Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shingo Kawai, SDM '13: Globalizing Research and Development

By Lynne Weiss

Shingo Kawai
Shingo Kawai, a senior research engineer for Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) Network Innovation Laboratories, is pursuing a master's degree in engineering and management because he wants to "systematically solve problems in complex systems" and address technological and social problems.

Although he already holds a Ph.D. in electronic and electrical engineering from Tokyo Institute of Technology, as a manager in charge of research and development operations in his lab, Kawai came to believe that his training as a researcher was not enough. In collaborating on product development and maintenance with colleagues at NTT operating company Acess Network Service Systems Laboratories and with corporate customers on solution sales, he realized that he had developed strengths not commonly held by other NTT researchers.

Kawai explained that while he and many of the other NTT researchers have very strong engineering skills, simply developing technology is not sufficient in today's business world. "The research needs to guide the company in the right direction, so even technological managers must be trained in strategy and corporate management perspectives," he said.

Consequently, he began to explore pursuing yet another degree.

"Initially I considered MBA programs that could help me gain a corporate management perspective," Kawai said. However, when he discovered MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) program he was especially impressed that it was offered jointly by the Sloan School of Management and the MIT Engineering Systems Division within the School of Engineering. Because he could study both technology and business at MIT, he chose SDM.

While Kawai's first and most important learning goal will be to gain insight into global innovation management, corporate management, and organizational strategy, he also wants to learn leadership skills for a global business environment.

The reason? Although Kawai's research for NTT has been in fiber optic systems, he believes that no single laboratory or company can conduct research on the scale needed for present-day applications. In the long term, he is interested in globalization of research and development. He believes that collaboration with research institutions in other countries is especially important because cultural factors must be considered in conducting research. For example, people in different societies will place different value on various telecommunications services, and may be willing to pay more—or less—to receive them. In short, successful collaboration with research and government institutions, as well as with local telecommunications firms, is essential to creating the added value his company needs to survive.

When Kawai is not working, he enjoys scuba diving off Japan's Izu peninsula and has taken about 100 hours of underwater video of rare fish and other unusual sights.

Brian Hendrix SDM '13: Combining Engineering, Management, and Auto Design

By Ted Bowen

Brian Hendrix
While working in the quintessential assembly line business, SDM '13 Brian Hendrix avoided becoming overspecialized. In his dozen years at Ford Motor Company, he had assignments in product design, research and development, manufacturing, and quality control. This broad range of experience gives Hendrix, who was trained as a chemical engineer, the versatility to address the needs and opportunities of a Big Three automaker that is in the midst of another reinvention.

Now several years into a major transformation, Ford is recasting its product and marketing strategies, consolidating platform and vehicle designs, and promoting a less hierarchical, more accountable management culture, one that is receptive to new technologies and better attuned to customer demand. And while the company is not immune from product issues, its new approach encourages business units to address problems more openly and earlier in the development cycle.

This dovetails with expertise Hendrix gained in quality control, including the Six Sigma system developed at Motorola in the 1980s that aims to raise quality by identifying defects and their likely causes. Hendrix has trained Ford employees in Six Sigma and productivity analysis and was responsible for adding quality control, benchmarking and testing to the design and manufacturing of power train products.

After earning a bachelors degree in chemical engineering at the University of Michigan, Hendrix became the third generation in his family to work for Ford when he joined the company as a paint supervisor. After several years and numerous productivity improvements, he moved into power train operations, where his analysis of the resources that went into transmission production resulted in over a million dollars in savings. He went on to oversee engineering projects and train managers, engineers, and autoworkers in Six Sigma methodologies.

Hendrix then rotated to planning the integration of tools in the manufacturing process for Ford's Livonia, Michigan transmission plant. In 2006, he shifted to focus on quality engineering, devising benchmarks for senior managers to track product failures and developing guidelines to improve the soundness of air induction systems.

Shifting to product design, he tapped into the more creative side of engineering. While developing high-pressure ducts for the Ford Mondeo line in Europe and Asia, he designed an engine noise suppressor, or resonator. Ford applied for patents based on his design and the resonator is now in production as an option on some vehicles.

This experience led Hendrix to rethink his advanced training. Rather than follow the auto executive's traditional MBA route, he preferred the creativity and rigor of an engineering focus. The integrated technology and management approach of MIT's System Design and Management program, with its emphasis on systems thinking, suited his plans.

"At high levels of leadership, systems thinking becomes even more critical due to the complex, open-ended problems you encounter," he said. "I want to develop more into the type of manager who looks at an array of requirements and makes the right decision based on that array."

