Saturday, April 27, 2013

SDMs Join First MEMPC Simulation Competition

By Lynne Weiss

SDM Fellow Terence Teo was a member of
the winning team in the MEMPC's first
simulation competition. He and his
teammates each received a Nexus 7
wifi tablet.
Photo by Dave Schultz
Several SDM students recently had the opportunity to build their systems thinking capabilities and expand their professional networks when they participated in a simulation competition organized by the Master of Engineering Management Programs Consortium (MEMPC).

Founded in 2006, MEMPC was formed to raise awareness of the value of the master of engineering management (MEM) and similar degrees, as well as to share best practices, curricular innovations, and information among member institutions, including MIT, Northwestern, Stanford, Cornell, Duke, and the University of Southern California.

Mark Werwath, director of Northwestern's MEM program, proposed the simulation competition to give MEMPC students an experience comparable to the business case and business plan competitions offered in traditional MBA programs. He also hoped that the multi-school teams would help students expand their professional networks beyond their own institutions.

The competition, MEMPC's first, was managed and moderated by Jeff Lefebvre and David Semb of PriSim Business War Games. Both men are also adjunct faculty in Northwestern's MEM program. "Business simulations are great at building systems thinking capability," Semb said in a recent interview. Lefebvre noted that simulations help engineers let go of the idea that there are "right" solutions to business problems.

The five SDMs who participated were Brian Hendrix, Daniel Camacho Gonzalez, Terence Teo, Shiladitya Ray, and Dexter Tan. Each was assigned to a different multi-school team that played the role of a company in the domestic automobile industry. Teams managed short- and long-term objectives and made decisions about how to interact with competitors, what new products to introduce, and how to support new products. Each team was responsible for establishing its own organization. "Teams could organize by function or by product line," LeFebvre said, noting that there is no one right way to organize any business or team.

The competition began February 11 after students had a chance to review the competition manual and explore PriSim's website. The winning team was announced on March 11.

Teo, whose team won, said his group began by identifying its company's strengths and weaknesses as well as market opportunities and trends. Teo felt that a big part of his team's success was the willingness of members to agree on a strategy—to maintain their product line of high-value cars with a small market and big margins. "We kept our focus on upgrading existing models and on introducing new vehicles quickly," he said.

Teo also credited his team's success to the members' respect for each other's views. One of the few areas of serious disagreement related to pricing. To get advice on this issue, they used one of the two "lifeline calls" to Semb that each team was allowed. Semb suggested they compare the prices dealers paid for cars to what they charged customers. "We realized we had to set a price that was competitive, and that let dealers make higher profits in order to motivate them," Teo said.

Hendrix said he volunteered for the simulation because he wanted to "reinforce some of the real-life experiences I've had and put some of the theory I've learned into action." A product development engineer for Ford Motor Co., Hendrix learned from the opportunity to make executive decisions regarding supply chain and brand management.

Although only one team came out on top, Lefebvre said that in his experience, participants on the teams that struggle most often learn the most. Tan, who works for Continental AG, a German auto manufacturer, agreed. Although his team finished fifth, Tan said he learned leadership skills and the importance of planning and communication. He was enthusiastic about the experience because it provided a "risk-free platform" for testing competitive innovation strategies that he has learned about in class.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Christine Meier, SDM '13: Diversity, Organizational Transformation, and Systems Thinking

By Lois Slavin, SDM Communications Director

Christine Meier
Photo by Dave Schultz
Ask Dr. Christine Meier, SDM '13, about ongoing themes in her career and her response will be brief and emphatic: "Diversity and a desire to help others".

Diversity is evident both academically and professionally. She holds a Ph.D. in human factors psychology from the University of South Dakota and an M.S. in educational research from West Chester University.

Moreover, Meier has worked in a wide diversity of settings, including Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, the U.S. federal government, a start-up, and a company of one that she founded. Often her roles involved technical, managerial, and/or leadership responsibilities. And the industries ranged from health care, financial services and mining safety to computer manufacturing and enterprise software.

The other theme of Meier's career, helping others, is illustrated by her ongoing work in ergonomics, specifically mitigating repetitive motion disorders and making software accessible to users with disabilities. Her intention to serve humankind has become an ever-increasing emphasis in her career choices over the years.

For example, take Meier's work at Ameriprise Financial. Hired to lead an already fully mature program to reduce repetitive stress injuries, she collaborated with the General Accounting Office (GAO) on an in-depth investigation of the program, which the GAO later identified as one of the five most successful programs in the U.S.

Meier said that the GAO found common elements that each program shared: management commitment; employee involvement; identification of problem jobs; training and education; and medical management. These later formed the basis for ergonomic Occupational Health Safety and Health (OSHA) regulations. And Meier subsequently adapted several elements for inclusion in an accessibility program at BMC Software that she created and led and for a program she developed from the ground up for Unisys.

Having already earned doctoral and masters degrees and made significant contributions in diverse business arenas while helping others, why would Meier return to academia for yet another degree? And why SDM?

