Thursday, September 30, 2010

SDM Renewable Energy Night

Date: October 5, 2010
Location: E51-345
Time: 5:30 – 7:00pm*
Open to entire MIT community
Light refreshments to be served.

Neil Snyder
Executive Director of Systems Engineering and Program Integration at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Neil Snyder has been a practicing systems engineer and project manager for over 25 years. He has worked in the aerospace, defense, environmental, and energy industries, and has worked for a variety of companies including Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, CSC, SAIC, and Midwest Research Institute / Battelle; he is also a retired Air Force Reserve officer. He holds an MS degree in Civil Engineering and an MBA in Project Management, and is a registered Professional Engineer and a certified Project Management Professional. As Executive Director of Systems Engineering and Program Integration at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden CO, he is leading efforts to address the very large scale issues relating to renewable energy development and integration.

*Planning meeting for launch of International Council of Systems Engineering (INCOSE) MIT chapter to follow Mr. Snyder’s presentation.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Medicine and Engineering: SDM student applies systems thinking to health care

By Amy MacMillan

Sahar Hashmi, SDM ’09, is a medical doctor who came to the System Design and Management (SDM) program, which is co-sponsored by MIT Sloan and the MIT School of Engineering, to pursue her passion for research, and her ultimate goal of improving the health care system by focusing on better tools for measuring patient outcome. Sahar, who is also a PhD student in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division (ESD), in which SDM resides, attended medical school in Pakistan. After graduation, she started doing research at the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She also has a sister at MIT, Nada Hashmi, an SDM alumna who is currently a PhD student at MIT Sloan. SDM is a master’s program for mid-career executives who, upon graduation, receive an SM in Engineering and Management.

Why did you decide to come to MIT?
I have a vision of combining medicine with engineering systems and management to help improve the shape of the current health care system. It is only natural for me to seek diversity in an academic research career. As a multi-lingual individual who was born and raised in various countries around the world, it is natural for me to appreciate diversity and a collaborative approach to tackling systemic problems in health care – which is what MIT provides.

What do you think of the SDM program so far?
I joined MIT as an SDM student last year to enhance my research and managerial skills. I view everything very differently now. To put it into words, ‘I see everything as a system now and aim to understand the different entities that operate in it. In order to improve any one of these entities, one must understand the whole system – not just the entity itself.’ We, as physicians, are taught to be very focused on patient care, making the best treatment of test results as our main goal. Due to this, sometimes, unintentionally we may forget to notice the surroundings of the patient, which means looking at patient care as a system…looking at all the needs of a patient, aside from just treating the disease—a more collaborative approach where technology and medicine is combined to provide the best results in a holistic way to the patient and the hospital system in general. This has benefits both for the patient along with the hospital management system as well.

What initially inspired you to become a medical doctor?
After witnessing suffering from preventable diseases in Third World countries, an urge developed in me to find a way to provide health care access to everyone and at all levels of society – not just the privileged. Having the ability to cure someone’s pain really resonates within me and I have always wanted to be that pain reliever. The joy of having the ability to save lives and cure is something indescribable. This can be accomplished by bringing improvements in the health care system which in turn can bring more efficient results in health care access and patient treatment outcomes.

What do you enjoy the most about being in the medical field and doing volunteer work?
My interest does not just rest in the world of medicine and engineering systems. I am currently involved in the community, providing free services like helping to organize educational health seminars, health screenings for the under-served population, and social bonding seminars for elderly diabetic patients. While polishing my research and computational biology skills, I have continued my interest and learning experience in voluntary health screening and educational work at the Cambridge Health Alliance for the elderly population of Cambridge. I was recognized for my work there as well, which was a gratifying experience. The joy of learning and educating the community is something that I really value and intend to continue throughout my life.

What advice do you have for women who may be considering the SDM program?
SDM is a great opportunity to reach your full potential and combine the best of all worlds – engineering, management, and systems thinking. The diversity SDM provides helps in polishing leadership skills and a better understanding in every field. You see a problem from various angles and it’s an amazing experience. You have engineers, MBAs, physicians, and financial analysts all under one roof struggling to solve a problem – and they do solve the problem very creatively. It is really and truly the whole package.