Decisions informed by a dual emphasis on technology and management can steer automakers away from choices that favor short-term profits over quality, according to Hendrix. And, in the case of Ford, because the company increasingly looks to develop future generations of vehicles internally rather than via acquisition, there is a greater need to integrate engineering, design, and business strategies.

Systems thinking can help companies address the various factors influencing the design and development of vehicles, whether government regulations, customer demand, or the physics of the environment, according to Hendrix.

He is currently a lead product development engineer for air induction systems and turbo ducts for Ford trucks. Post-SDM, Hendrix intends to continue with his passion in a role in the auto industry.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cultivating Leadership for Learning Organizations

By Lois Slavin

Paul F. Levy
The February 25th virtual presentation in the MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series, entitled "Leadership for Learning Organizations", will feature author Paul F. Levy, former president and CEO of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIMDC), former executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), and soccer coach for over 20 years. In this webinar, Levy will draw on commonalities from these seemingly disparate environments, discuss challenges in each, show how they were addressed, and share thoughts on how to apply the concepts and tools in a wide variety of venues, from the workplace to the playing field.

Levy's signature achievement as president and CEO of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center was helping to integrate two newly-merged and well-respected hospitals with vastly different cultures and infrastructures, which needed to learn to work together while under the threat of bankruptcy. He accomplished this through creating a culture based on eliminating preventable harm, transparency of clinical outcomes, and front-line driven process improvement.

Earlier in his career during his tenure as the MWRA's executive director, Levy oversaw the cleanup of Boston Harbor, then known as the "dirtiest harbor in America." He oversaw the $3.8 billion invested in the treatment facilities at Deer Island and worked with governmental and community stakeholders to achieve what is widely recognized as one of the nation's greatest environmental achievements.

Levy's recently-published book, "Goal Play! Leadership Lessons from the Soccer Field," explains how his 20+ years experience in coaching a local girl's soccer team taught him tools and techniques for leading in business and public service.

During his webinar, Levy will cover several areas, including:
  1. Definitions of leadership and learning organizations
  2. How to assess complex issues, no matter what the venue,
  3. using qualitative and quantitative information
  4. Developing frameworks to manage individual team players' learning process
  5. How to help an organization learn to behave more consciously
  6. Examples of cultivating company-wide vigilance to continually unveil and address systemic risks
  7. Next steps that webinar attendees can take in their own organizations.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chris Babcock, SDM '13: Systems Thinking for Energy Challenges

Chris Babcock
Photo by Dave Schultz
Chris Babcock believes the solution to specific energy problems requires a deep understanding of the overall energy system.

Babcock, who has several years of experience in the wind energy field, earned his BS in biomedical engineering with a concentration in mechanical engineering from the University of Rochester. He received a scholarship to study for a fifth year after receiving his bachelor's degree. During that time, he focused on renewable energy technologies and sustainability.

After college, Babcock went to work for Second Wind, a company that uses sound technology sensors to measure wind speed and other wind characteristics up to 200 meters off the ground — about twice as high as previous sensors allowed. This information aids in efficient planning, financing, and operation of wind generation facilities.

The United States is second only to China in installed wind energy capacity. "Wind energy is one of the fastest growing slices of the energy economy," Babcock said, and explained there are many reasons for this growth. For example, a wind generation facility can be built relatively quickly and its project life cycle is typically about 1-2 years. In contrast, it takes 10-15 years to build a nuclear plant. In addition, wind farms can be sited near population centers. For these reasons, wind generation is also expanding in nations such as Brazil, India, and China, where infrastructure is needed for rapidly growing population centers.

Nonetheless, there are obstacles to the growth of wind generation. It is a variable resource—some days are windy and others are not. Storage and distribution of wind energy is expensive. To deal with this, Babcock said, "we have to develop a more intelligent energy system, and that's what I'm interested in building."

As a product manager at Second Wind, Babcock splits his time between technical and managerial activities. His desire to strengthen his business skills first led Babcock to seek out a master's program. Initially he enrolled in a program specific to energy systems, but he decided after one semester that that program did not have the academic rigor he was seeking.

After hearing about the System Design and Management (SDM) program, he did some investigation and decided to apply. Babcock feels that SDM's combination of engineering and management, as well as its focus on leadership, innovation, and systems thinking, will enable him to strengthen his business skills and also help him achieve his long term goals. Babcock said he is passionate about the energy challenges that we all face, and he looks forward to connecting with people in the MIT energy community, as well as gaining insights from SDM fellows in other industries.

