Thursday, May 26, 2011

SDMs, Teammates Win $10,000 in MIT IDEAS Competition

By Kathryn O'Neill

Three students in MIT's System Design and Management Program and their teammates have won $10,000 in MIT's annual IDEAS Competition and Global Challenge for EyeCatra, a device designed to allow self-diagnosis of cataracts via mobile phone.

"The device detects and quantifies cataracts with a compact eyepiece attached to a cell phone. With no moving parts and built from off-the-shelf components, our solution is well suited to the developing world," said Rupreet Singh Soni, SDM '11. "It has the potential to bring affordable and accurate eye diagnostics to hundreds of millions of people."

The IDEAS Competition (the acronym stands for Innovation, Development, Enterprise, Action, and Service) is an invention and entrepreneurship contest that rewards projects that positively impact underserved communities. EyeCatro won two prizes: a $5,000 IDEAS award and a $5,000 MIT Global Challenge Community Choice Award for receiving the most MIT votes online. MIT President Susan Hockfield congratulated the team at the awards ceremony May 3.

According to Soni, EyeCatra emerged from a class called Imaging Ventures, which he took this spring with teammates Vivin Nath, SDM '11, and Erick B. Passos, a visiting researcher at the MIT Media Lab who is also a computer science professor at the Federal Institute of Education, Science, and Technology of Piaui, Brazil. Passos had the idea for the invention and was looking for business partners, Soni said.

"This class is a seminar and project-oriented course on the opportunities and challenges for businesses based on emergent imaging innovations," Soni said. "Vivin and I liked this project a lot because it addresses a real social problem and we thought that as business professionals we could create a streamlined business for this idea."

SDM members of the EyeCatra team
SDM members of the EyeCatra team that won a prize in MIT's IDEAS competition
display their winning device with teammate Alex Olwal, a postdoctoral fellow
at the MIT Media Lab, far left. The SDMs are, from left, Vivin Nath, Nirmalya Banerjee,
and Rupreet Singh Soni.

As the project gained ground, another teammate joined the project: Nirmalya Banerjee, SDM '11. Several eye lens technology researchers were also on the team: MIT Assistant Professor Ramesh Raskar of Media Arts and Sciences (project mentor); Alex Olwal, a postdoctoral fellow at the MIT Media Lab and a research scientist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm; and Vitor Pamplona, a visiting researcher at the MIT Media Lab.

Soni said he was personally moved by EyeCatra's potential to address blindness because he is from India, home to 32 percent of the world's avoidable blindness cases caused by cataracts.

"Vision loss prevents millions of people from living full, independent lives. It is a key driver of illiteracy and poverty, and carries with it a significant societal stigma. Cataracts are the leading cause of avoidable blindness worldwide," he said, noting that India has 15 million blind people, the most in the world.

The EyeCatra device, which scans and maps the eye using a light scattering technique, is particularly well suited to serving remote areas because it is simple to use and only needs to be attached to a cellphone, Soni said. "[This technology is] a portable self-evaluation eye diagnostic tool for use at home, in school, at pharmacies, or in rural health clinics—anywhere an ophthalmologist is unavailable or too expensive."

The goal is to improve the early detection of cataracts and free up the limited population of eye doctors to concentrate on surgery. India has just 10,000 ophthalmologists for a population of 1.2 billion—one doctor for every 100,000 people—leaving a majority of cataracts cases undetected, Soni said.

The lessons of SDM have helped Soni throughout his work on EyeCatra. "The systems approach we learned in SDM helped us to build a processed approach to transform EyeCatra into a business that can have a social impact on the world," he said.

"The environment at MIT nurtures innovation and creativity within oneself, and SDM inculcates both leadership and the synergy of engineering and management concepts in its students," Soni said. "I'm happy to see this learning transformed into wins in these grand competitions. SDM's whole ecosystem is helping me to become a better prepared professional for future competitive roles in industry."

Dr. Sahar Hashmi Receives Fellowship

Sahar Hashmi, MD, an SDM alum and ESD PhD student who will be speaking at the 2011 MIT SDM Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges, has received the Hugh Hampton Young Memorial Fund Fellowship for the 2011-2012 academic year. This fellowship aims “to foster the development of outstanding individuals with great breadth of vision and interests, and the capacity for technical leadership as exemplified by Hugh Hampton Young,” and places particular emphasis on innovative, interdisciplinary work.

Congratulations, Sahar!

