that there is no consensus of opinion, even within our cohort, on the term’s definition. Now that so many students are joining SDM from industries not traditionally engaged in systems engineering, we have a bigger challenge on our hands than we expected.
We have thus set out to answer three questions: Why are the systems thinking processes taught in the System Design and Management Program critical to managing a modern organization? What organizations are most likely to be receptive to the systems thinking methodology? and How do we clearly communicate the value of systems thinking? We’re just beginning to consider how to address these broad, challenging questions. However, we’re confident that with a bit of effort and creative thinking we’ll arrive at a conclusion that will help us evangelize the system thinking message to the world—and raise the profile both of MIT’s SDM program and its graduates in the process.
One of the great things about the committee this year is that we have had a very large number of students who want to participate—about 30 percent of the cohort is involved in IRC activities. To streamline our efforts, we’ve divided the group into subcommittees, each responsible for one distinct aspect of the IRC’s overall mandate. So far this year there are four subcommittees that have been particularly active, focusing on the SDM speakers’ series, career development, marketing, and industrial engagement.
Speakers series
The speakers series team is tasked with incorporating the perspectives of industry leaders into the SDM program. With the summer business trip approaching, Charles Iheagwara, SDM ’10, has taken time away from his multiple software businesses and his SDM studies to plan an excellent lineup of speakers. The keynote address will be presented by Mamoon Yunus, a noted serial entrepreneur. And later in the week, a panel of experts—including Ajay Mishra, global head of innovation for Nokia, and Darren Hammell, cofounder and executive vice president of Princeton Power Systems—will discuss how young executives can best manage their career paths. In addition, we’re all excited for the fall business trip, when Ngozi Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, and Neil Snyder, executive director of systems engineering and program management at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will be speaking. These events are open to all members of the SDM community.
Career development
The career development focus area is being headed by Donny Holaschutz, SDM ’10, an associate in systems engineering and integration from Booz Allen Hamilton. Working with SDM’s Director of Career Development Helen Trimble, this subcommittee focuses on giving current SDM students tools and experiences to help them search for jobs and build successful careers. Recently, a member of our cohort presented an excellent seminar on the value of strategic networking, and two half-day seminars are planned for the summer business trip—one on networking and interviewing and one on the case interview method.
The marketing team, led by former laser scientist Aravind Ratnam, SDM ’10, has been working with SDM Communications Director Lois Slavin on a number of initiatives designed to increase awareness of SDM. First the team is continuing an initiative started last year to refresh SDM’s website. With the guidance of SDM student Rafael Maranon, SDM ’10, a web expert who represents the students’ input, the redesign is currently under way; the new site should be launched in August, in time for the late summer and fall recruiting season.
The marketing team has also encouraged students to create their own blogs discussing, among other things, life as an SDM student. Several students are now actively participating, including SDM ’10s Azamat Abdymomunov, Firas Glaiel, Avi Latner, Ratnam, and Karl Critz, as well as SDM ’09s Ipshita Nag Deepak and Charles Atendcio. The SDM program blog on the SDM website links to these student blogs, as well as to blogs by SDM faculty and alums. In addition, a promotional video created jointly by SDM ’10 Tom Speller, SDM Logistics Coordinator Dave Schultz, and Slavin, is now available on MIT TechTV. The team is also working on a number of short videos describing the SDM program and its students, under Speller’s leadership. These videos will eventually be posted to the SDM site, to YouTube, and to MIT TechTV.
Industrial engagement
Finally, the industrial engagement focus area, led by mechanical engineer turned software architect Critz with the assistance of recently retired SDM Industry Codirector John M. Grace, has been busy developing a menu of ways that companies can get involved with the SDM program. Some, such as providing real-world projects for students to work on in class, dramatically enhance class learning while giving companies exposure to the rich talents of the SDM cohort. Extending that concept, sponsoring a student’s thesis work gives companies the chance to benefit from original research focused on their areas of interest. Planning ahead, we’re always looking for speakers, competition judges, and companies willing to host field trips. The IRC particularly hopes to expand its reach to industries that may be hiring SDM graduates but typically have not been involved with the program itself; examples include software, venture capital, cleantech, biotech, and entrepreneurial firms.
We only formed four months ago, but the SDM Industrial Relations Committee is off to a great start. If you would like to get involved or comment on our activities, please write
Who’s who on SDM’s Industrial Relations Committee
The following is a list of IRC members, their titles, company names, and industries.
Vincent Balgos
Systems Engineer
Instrumentation Laboratory
Health care and medical devices
Karl Critz
Product Manager
Brontes Technologies
Firas Glaiel
Software Development Manager
Raytheon NCS
Air traffic management systems
Eugene Gorelik
Senior Systems Engineer
Computer software and hardware
Jon Griffith
Director of Operations and
Partner Integration
MIT System Design and Management Program and Leaders for Global Operations Program
Pat Hale
MIT System Design and Management Fellows Program
Senior Lecturer in Engineering Systems
Matt Harper
Product Manager
Prudent Energy International
Cleantech, energy storage
Donny Holaschutz
Booz Allen Hamilton
Consulting, aerospace
Charles Iheagwara
Unatek Inc.
IT, security
Jui Lim
Patent Licensing
IPValue Management
Intellectual property management
Rafael Maranon
Product Manager
Mildmac Advanced Solutions
Information technology
Aravind Ratnam
Key Account Technologist
Cymer Inc.
Lasers, semiconductors
Todd Reily
Lead Human Factors Engineer
MITRE Corporation
Government, defense
Arjun Shrinath
System Integration Engineer
Bose Corporation Automotive
Automotive electronics
Lois Slavin
Communications Director
MIT System Design and Management Program
Helen Trimble
Director, Career Development
MIT System Design and Management Program
Charlotte Wang
IT Management
Washington State Government
Public sector, technology policy