Babcock, who enjoys running, biking, and backpacking in his spare time, said he is looking forward to taking what he learns back to Second Wind. He will continue in his job while pursuing his degree. "It will probably be a lot of work," he said, "but I like that kind of challenge."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Suzanne Livingston, SDM '13: Standing at the Intersection of Engineering and Business

Suzanne Livingston
Photo by Dave Schultz
Named one of Mass High Tech's Women to Watch in 2011 and recognized that same year as a Social Media Star by the Boston Social Media Society, SDM '13 Suzanne Livingston is senior product manager for IBM Connections, the company's enterprise social networking platform. Despite her professional honors and the fact that International Data Corporation named IBM Connections the #1 enterprise social networking software platform for the past three years, Livingston is far from complacent.

"To continue to exceed the expectations of the ever-changing software market, I need a deeper and more critical perspective on developing innovative products," said Livingston, who holds an MBA with a focus on Human Factors in Information Design from Bentley University. She learned about SDM from colleagues who worked across the functional boundaries of software engineering and product management.

"When they told me about SDM's interdisciplinary curriculum and what they gained from being in the program, I decided that SDM was the right fit for me. I'm excited to be learning from others working in technology, from people who have studied best practices, and from those who have implemented product development processes in other industries," she said.

There are several reasons Livingston was attracted to SDM. "I've always been at the intersection of business and technology," said Livingston. "In my experience, some of our most innovative solutions emerged from business challenges that can be solved with technology, and in turn technology decisions that are influenced by business. I am intrigued by that cycle, and my work revolves around connecting both."

"With regard to software products," she continued, "a product leader needs to balance a three-legged stool—product management, user experience, and engineering. If the product supports a wide variety of capabilities but performs poorly, we haven't met our overall goal. On the other hand, if a product focuses only on technical metrics yet doesn't meet the market demand, we again haven't met our overall goal. You can't lead a team unless you understand how the entire system works together."

Livingston started her IBM career with the Collaborative User Experience Research Group where she worked as a researcher evaluating the impact social technology could have in the enterprise. "At the time, social profiles, bookmarking, blogging, among others, were gaining traction on the consumer web. We asked the question of how relevant these technologies were to businesses. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to bring some of my research into the market as a new product," Livingston stated. Her mentors encouraged her transition to product development. In turn, Livingston now mentors several product managers in and outside of IBM.

The biggest challenge facing Livingston is balancing her time. As the mother of 20-month old twins with a fast-paced career, Livingston needs to know exactly what she wants from SDM, and she does. "I want to strengthen and deepen my leadership skills in technology and business," she concluded, "but I also want to take it to another level and understand the entire system, including its technical and managerial components, so that we continue provide value to our customers while being on the cutting edge of technology innovation."

Marianna Novellino SDM '13: a systems approach to environmental sustainability

By Ted Bowen

Marianna Novellino
Photo by Dave Schultz
Whether removing industrial and biological material from water or keeping harmful substances out of the environment, wastewater treatment requires biological, chemical, and physical processes. However, Marianna Novellino, SDM '13, believes that designing and maintaining treatment facilities and producing new technologies is also about connections — between population trends and infrastructure, new products and legacy systems, and most importantly, among technology, people, and business.

As an environmental engineer, Novellino has designed municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants and worked as a product manager for a multinational supplier of wastewater processing equipment and systems. The Venezuela native received an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at that country's Universidad National Experimental del Tachira and earned a Master's in civil engineering from the University of Dayton.

In exploring options to facilitate the next phase of her career, Novellino ruled out pursuing an MBA in favor of a program that integrates engineering and management. "Combining technology and management expertise is a basic requirement for me," she explained. "In my industry, many professionals either have one or the other but not both. This can lead their companies down less successful paths. I want to be one of the new, emerging leaders who understands how technical and management issues affect each other, and consequently the business."

Novellino has a longstanding interest in water resources. As a child, she was an avid fan of Jacques Cousteau and considered a degree in marine biology. Instead, she channeled her concern for the environment into studying technologies and systems for cleaning up water. In addition to sewage treatment and drinking water, she is interested in finding ways to reduce water use and pollution in energy production.

According to Novellino, the wastewater industry needs modernizing, both in terms of receptivity to new technology and to new methods of deployment.. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, she sees opportunities for better monitoring and analysis software and telecommunications products. She expressed concern that ideas that could benefit society and the environment fail to reach market. Consequently, while at SDM she intends to focus on innovation, product development, and sustainability, particularly in terms of infrastructure.