Financial Crisis Spurs Interest in Systems Thinking, SDM

By Kathryn O'Neil


Dmitriy Lyan
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM) hasn't had a lot of applicants from the financial services sector, but Dmitriy Lyan, SDM '11, says being a portfolio analyst cemented his interest in systems thinking and the SDM program.

"When the financial crisis hit, I was in the front seat of the debacle because my company was specializing in selling credit protection for corporate debt through credit default swaps," he said. "It was fascinating to see how [the crisis] unraveled; it gave me perspective on how interconnected and complex the global financial system is."

The 2008 crisis illustrates how "the preference for maximizing short-term profits over long-term sustainability can lead to detrimental systemic consequences that impact economic, health, and political systems," Lyan said.

Raised in the former Soviet Union, Lyan had already lived through years of political and economic upheaval, learning first-hand about the complexities involved in restarting an economy after near collapse—as well as the impact on the everyday lives of people. When the global economic crisis struck in 2008, he said, "I realized a lot [of the problems were] driven by the lack of understanding and appreciation of complexity imbedded in systems. That's what triggered my interest in learning how to analyze complex systems."

An undergraduate computer engineering major, Lyan already had a master's degree in financial engineering when he applied to SDM. "Financial engineering is a multi-disciplinary field that employs applied mathematics and computational modeling in developing innovative financial instruments and analyzing complex financial risks," he said.

After receiving his master's, Lyan first went to work evaluating securities for Lehman Brothers and then moved on to lead the design and implementation of risk management and investment idea generation systems for Primus Asset Management.

But, when the economy soured, he became interested in learning more about systems dynamics. An online search led him to MIT's Systems Dynamics Group and the work of Professor Jay Forrester of the Sloan School of Management. "He was talking about how our understanding of purely technical systems greatly exceeds our understanding of social systems," Lyan said. "Social systems are far more complex than technical systems and their study represents a rich research area."

Lyan then came across SDM. After reviewing the SDM website, Lyan then sampled several SDM courses via MIT's OpenCourseWare website and was immediately impressed by the program's mix of technical, leadership, and organizational skill-building. "SDM is a great program that is unique in its systems thinking focus founded on solid management and engineering disciplines," he said.

The program has more than lived up to his expectations, Lyan said. "The academic rigor that the classes offer, the caliber and professional experience of students in the program, and just the overall environment and energy of the place is inspiring. Everyone is passionate about what they want to get out of their education."

For Lyan that means learning to develop high-performing businesses with the dual purpose of contributing to the society and making money. "That has been my goal since I came, and classes have been in line [with that goal]," he said, adding that the courses in integrating lean enterprise and enterprise architecture have been particularly helpful.

"I envision either joining a startup or creating my own company that invests in and develops startups," he said. "Having an understanding of how to design and manage complex systems is crucial in developing successful and sustainable businesses."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hamilton Sundstrand VP Still Values Early SDM Experience

By Kathryn O'Neill

Tom Pelland
More than a decade after graduating from MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM), Hamilton Sundstrand Vice President and General Manager Tom Pelland, SDM '98, says systems thinking is more valuable in aerospace today than ever before.

"Without a doubt, systems thinking is becoming more and more important," said Pelland, who runs Air Management Systems, the Hamilton Sundstrand business unit responsible for aircraft environmental control systems. "As products become more complex, it's not enough to understand component links. We need to understand interactions at a higher level, including other aircraft systems."

Pelland certainly knows complexity. He runs a multimillion-dollar business with products on virtually every large commercial aircraft in service today—as well as many military planes. "I'm in charge of meeting financial results, customer commitments, as well as design and manufacturing activities." he said.

Systems-level thinking is critical for the aerospace industry to find efficiencies, he said. For example, in order to maximize fuel efficiency, Boeing replaced many traditionally pneumatic or hydraulic systems with electric systems in its new 787 aircraft. That includes the environmental control system—a specialty of Pelland's division. "It's really a technology-groundbreaking aircraft," Pelland said.

Managing people also requires systems thinking, Pelland said, noting that he has about 450 direct reports and is responsible for the work of approximately 1,800 within Air Management Systems. Lessons from SDM have helped him to handle the complexities of managing within Hamilton Sundstrand's matrixed organization, he added.

"In a highly technical organization, managing those interfaces in such a way that nothing gets left behind is difficult," he said. SDM helped him to understand organizational dynamics and systems dynamics modeling, and allowed him to bring best practices back to his company.

Sponsored by Pratt & Whitney, Pelland was an engineer who had just stepped into a program management role when he joined the newly launched SDM program in 1998. "I was looking at an MBA, but when SDM came out, it seemed a much better fit because it had the technical side and the financial side," Pelland said. "The curriculum was very well matched to the skill sets that I needed."