Thursday, June 3, 2010

SDM thesis addresses obsolescence mitigation in complex systems - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Jaime Devereaux, SDM ’08

Jaime Devereaux SDM ’08
Editor’s note: In this article, Jaime Devereaux, SDM ’08, outlines the major points covered in her SDM master’s thesis, “Obsolescence: A Systems Engineering and Management Approach for Complex Systems.” Devereaux is a manager in systems engineering at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.

Too often, obsolescence mitigation is only considered once obsolescence has become imminent. But such mitigation is an increasingly important aspect of large systems development and maintenance because the life cycles of components are often up to 10 times shorter than the life cycle of the overall system.
Currently, recommended system-level obsolescence mitigation practices typically exist for the early design phase of new systems. Obsolescence mitigation slows the onset of obsolescence and makes systems flexible enough to change as necessary when obsolescence looms. Mitigation techniques include use of open architectures, standard interfaces, model-based architecture, and advance planning—that is, designing the system with potential future requirements in mind. Unfortunately, many large, complex legacy systems were rarely adequately designed for obsolescence mitigation as these techniques were not commonly used. For some systems, a choice is made not to use the design approaches above due to pressures related to the initial design cost and schedule or because the system is intended to be replaced prior to the onset of obsolescence. Many systems are in use longer than the life cycle of their components, due to the excessive cost and time needed to design a replacement system. In these cases, a different approach is necessary.
There are many different types of obsolescence. Psychological obsolescence, for example, drives the consumption of products that rely heavily on styling (clothes, cars, etc.); these products can become “old” before the end of their physical life. Quality obsolescence drives the consumption of disposable goods such as razors and plastic silverware, which are designed for much shorter lifespans than their more robust counterparts. In my research, I focused on the role of technical obsolescence and manufacturing/maintenance obsolescence on large, complex systems.
Technical or functional obsolescence occurs when a new product enters the market that performs better than anything that was previously available. Manufacturing or maintenance obsolescence occurs when there is no need in the current application for a product with increased function—and market demands do not support a supplier’s continued production or support of the older component.
Possible causes of obsolescence in large, complex systems include:
•    Use of commercial, off-the-shelf technology—while using such components reduces the kit costs associated with purchasing the component, outside components increase the number of influences on a system through vendor supply and support contracts, which may increase life-cycle costs
•    Increased use of electronics in modern systems, which shortens the life of many components
•    Market changes that make a particular component unavailable
•    Prohibitive costs for continuing to manufacture components based on older technology
•    Changes in the system’s environment that make the original function obsolete or suboptimal, requiring evolution or replacement of the system to meet new needs
•    Corporate management decisions that influence how much human intellectual capital can be leveraged to change a system long after its initial design
Reactive obsolescence mitigation techniques tend to focus on identifying obsolescence in the hardware through supply chain monitoring, classifying the obsolescence, and developing replacement solutions. But these efforts don’t fully acknowledge the impact of these choices on the rest of the project or system. On the whole, obsolescence mitigation approaches have not made use of the engineering change analysis techniques taught in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM), including the design structure matrix (DSM) and change propagation analysis using the change propagation index (CPI). CPI in particular is useful for evaluating how components within a system propagate changes to other components in response to an external change. 
Figure 1: This design structure matrix shows the system-level
baseline for the weapon system Jaime Devereaux, SDM ’08,
considered in the case study. Note that the specific row and column
descriptions have been deleted to protect proprietary information.