"Virtually all of my understanding concerning enterprise design and transformation has been through on-the-job experiences, so the SDM curriculum will provide specific, state-of-the-art methodologies and tools taught by expert MIT faculty," she said, adding that she is currently a research assistant for Professor Deborah Nightingale's Enterprise Architecting course. "I look forward to learning about and employing a systematic, systems-based approach for enterprise transformation that, along with my past experiences, would enrich my future work and provide exceptional value to my next employer. SDM's focus on the technical, managerial and leadership components of success, as well as the opportunity to work on team-based projects with SDM fellows who, like me, have significant experience, offers exceptional opportunities".

And not surprisingly, given her focus on helping others, Meier added an excerpt from First Lady Michelle Obama's speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention that is one of her guiding principles:

"When you work hard and done well and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. No. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

SDM Fellows Create MIT's First BigData Club

Inaugural event, featuring Sloan's Peter Gloor, scheduled for April 25 and open to all

By Lois Slavin 

The newly-formed BigDataExplorers@mit, the Institute's first student club dedicated to big data, has announced its inaugural event, "COOLHUNTING: Tracking the Emergence of New Ideas through Individual, Organizational, and Social Network Analysis." Scheduled for April 25 in E51-149, the presentation will be delivered by MIT Sloan's Peter A. Gloor, a research scientist at the Center for Collective Intelligence. Registration is free and open to all. Refreshments will be served.

According to the club's co-founder and president, Rohan Kulkarni, the goal of BigDataExplorers@MIT is to create a platform to enhance understanding of various aspects of big data, explore its applications in a variety of fields, and network with other big data experts and enthusiasts. Kulkarni, a fellow in MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) program, emphasized that while the BigDataExplorers@MIT is student-run, membership is open to all members of the MIT community, alums, and the big data community at-large.

"Big data applications are so diverse and spread across so many industries that we felt it was imperative to create a common platform at MIT that would bring together folks from various domains and with varied expertise to discuss and explore this fascinating field," said Kulkarni. "We invite everyone to attend Dr. Gloor's presentation and to get involved in developing the club's speaker series and other activities."

Gloor will introduce and discuss the concept and framework of "coolhunting", which deals with analyzing the process of new idea creation by tracking human interaction patterns on three levels: global, organizational and individual. He will then describe projects in all of the aforementioned realms and engage the audience in a Q&A. An informal networking session will follow, along with a brief meeting for anyone who is interested in becoming a club member.

BigDataExplorers@mit was co-founded by Kulkarni, along with Carlos Alvidez, Sascha Boehme, and Juan Esteban Montero, who are also fellows in MIT's System Design and Management program, and Aditi Kulkarni, Program Manager at Cigna. SDM is the club's sponsor.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

MIT Expert Richard de Neufville to Deliver Webinar on Flexibility in Engineering Design

By Lois Slavin

Richard de Neufville
Flexibility in Engineering Design is the topic and the title of the April 22 offering of the MIT System Design and Management Program's Systems Thinking Webinar Series. The presentation will be delivered by acclaimed MIT professor Richard de Neufville of the MIT Engineering Systems Division and department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Registration is free and open to all.

Both an engineer and a system designer, de Neufville is currently focusing his research and teaching on inserting flexibility into designing technological systems.

"Major industrial and government projects show that the use of 'real options', enables managers to react to unanticipated events, which significantly increases overall expected performance," he explained.

This work implies a fundamental shift in the engineering design paradigm, from a focus on fixed specifications, to a concern with system performance under the broad range of situations that could occur. His book, "Flexibility in Engineering Design", (co-authored with Stefan Scholtes of the University of Cambridge) was published by the MIT Press in 2011.

In de Neufville's webinar, participants will learn about:
  • the problems with predetermined forecasts or requirement sets;
  • the benefits of flexibility in engineering design and its role in designing and developing products that can adapt to a wide range of uncertainties;
  • how to utilize flexibility in engineering design;
  • how flexibility in engineering design delivers value by reducing or eliminating downside risks, increasing access to upside opportunities, and ultimately producing overall win-win solutions and developmental strategies, and;
  • a framework and next steps for applying flexibility in engineering design in your organization.
De Neufville's webinar is free and open to all. Details/registration

De Neufville is renowned at MIT and elsewhere for innovations in engineering education. He was the Founding Chairman of the MIT Technology and Policy Program, and author of 6 major texts on systems analysis in engineering. His work has received extensive recognition by many, among them the Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, the NATO Systems Science Prize; the Sizer Award for the Most Significant Contribution to MIT Education; and the US Federal Aviation Award for Excellence in Teaching.

At present he is part of the MIT faculty team developing the new Singapore University of Technology and Design, which features a holistic education centered on technological design.

De Neufville is known worldwide for his applications in airport systems planning, design, and management and has been associated with major airport projects in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia — as well as others in Africa and Latin America.

In his spare time, he rows a single scull annually in Boston's Head of the Charles regatta, and regularly goes on week-long hiking treks into the mountains.