Even in the aerospace industry, systems thinking was relatively new then, so Pelland was instrumental in spreading skills through his company. He did his SDM thesis on the design structure matrix, for example, working to incorporate elements of it into Pratt & Whitney's processes.

In total, Pelland spent 20 years at Pratt & Whitney, taking on increasing levels of responsibility, including serving as director of the program that created the high-bypass turbofan engine for the Airbus A318. He moved to Hamilton & Sundstrand just two years ago and said, "I've continued to leverage the [SDM] curriculum."

Pelland also keeps in touch with several members of his SDM cohort. "The cross-section of industries represented in the program was important to me, providing recognition that the challenges we have in aerospace aren't that different from other businesses" he said. "There are still folks I keep in touch with now that I call on occasion to bounce ideas off them."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Charlotte Wang: SDM Pays Off in Cleantech Win

By Chunguang Charlotte Wang, SDM ’11

Chunguang Charlotte Wang
Winning the 2011 Berkeley-Stanford Cleantech Launchpad competition with my MIT teammates has really brought home the many benefits of being in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM).

Of course, I think our team has great technology. PolyChroma’s LED lamp provides high-quality, dynamically color tunable light that cannot currently be produced either by incandescents or other LEDs. The product is designed to help museums to execute their artistic vision while saving money on energy and maintenance.

But even with great technology, I think a key to our success has been the holistic, systems thinking that’s at the heart of SDM. Applying systems thinking to enterprise transformation is a skill that we are learning and practicing at SDM—so that we know how to identify the right market and the best value proposition. These skills are critical to successful entrepreneurship.

PolyChroma got its start last fall in Energy Ventures, an MIT class taught by Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet. He really encouraged class members to get out of their comfort zones for the team project, so I steered clear of information technology (my specialty) to choose something I didn’t know anything about.

When the PolyChroma idea was pitched to the class, I was intrigued because I thought I’d like working with clean technology. But I also liked that the team was so diverse, with two Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) members, one Sloan economics major, and one undergrad in physics and economics.
PolyChroma team members, from left:
Kurtis McKenney, Chunguang Charlotte Wang,
Marnix Hollander, and Jon Garrity.
Photo by Cleantech

Before this class, I didn’t know any of my teammates—Marnix Hollander, LGO ’12, Kurtis McKenney, SB ’01, LGO ’12, and Jon Garrity, an undergraduate majoring in physics and economics—but I have come to love this group. Everybody has worked really hard, with tough deadlines, to do well in the competitions we’ve entered. (In addition to the Cleantech win, we also won the MIT $100K Executive Summary Contest.) We constantly find each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

I have found, for example, that I am good at setting priorities, networking, finding suitable competitions to enter, and gathering input from the team. Another team member is an excellent speaker and another is the technology expert, etc.

By now, we’ve all been tested by fire because the competitions have been grueling. Winning the Berkeley-Stanford Cleantech Launchpad is a case in point, because even after we’d won we couldn’t relax. We suddenly realized we were going to get a chance to pitch to US Energy Secretary Steven Chu and some venture capitalists—and we didn’t have any business cards. So, we all headed to Kinko’s in the middle of the night to print out cards.

On the plus side, we met several LGO and SDM alumni at the energy conference that followed the competition, and they were delighted to introduce us around. That’s another major benefit of SDM—it helps enormously to have the MIT community’s support. In addition to mentoring and advice, we received financial assistance from SDM and LGO to travel to the Cleantech competition, and SDM helped us to make a video pitch (see below).


I am delighted to be putting my SDM experience to practical use—from the communications skills learned in Senior Lecturer Shalom Saar’s leadership seminar to the lessons on how to commercialize technology. I know that if we are to create a successful company, this is the beginning of a long hard journey. Fortunately, I think SDM is making the startup phase a little easier—I have learned better ways to lead people, manage groups, and make the transition from the pure engineering mindset to business leader.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pankaj Kashyap, SDM '11: Systems Thinking for Social Impact

By Eric Smalley

Pankaj Kashyap
Pankaj Kashyap
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
Pankaj Kashyap, SDM '11, felt something was missing from an otherwise satisfying engineering career that had him leading the hardware design team for General Electric's smart electricity meter product line. "I was too much into design, and I felt that I lacked the holistic perspective," he said.