In my SDM research, I attempted to create a systems-level, full-life-cycle mindset for determining a system’s optimal obsolescence mitigation strategy. By combining recommended approaches for obsolescence mitigation gained from a literature review with the experience I gained interviewing key experts for a real-world case study (see Figure 1)—and by incorporating SDM systems engineering techniques for dealing with change into my analysis—I was able to zero in on a more robust systems engineering and management approach for dealing with obsolescence. 
Figure 2. The above chart illustrates a systems engineering
and management approach for obsolescence mitigation
The proposed approach, shown in Figure 2 and Table 1, allows for mitigating obsolescence in a large, complex system in both a reactive and proactive manner. Step 1 requires the engineer to understand the system-level architecture before evaluating the impact of changing a component of that system. Figure 1 illustrates a DSM of the case study used in my research (a weapon system). The nth row and nth column have the same variable, in this case subsystem, under consideration. The matrix then shows how the element in the nth row and mth column are related using the legend table. Further, the specific row and column descriptions have been deleted to ensure the proprietary nature of the work can be respected. Once the system-level relationships and interfaces are understood, the relationships can be drilled down to the subsystem level and below if necessary. In addition, in Step 2 these DSMs can be modified to help calculate how likely it is that a change to a given component will impact other system components. The checklist is designed to help the systems engineer consider the many impacts that obsolete components can have on the overall system or program.
Table 1. Checklist for obsolescence mitigation
As systems get more complex and the life cycles of components decrease, it is essential for companies to acknowledge the complexities surrounding designing for and adapting to obsolescence. The intent of this framework is to give engineers and program managers a starting point for inquiry and an approach for evaluating the impact an engineering change due to obsolescence may have on the system as a whole. By looking for these impacts before change is imminent, engineers can ensure that changes to the system are dealt with proactively rather than reactively. In addition, changes will likely be identified earlier in the engineering change life cycle, reducing possible schedule and budget impacts from “surprise” discoveries.
For more information on the obsolescence mitigation approach described here and for references that can help you develop an obsolescence mitigation strategy of your own, please write for a copy of my thesis, “Obsolescence: A Systems Engineering and Management Approach for Complex Systems.”

Annual systems thinking conference at MIT – October 21-22, 2010

Systems thinking experts from MIT and industry to share best practices

By Lois Slavin, SDM Communications Director

MIT’s annual systems thinking conference, sponsored by the System Design and Management Program (SDM) showcases the new ways of thinking, working, and leading required to address today’s complex challenges. This year’s event will focus on complexity and innovation in energy, health care, sustainability, and service systems.

Designed to provide practical information on how to integrate technology, management, and social sciences to achieve success, the conference will take place October 21-22, 2010, at the MIT Media Lab.