As a side hobby you also design traditional clothes and gowns for orphaned girls and women. How did you get into that? Are you still involved? How does that fulfill you?
As a side hobby, I am an amateur fashion designer and trained at a local design school in Lahore, Pakistan. I was extensively involved in volunteering at orphanages in Pakistan and working with homeless girls to get them the proper education and basic aid training. During this time, I started to help design clothes for orphan girls and the poor, under-served population. Simply said, ‘Every girl deserves to look and feel beautiful; from any background, rich or poor, and good fashion designing can make that happen.’ This was during my years as a medical student, and ever since I have not been able to continue it as often as I would like, as it took a huge amount of my time. I am glad I was able to help out at that time – it was a great experience and I truly loved helping the under-served. In particular, I attended a girl’s 16th birthday in which she wore my design and it was a surreal experience – the pride and happiness the girl showed brought tears to my eyes.

What else do you like to do in your spare time?
I love cooking and enjoy learning new recipes from the Internet and trying them out at home. I have started to learn tennis and am working on my photography skills nowadays. I also enjoy working out and would love to travel more and explore new countries and cultures.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Accelerating the Learning Curve for Systems Thinking and Leadership

By David Rosenbaum

The longer one works within a system, the better one understands that system, and the more one uses systems thinking to meet process challenges. But today, according to Lockheed Martin Systems Engineer and System Design and Management (SDM) student Jennifer Y. Wang, as the rolling retirement of the Baby Boom generation accelerates and they take their systems thinking experience with them into the sunset, both a "knowledge gap" and a "leadership gap" are threatening American industry.

Photo by L. Barry Hetherington

Wang says this "looming void" in tacit knowledge is especially scary in the aerospace industry with nearly 40 percent of the workforce reaching retirement eligibility within the next four years. Due to the slump in defense industry funding in the eighties and nineties that made aerospace less attractive as a career (than, say, computer science), the 40 and 50-year-olds that could be expected to take the Boomers' places just aren't there.

Consequently, Lockheed Martin is accelerating leadership development among its younger engineers and scientists through its Engineering Leadership Development Program (ELDP), which exposes participants to a range of experiences early in their career. Lockheed Martin identified Wang as one of these high potential engineers, making her the first fully sponsored ELDP to study systems thinking at SDM.

"When I'm daunted," Wang says, "I remind myself of two things. One, it's not rocket science, in which case it should be easy. Or two, it is rocket science, and so I should be able to figure it out."

Systems engineering was not taught at Stanford University when Wang earned her master's in Aeronautics and Astronautics, but at MIT's System Design and Management program she has already seen correspondences between her studies and work.

"SDM Director Pat Hale came from the defense industry," Wang explains, "so the classes have a lot of relevance to aerospace. In [Director Hale's] Systems Engineering class last semester, he delivered a lecture on integration, test and evaluation, and gave examples from the Navy and Draper Labs.

"It was enlightening to understand that Lockheed Martin's process was a template all defense companies use, which is based on government customer expectations. If improvements are to be made, they must come from the customer. This lecture added business understanding to what was before, for me, simply a technical process."

Wang has also found relevance in her studies to the challenges in her industry. "The question," says Wang "is how to improve our systems. I'd like to give them greater capabilities and a more modern flavor, but the space industry demands reliability, which means everything has to be tested rigorously. Because I grew up in Silicon Valley, I'm accustomed to the IT revolution, which has a very different development cycle. With space you have to get everything right the first time. Whoever integrates a rapid technology revolution into the space industry will dominate; and they will need expertise in both systems thinking and leadership to succeed."

If Lockheed Martin has its way, Jennifer Wang will be a critical part of that effort.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

System Design, Air Traffic Control, and Safety

By David Rosenbaum

You’re in a plane, approaching the airport. Air controllers are watching their screens as radar sweeps through 360 degrees of air space. It takes about 12 seconds for the radar to refresh. During those 12 seconds, the screen shows where your speeding plane was 10 or 11 seconds ago, not where it is now. Does that make you feel safe? It didn’t make the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) feel safe and now Raytheon Principal Software Engineer and System Design and Management (SDM) student Firas Glaiel is helping to change that.

