Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Makes the MIT SDM Program Unique

Let me take a break from my thesis work to continue the discussion on this blog about the SDM program...

So what is SDM? What does it have to offer prospective students? What does its students and alumni have to offer employers?
In the words of Pat Hale, SDM's Program Director and former INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) President: 
"SDM takes a 'total enterprise' approach that embraces a 'big-picture' view of the synergies within the entire organization, enabling students to become technologically grounded leaders." 
This is very true, but also offers too broad a perspective for many individuals from industry to truly understand.

With respect to Pat, let me propose a different approach on the issue that may be more salient to some. This has been the same perspective I have expressed in SDM Information Nights, given every 2-3 months at MIT and within the Boston area.

Almost everyone in any industry can identify with or has observed at least one of these types of comments in the "battleground" known as Corporate America from different individuals:
  • "Engineers don't understand marketing!"
  • "Engineers don't understand that we need to keep a budget or schedule!"
  • "Marketing doesn't care if the product works!"
  • "Why did upper management make that decision?"
  • "Why do we need that feature in our product?"
  • "How does that product or service fit into the overall company operations?"
  • "Why is the company pursuing that strategy or technology or product?"
  • ....and many others
Many people would suggest that simple communication would resolve these issues. While this may help, it does not address a fundamental issue. There are a variety of vastly different individuals, with very different professional backgrounds and perspectives that are often required to work together to ensure the success of an organization.

These differences of perspective lies at the heart of the challenge that many SDMers have when we describe our program to others from industry. It essentially involves in which "slot" SDM resides.
  • Are you a future technical expert? Is it a technical degree, such as a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering?
  • Are you a future business leader? Is it a Master in Business Administration (MBA) such as from MIT Sloan or Harvard Business School?
  • Are you simply adding to your current professional education/career path? Is it a mid-career program, such as the MIT Sloan Fellows?

The true answer to these questions is that SDM lies in the nexus of all three concepts, as conceptually shown in this Venn Diagram.

SDMers mostly, but not exclusively, come from engineering backgrounds. Many have been project managers and understand the needs of different types of stakeholders in a project. There are even some SDMers who already have MBAs.

The SDM program prepares individuals to synthesize innovative holistic solutions to the challenges facing a multitude of technical organizations. Its value is grounded on the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

SDMers gain a new perspective to a technically-focused enterprise. This type of enterprise involves the interrelationships of the following:
  • Product development and the interdependency of technical systems
  • The architecture of technical systems / services and how they deliver value to ALL stakeholders in a business landscape
  • The overall product strategy from the perspective of the business ecosystem and how it is influenced by and in turn influences overall corporate strategy
  • The development of effective leadership AND management abilities in identifying and addressing broad stakeholder needs
This insight is one of the principle reasons why many SDMers have no intention to return to the natural progression of their previous careers. They see themselves as capable of achieving so much more than what a "slotted" engineering career may offer.

SDMers graduating from the program, including myself, often took towards the following types of positions that leverage such types of skills:
  • Product Management
  • Strategy
  • Change Management
  • System Architecture
  • ...and many others...
How does the SDM curriculum contribute to this development of insight and perspective?

This is an interesting question... which I will deal with after I make more headway on my thesis!

Comments, Questions, and Debate are always welcome!

Until Next Time!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Advent of the Systems Thinking Blog

I am a second-year graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pursuing a Master of Science degree in Engineering and Management as part of the MIT System Design and Management Program (SDM) (

What is SDM?
Simply stated, SDM, jointly sponsored by the MIT School of Engineering and MIT Sloan School of Management is potentially one of the most relevant programs for future leaders, innovators, and change agents within technical organizations or business organizations that are based on technology.

Some readers would be expected to think that the above claim is presumptuous and arrogant. This blog, among other things, will describe my perspective on the SDM program in further detail and make the case.

Stay Tuned for Future Posts Soon!