MIT professors will frame the three-fold nature of systems thinking—technical, managerial, and socio-political—and outline how it is being applied in the critical areas of energy, health care, sustainability, and service systems. Industry leaders will describe best practices that demonstrate the challenges they face within and outside their organizations, how they apply systems-based approaches, the benefits achieved, and the lessons learned.

MIT has chosen the speakers not only for their expertise in addressing complex systems challenges, but also for their role in leading the implementation of the day-to-day tasks that produce success. Speakers include experts from MIT and industry. As of this writing, they include:

  • Pat Hale, director, SDM Fellows Program

  • George Apostolakis, commissioner of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Korea Electric Power Corporation professor of nuclear science and engineering and professor of engineering systems at MIT

  • Mark D. Jenks, Vice President of Development, 787 Program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes

  • John Sterman, Jay W. Forrester professor in computer science and professor of system dynamics and engineering systems at MIT; director, MIT System Dynamics Group

  • Andrew Scott, professor, MIT School of Architecture

  • Bruce Beihoff, senior principal technologist and director of innovation and technology—systems and process research, Whirlpool Corporation

  • Irving Wladawsky-Berger, consultant, innovation and technical strategy, IBM and Citigroup; visiting faculty, MIT and Imperial College

  • Blackford Middleton, corporate director of clinical informatics research and development and chairman, Center for Information Technology Leadership, at Partners Healthcare System; assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health

  • Roberto Rocha, senior corporate manager for knowledge management and clinical decision support, clinical informatics research and development, Partners Healthcare System; faculty member, division of general internal medicine and primary care of the department of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

  • Joseph Coughlin, senior lecturer, Engineering Systems Division;
    director, AgeLab and New England University Transportation Center

  • Richard C. Larson, Mitsui professor of engineering systems and civil and environmental engineering; and director, Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals, MIT

The conference will provide significant opportunities to ask questions of our speakers, as well as to network with other systems thinkers attending the conference. An evening reception will be held during the evening of October 21 for all who hold full conference admission.

Registration details will be available in early summer on the SDM website

For information on corporate sponsorship, contact Jon Griffith, Director of Operations and Partner Integration at, 617.253.3799.

MIT SDM alum promoted at Microsoft

Vineet Thuvara, who received a masters degree in engineering and management from MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) Program in 2006, was recently named business manager and chief of staff for the management and security business at Microsoft Corporation. “One of the reasons why I felt confident about taking this role is my opportunity to glean from and apply a wide variety of things I learned at SDM – from human factors to systems thinking, from operations to finance,” said Vineet.

In this new, Vineet will report to the general manager of Microsoft's management and security business. He will have responsibilities spanning business/product management and organizational effectiveness. He formerly worked in Microsoft’s Windows Server Business, where he was recognized as an outstanding team player and a stellar worldwide launch lead for Windows Server.

Vineet was the first SDM graduate to win the prestigious Patrick J. McGovern, Jr., '59 Entrepreneurship Award. The award is presented annually to an individual student or student team that has made a significant impact on the quality, visibility, and overall spirit of entrepreneurship education and support across the Institute. He recently authored an article for SDM on systems thinking, India, and the big picture.

In addition to a masters in engineering and management he received from MIT’s System Design and Management program, Vineet holds a master's degree in Industrial Design from Indian Institute of Technology and a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. He has been an executive member of IIT Delhi Alumni association, the "Best Incoming Student for 1995" at IIT Delhi, and recipient of "1996 Arpan Bannerjee Memorial Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Culture of IIT Delhi."