Photo by L. Barry Hetherington

Glaiel, whose SDM studies are sponsored by Raytheon, is the Software Development Manager for the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS), which now leverages GPS technology to give controllers a real-time picture of where every plane is at every second. Glaiel led a team of 30 developers in building an ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast) capability into the system (already deployed at Philadelphia International Airport), which is one of the first steps in the FAA’s Next Gen project to build a safer national air control system.

This capability fuses GPS data with radar data to provide to controllers a highly accurate picture of the airspace in real-time. In the past, Glaiel has worked on other air traffic management projects, including the Lockheed Martin-built En Route Air Management (ERAM) system used to track planes outside a 60-mile radius of airports. Working in air traffic management, one must satisfy all the stakeholders in the ecosystem: the FAA’s Technology Center, other contractors and subcontracting companies, and, of course, the controllers—the ultimate end-users. Addressing the interests of all these constituencies requires diplomacy, a skill it might be said Glaiel inherited.

Born in New York, the son of a career Syrian diplomat, Glaiel has lived in countries including Switzerland, Venezuela, Syria, and Lebanon, and is fluent in four languages (English, Arabic, French, and Spanish). Growing up absorbing the "mental models" of several cultures, Glaiel, who earned his B.S. in Computer Systems Engineering at B.U., believes SDM is helping him become "the engineering team’s ambassador to management."

In that role, Glaiel must "translate management issues—When is a project going to be done? How much is it going to cost?—to engineering and explain to the engineers the impact of what they’re doing on the program."

Raytheon recognized Glaiel’s management instincts and supported him in his desire to continue his education. "Others from Raytheon had gone through SDM and I though that would be better for me than an MBA," Glaiel says. "I wasn’t interested in marketing or finance per se, but I knew I needed business skill to manage a high-tech operation."

He also believes the time he spends away from work (he studies 40-50 hours a week at SDM while working 20 hours at Raytheon) will help him re-brand himself at his company as a new resource, someone who can develop and manage new lines of business.

Glaiel will recommend to Raytheon that it expand its scholarship program, as he believes that the relationship between SDM and any technology company is a win-win. "It provides the sponsoring organization with an outside perspective on their processes; it trains engineers in management, and it extends the knowledge of system dynamics through industry. That’s critical," he says.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Keeping It Real Through Systems Thinking

By David Rosenbaum

At eight years old, Blade Kotelly was coding, writing software and designing (with his parents’ permission) on his bedroom walls. He was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal for feedback he had given a company on improving its MIDI user interface . . . when he was 13. And in 2003 Addison-Wesley published his book, The Art and Business of Speech Recognition. (It would be a gross understatement to say Kotelly is achievement-oriented.)

Today, while earning his Masters in Engineering and Management in MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) program, Kotelly is working on his thesis (helping a company to develop a strategy to optimize its market position) with Professor Michael Cusumano. The opportunity to address real world challenges in his academic studies, plus access to teachers like Cusumano (who Kotelly calls "the world’s foremost authority on software company strategy") is what drew Kotelly to SDM last January (after he left Endeca Technologies, where he was Chief Designer), rather than to an MBA program.

"Because they have less real-world experience, most MBA kids are not focused on solving real problems that they’ve lived through," says Kotelly. "They’re being supplied with tools without a real understanding of how and why they were developed."

Kotelly points to Dr. Scott Keating’s introductory accounting class for SDMs: "In many schools’ MBA programs," Kotelly says, "you take accounting to learn the mechanics so you can become a CFO. In SDM’s master’s program in engineering and management, we learn about accounting’s intellectual basis because we’re engineers and appreciate the real."