Novellino said that infrastructure innovation can mean repurposing or refining existing technologies, noting that she worked on a project that used a 30-year old filter design that was upgraded with technology for controls and instrumentation, to significantly reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff in the Chesapeake Bay area.

As in other areas of infrastructure, funding for wastewater treatment is chronically scarce, which affects delivery of this essential service and can delay implementation of new regulations for years, according to Novellino. "Everybody should have access to clean water, but it's expensive and it's running out. We are polluting the environment if we have to process it, so we have to address both the social and financial areas. It's all related," she noted.

Because the challenges in this sector are complex and interrelated, they are well-suited to SDM's curriculum. For Novellino, systems thinking is a useful tool for understanding connections and relationships, both between technology and business within an enterprise, and in the broader context of environment, business, and society.

Well-versed in advanced infrastructure in North and South America and Asia, Novellino has also observed conditions in less developed communities. She volunteered in Honduras for the Denver-based non-governmental organization Water for People, surveying rural villages, reporting on their access to water, their sewage systems, and public health, conducting outreach on hygiene, and coordinating and sharing information with local water authorities.

Novellino is open to a range of post-SDM possibilities where she can apply her experience in the environmental engineering industry, as well as the knowledge from the SDM program. She would like to continue helping the environment, people, and industrial development by leading an environmental company. She also considers regulation a good fit for someone with expertise in both technology and business.

Bryan Pirtle, SDM '13: Mixing Wine and Engineering

By Tom Kadala

Bryan Pirtle
Photo by Dave Schultz
A native Californian, Bryan Pirtle earned his electrical engineering degree from California Polytechnic State University and has spent most of his working career moving up the ranks at E&J Gallo Winery. Early on Gallo took him in as a summer intern, which exposed him to many aspects of the business. He discovered that mixing wines with engineering had far greater appeal socially than the hard drive design job he turned down to come to Gallo full-time.

E&J Gallo Wines offered Pirtle an unprecedented opportunity to evolve into one of the company's most valued young technical gurus. Over time he became the go-to person to apply innovative solutions to complex control system engineering problems. One such project that earned respect from his peers involved coordinating 20 mobile pumps with nearly 500 wine tanks. His challenge was to monitor the flow demand of stored wine from each tank to multiple filters, use the machine data to improve efficiencies throughout the system, enable flexible connection, and display timely data and feedback on human interfaces.

Pirtle explored an innovative Bluetooth solution that sold for less than $100 per unit from a connectivity company, but ultimately implemented a hard-wired solution to ensure reliability. He wrote software that collected and transferred data from pump to filter to control system with split-second precision. His black box solution included clever algorithms that independently managed over 600 built-in controllers. His new system replaced a wireless product (that had not been working well) with a custom-developed, data routing network, one that offered Gallo far greater processing flexibility. His colleagues summed up his ingenuity and foresight with a simple statement, "only Bryan would have thought of using such innovative techniques".

An innovator at heart, Pirtle's personal drive to remain in-the-know of global technology transcends his work at Gallo. At home he works on numerous projects of interest, pours through electronic journals, and keeps up his personal blog. One project involved rewriting the firmware of an Arduino board that could manage various appliances and devices in his home from a web page. After selling a few similar systems to friends, he considered starting a new business on the side.

Over time, Pirtle's career path at Gallo led him away from programming to project management. Unlike his previous projects where he could easily apply technology to improve a process among machines, he recognized that designing a 'circuit board' of people, budgets, and ROI's rather than chip-sets and software would require new skills.

MIT's SDM program not only fit the bill for him but offered an unprecedented opportunity to attend classes with his peers while sitting in a Gallo conference room. "I am not much for watching taped lectures, but when I heard how interactive MIT's remote classrooms were set up, I was hooked," he explained. Gallo's HR director and his colleagues have supported his decision wholeheartedly and for good reason. Pirtle will not only learn state-of-the-art systems-thinking theories while working at Gallo but will also have a chance to apply his newly found knowledge on-the-job while maintaining access to MIT professors.

For Pirtle, however, SDM's on-campus component offered an additional benefit. Instead of reading about new technology breakthroughs in trade magazines at home, he could now knock on the doors of the very same MIT labs cited and speak directly with the people behind the inventions. He summed up his excitement in just four words: "How cool is that?!"