Kashyap said his time working on GE's international smart meter products was, for the most part, amazing. He helped to establish a manufacturing facility in China for one of the products he helped design. He learned a lot about controlling costs and focusing on reliability. "We made meters in millions," he said.

But Kashyap decided that the time had come to prepare for a leadership role where he could help guide a technology organization's strategy. He was also eager to develop business skills. These would have come in handy at the engineering design firm he cofounded in Hyderabad India before joining GE.

"I was feeling incomplete because my entrepreneurial venture didn't go that well," he said. "We had absolutely no idea of how to do business. We were so focused on technology that we just neglected the finance piece."

The SDM program appealed to Kashyap because it takes a holistic approach to technology leadership. "The key thing that the SDM program has is its emphasis on systems thinking, and this is evident in every course," he said.

"Being at MIT is important because a large portion of what you learn in this type of graduate program comes from your peers and colleagues," Kashyap said. "The admissions selection process is very tough, which would imply that I would have peers who are the best in their respective fields," he said.

The SDM program is also a good place to come up with an answer to a question that has nagged Kashyap for years: Why are some countries developed and others not? Culture is a crucial element in an organization's success, Kashyap said. "I intend to work for a few years in one of the developed markets to understand the culture," he said.

Ultimately, Kashyap intends to return to India and bring a systems thinking perspective and an understanding of the culture of successful organizations. He is looking to apply this knowledge and experience to an enterprise that is both financially successful and socially empowering. This is likely to be in the energy sector. "The majority of India still doesn't have good quality access to electricity," he said.

Social impact has always been important to Kashyap. At GE, he led a division comprised of a team of employees who volunteer in the community. Its 30 active members taught disabled children, he said.

Once he gets more established at MIT, Kashyap plans to volunteer here as well, he said. He's also looking forward to indulging another of his passions: theater. Kashyap was part of a couple of English-language theater groups in Hyderabad. Theater has been helpful in his career because it boosted his confidence and helped him talk to people.

The play he enjoyed most? An adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dell Design Chief Offers Insights to SDM Fellows

By Kathryn O'Neill

Ken Musgrave
Ken Musgrave, executive director of the Experience Design Group at Dell Inc., recently visited MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM) to meet with SDM Fellows and share lessons from his award-winning career in product design and innovation.

Organized by Neil Gadhok (SDM '11) and Aravind Ratnam (SDM '10), Musgrave's visit was part of the SDM Industrial Relations Committee's Speaker Series. "The sessions are open only to members of the SDM community and provide Fellows with an inside perspective on industry issues from business leaders," explained SDM Industry Codirector Joan S. Rubin. "We are grateful to Ken for his visit, which was extremely well-received by everyone who attended."

Musgrave began by emphasizing that the design of products and services should not be a leap of faith but a deliberate process centered on who the users are and what they value. "We organize not around products but around customers," said Musgrave.

Determining user needs requires research, and Dell employs a wide variety of experts, including psychologists and ethnographers, to ensure its decisions are data-driven. "Everything that can be measured should be, which leaves minimal things you have to guess at," he said. "We have a lot of cognitive psychologists who do work around perception and values, [researching] what tradeoffs people will make."

Musgrave's group directs the design of every category of Dell product, from handhelds to notebooks to servers—a setup that is rather unusual, he said. All the decision-making around design at Dell takes place at the highest level—in a forum that includes the vice chairman and head of each business unit. As a result, the company is more design-driven than ever before, he said.

"We try to limit the amount of decision-making that has to be made as a leap of faith. If you get everything that's data driven and measurable done right, the leap is more of a step," he said. "The burden on the design organization is to establish the value of what we're trying to pursue—then get others to collaborate and get onboard."

The key to motivating creative people is to take a step back and explain how the work will contribute to larger business goals. "Getting a guy who drew cars all through school to redesign a server is hard," Musgrave said, explaining that when he addresses his group he focused on what Dell wants to accomplish with a given product.

An industrial designer by training, Musgrave said he realized early on that designers are often ill-equipped to translate their design aesthetic to a business setting. But, when designers fail to make connections, they lose credibility and their organizations suffer. Perhaps that's why he is a convert to Dell's "prove-it" culture.
"The operations leadership at Dell is just phenomenal, so if you're going to build a design culture, you have to be willing to work ... within the culture that's there," he said. "Dell really trusts data."

Musgrave's presentation was followed by a rich question and answer session with the SDM fellows in attendance. Topics covered ranged from the influence of marketing on design to the role of the product manager to maintaining a competitive edge. "Design can't be the only answer," he noted. "We have to make sure we maintain credibility in all aspects of the product."