"For example, we studied a case where the numbers on the books of a division in a company were estimates. On paper, the division’s accounting looked great and was useful to running the business, but in class we discovered the estimates didn’t give a clear picture into the actual finances of the business. It’s difficult to use numbers that aren’t accurate to develop strategies to build, price, and market products. The opportunity to go beyond mechanics and learn how internal accounting practices impact organizational activity in an introductory accounting class is truly unique."

Keeping things real, and making real things, is both Kotelly’s bent and his ambition -- and he again points to the grounding provided by one of his SDM professors: Ralph Katz, Senior Lecturer in Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management.

"Ralph points out," says Kotelly, "that you need to include a demonstration in a presentation or strategy session. You just can’t rely only on typical methods to convey ideas. When something is made real to your audience, you can change behaviors. When it’s not real to your audience, wrong and disastrous decisions get made. This framework was a cornerstone that helped me understand successes and misses that I’ve observed in my career."

Kotelly also understands that making real things means leveraging his SDM-buttressed understanding of systems thinking.

"Everything you do connects to a system," Kotelly explains. "Even if you just make something simple, like straws. You have to design, manufacture, pack, and ship them. You have to account for costs in order to price and market them, and you have to make decisions, such as whether or not to wrap them individually or in bulk."

"SDM combines management and engineering, as well as the hard and the soft skills. It teaches you to connect the dots: from design and development (what’s the problem? how can you leverage the technology?) to manufacturing, marketing, and branding."

"Whatever you make, you have to maximize efficiency while simultaneously making things that people not only fall in love with emotionally and intellectually, but that also make society better."

Kotelly co-teaches a class at MIT called Engineering Innovation & Design (ESD.051) and hopes to inspire undergraduates to use their engineering skills to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SDM Student Employs User-Centric System Design, Innovation Toolkit for U.S. Military Command Center

By David Rosenbaum

In 2007 MITRE Senior Human Factors Engineer Todd Reily sat in a U.S. military command center watching soldiers design innovative, flexible, user-centric systems that, to a certain degree, consisted of workarounds to the systems supplied to them at great cost by the U.S. military.

Todd Reily during his US Air Force research in 2007
Photo by Don Means

Why were the soldiers investing time and energy the military would have preferred them to invest in their missions to customize a system that had been designed to help them get their jobs done?

Because they wanted to get their jobs done.

No one knows how better to do a job than the person doing it. User-designed systems, explains Reily, now a MITRE-sponsored student in MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) program, tend to be "reliable, simple, and flexible." This is why Reily would like to place the user at the center of system design and why he appreciates the process for doing that that he’s learning at SDM.

Reily says the root cause of the customization problem at the command center crystallized for him in Professor Eric Von Hippel’s class on User Innovation: in designing the command center interface the military did not consider the user "part of the system." With the best intentions (and the best engineers), the military tried to give soldiers "a perfect tool" . . . with only one way to use it. That kind of thinking, Reily points out, also afflicts many industries. And it is this flaw in systems design thinking that he intends to fix using Von Hippel’s User Toolkits for Innovation.

"Instead of trying to give users a perfect tool," says Reily, "give them the means to build their own."

That doesn’t mean providing the user with an infinite array of choices. "You just can’t ask the user what he wants or you get an endless list of functions," says Reily. Instead, designing a system, such as a command center interface, requires observing the user, understanding his expectations and behaviors, and balancing simplicity and complexity. The way to do that is through "constrained flexibility."

"One way systems are designed," Reily explains, "is to give the user no choice, no flexibility. Another way is to give the user whatever he wants, which creates unmanageable complexity. You need to strike a balance. You can have these combinations, not others. In this way, you have a manageable set of options, simplifying complexity within a system.

"I always end up as a user/customer advocate," says Reilly. "If the user drives design, whether it’s systems or products, it forces engineers to be more innovative."

At SDM, Reily is learning to understand and integrate all the spaces in system design—"the business, the engineers, the designers, the customer"—to build products and systems "people really need and want."

Reily calls it "engineering with a human face." And in the Middle East, the U.S. military command center user interface Reily is helping to build (with SDM learnings, systems thinking and the flexible toolkit), a system that will enable soldiers to respond to a constantly changing operational mission is, he says, on the path to deployment.