Congratulations, Vineet!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

SDM broadens thinking on technology strategy - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By John Helferich, SDM ’10

John Helferich SDM ’10
Several years ago, I tried to put together a global technology strategy for Mars Inc. I hired a consultant and held numerous meetings and conference calls across the corporation. It all culminated in a meeting in a Munich hotel room that ended with nods and yesses. Unfortunately things fell apart after that and we never did finalize a strategy. What went wrong? Why couldn’t we create a strategy that could get global buy-in?
This nagged at me until I took Professor James Utterback’s technology strategy class this spring as a student in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM). I expected to be assigned to write a technology strategy, and I planned to use the class to revisit my failed Mars’ strategy. To my surprise, Utterback argued that there is no prescriptive way to develop a technology strategy—each firm must find its own way. In other words, there is no one way for a firm to develop its approach to create and capture value.
Utterback divided the course into three parts, beginning with lectures based on his 1994 book, Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation. The book was founded on the ground-breaking work on the dynamics of innovation by Utterback and his colleague Professor Bill Abernathy of Harvard. Beginning with the now-famous history of ice harvesting (a successful innovation snuffed out by the advent of refrigeration), Professor Utterback led us through the ins and outs of the dynamics of innovation.
In the second part of the course, teams addressed key issues of strategy and innovation by developing a presentation based on a literature search of the topic. Topics ranged from innovation in services to dynamic capabilities. The teamwork, which involved conducting a thorough literature search and then agreeing on what it all meant, was good preparation for the back and forth needed to achieve a solid technology strategy.
The third part of the course was the highlight for most of us. Utterback and his teaching assistant, Yukari Kuramoto (a graduate student at MIT Sloan School of Management), selected 12 books about innovation, strategy, and design. Each of eight teams then selected one of the books to read, review, and critique. Utterback put the icing on the cake by inviting the authors to appear in person or on video to answer questions posed by the team and the class. This was an excellent opportunity to see beyond the book and understand the thinking of the author first-hand.
Besides the elements of technology strategy, we learned two important lessons. The first was always to consider the dynamics of strategy; a static analysis that ignores the changing nature of the corporation over time is never enough. Secondly, the only books worth considering are those based on significant research and not just conjecture.
In his other class, Disruptive Technologies—Predator or Prey, Utterback took a similar approach with lectures, case discussions, guest lectures and, most importantly, student projects.
The class, as the name suggests, is about helping students understand disruptive technologies, the effect of disruptive innovations on existing technologies, and how to identify and analyze new technologies that might prove to be disruptive.
We studied how disruptive innovations have caused large companies and major industries to fail in the past—by looking at the invention of electricity and mechanized ice-making disrupting the gas lighting and natural ice industry as examples. We also learned about the differences between the effects of disruptive technologies in assembled products industries (like computers) vs. homogenous industries (like glass manufacturing) as well as the factors to take into account while trying to analyze the disruption potential of a new technology.
During the term, we heard from fascinating guest speakers such as Joel Schindall, who explained his research breakthroughs storing energy in carbon nanotube ultracapacitors, and Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who talked about cloud computing and the growing importance of services in all industries. We also had the opportunity to discuss current innovations that might prove to be innovative with Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, as well as current mobile software platforms with Boston University Associate Professor Fernando Suarez, using the cases he has written.
Finally, to put all the learning into practice, the students were asked to choose any technology they find interesting and explore it—in terms of current technology, research investment, patents, paper publications, and technology trajectories—and determine possible implications to the market dynamics that the particular technology might have. We looked at and heard about such technologies as cloud computing and third-generation solar cells (which are well-known but perhaps not as well understood), as well as such radical technologies as hybrid aircraft, saltwater desalinization technology, and privatization of commercial space travel.
Thanks to the group projects, we all appreciated the difficulties and work involved in analyzing the business implications of new technologies/innovations and learned that there certain indicators that might help in identifying the potential disruptors. But in the end, we all found that it is still very difficult to predict the future with any certainty!
To close I would like to note the eye-opening impact that members of the SDM cohort had in each class on our collective knowledge development. Cohort members hailed from approximately 15 different countries and had an average of eight to nine years of experience in a range of firms, from startups to global operations. The collective wisdom they brought to class had an enormous impact on the range of insights we all made into the various problems addressed. Each of us benefited not only from our teammates’ experience but also from the knowledge other teams shared with the class. I think the SDM community really provides a one-of-a-kind opportunity for such dynamic knowledge development.