MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


The Center for Innovation in Product Development, an interdisciplinary program between the School of Engineering and the School of Management, defines itself as an engine of innovation for the product development system in the United States. The Center envisions an America in which industry achieves and sustains the highest levels of customer satisfaction and product value while enjoying long-term vitality and profitability. Each American company will become more competitive by creating and using the right information at the right time, making informed decisions about product development, and improving its ability to learn and adapt to changes in product development processes. To those in the Center, the product development system encompasses the end-to-end business process to conceive, plan, define, develop, demonstrate, deliver, and support families of products and services.

For its overarching goal, the Center (comprised of representatives from academia, industry, and government) will advance the theory and practice of product development to such a degree that American industry will double the effectiveness of its annual investment in product development over the next decade. To that end, the Center is developing programs in the areas of research, education, and outreach.

The Center's major accomplishments include:


The Center has organized its research program into four thrust areas: (1) Defining Successful Products, led by Kevin Otto, Robert Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor; (2) Information-Based Development, led by Associate Professor of Management Science Stephen Eppinger; (3) Enterprise Strategy, led by Management Associate Professor of Management Rebecca Henderson; and (4) Accelerating Capabilities Improvement, led by Visiting Scholar David Bell of the Xerox Corporation. Over the past year, the Center has refined its research process for students and faculty. Research begins by developing testable hypotheses. Students and faculty then gather information on site at Center partner companies (which act as research sites), bring it back to campus, and use it to develop ideas, software, and other representations to test, evaluate and demonstrate the hypotheses.

The Center initiated research programs with all six of its corporate partners. Three examples are particularly worth noting. At Polaroid, the modeling framework DOME (Distributed Object-based Modeling and Evaluation) was successfully applied to the conceptual design phase of a new product development project. DOME is an integrated product development tool that uses different "lenses," allowing a user to apply different criteria to evaluate a design problem. For example, a designer can use a lens to evaluate the performance of the design in terms of cost and safety. By creating appropriate representations of the design model, people from different domains, such as designers and managers, will be able to easily perceive the information and interconnections of complex models in the best way possible. DOME will next be piloted at Ford Motor Company.

At ITT Industries, Goldratt's "Critical Chain" method was successfully piloted with three divisions in ITT's Defense and Electronics. This method considers resource limitation when determining the critical pathway in a chain of dependent tasks. Unlike typical project management, which sets task due dates assuming a time buffer for each task, critical chain management sets task duration (halving the predicted task time) and aggregates the individual task time buffers into one at the end of the project to absorb delays. The goal of critical chain is to help projects finish on time, within budget, and without cutting scope.

At Ford Motor Company and at Hewlett Packard, the use of Design Structure Matrix (DSM) models recommended new ways to organize work teams around the flow of highly related information. DSM provides a framework and a compact notation to show the interrelationships and information flow between tasks. Controlling the communication between the tasks in a feedback loop is vital to the timely and accurate execution of the process.

Center researcher Michael Cusumano, Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management, has just finished a book, Thinking Beyond Lean: How Multi-Project Management is Transforming Toyota and Other Companies. The book, now in press at the Free Press, examines product development strategies that center on sharing platforms and other key components across multiple projects.


One of the Center education program's goals is to establish instruction in the process of competitive product development as a standard component of both engineering and management education, first throughout MIT, then throughout the country. All mechanical engineering undergraduates at MIT now take a senior level course in the product development process, in which they encounter many of the same issues that teams in industry face. In the past year, Center faculty have created and launched four new courses in product development:

The Center also worked closely with the Systems Design and Management (SDM) Program and industrial representatives to develop a Product Development Track within SDM that blends engineering and management concepts, integrates the best formal education, ongoing research, and industrial practice, and educates the engineering professional who will take a leadership role in bringing new products to market. To spread the SDM-Product Development Track beyond MIT's campus, the Center has joined with the SDM Program, the University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, and the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York to form PD21, the Education Consortium for Product Development Leadership in the 21st Century. This consortium is developing the Product Development Leadership (PDL) Program, which will confer a master's degree in product development which will be a dual degree in engineering and management. The consortium model and program curriculum will be consistent in concepts, methods, and terms and will be capable of being tailored for delivery in major American industrial centers, incorporating specific cases, projects, and examples. The Consortium will kick off its activities in July, 98, with a workshop to develop a common language and understanding between and among the three universities; to enhance integration of the program across traditional academic boundaries; and to encourage a spirit of camaraderie amongst the working group members.

In addition, the Center worked with colleagues at partners' internal training programs, such as the Ford Design Institute and the Xerox Engineering Excellence Program, to understand what topics and material should be included in a new curriculum.


The second annual Key Characteristics Symposium, organized and facilitated by Professor Anna Thornton, drew 80 people from 28 organizations to the NASA Kennedy Space Center on January 21-23, 1998. The purpose of this seminar series is to bring experts from a variety of companies together to share experiences, successes, and problems with Key Characteristic methodologies. Complex products can contain millions of dimensions and characteristics (voltages, forces, etc.), each of which impact the performance of the product. In addition, each of these features as manufactured will deviate from its nominal value because of inherent variability in manufacturing, assembly, and environment. However, only a small few of the millions of features, the Key Characteristics of the product, will significantly affect the final quality, performance, and cost of the product. The third annual symposium next January will most likely take place in Tempe, Arizona.

The first annual Software Tools Symposium, held at MIT on May 1, 1998, provided a forum for the sharing of both existing software tools and concepts for potential tools that arise from Center research. More than 40 people from MIT, industry, and software developing companies came together to discuss how to adapt innovative ideas and tools from academic research into marketable products that American industry can use.

The Center and the Industrial Liaison Program, along with several other MIT programs and centers, sponsored the first annual Manufacturing and Engineering Conference at MIT on May 12-13, 1998. This year's conference, entitled "Designing & Managing Corporate Technology Supply Chains: Creating Competitive Value Chains in an Age of Temporary Advantage," provided a special strategic briefing for senior manufacturing, engineering, technical, operations, and corporate executives. Few decisions senior executives make will affect their company's survival like the design of their company's value chain, including their choice of key technology supplier alliances and relationships. As part of MIT's Series on Technology and the Corporation, this examines important new strategies in supply chain design, business strategy and product development by focusing on the experiences of industries with much faster product and technology development cycles and by extrapolating the lessons for industries with slower cycles. Next year, the Center will also co-sponsor the Second Annual Manufacturing and Engineering Conference, scheduled for April 20-21, 1999, and entitled, "Innovations in Product Development."

A seminar series was launched this past year to provide a forum for researchers from other universities and Center researchers to share their respective findings. On May 4, 1998, Professor Dr. Jan Buijs and Dr. Kees Dorst from the Delft University of Technology talked about their efforts in "Teaching product design: a curriculum and a methodology." The School of Industrial Design Engineering at the Delft University of Technology is one of the biggest in the world, now training 1800 students in integrated product design. From the very first day of their studies to the last, students do design exercises that integrate the knowledge, skills, and methods taught in lecture courses. Final design projects are done in close cooperation with Dutch industry. On June 9, 1998, Per Elgård from The Department of Control and Engineering Design at the Technical University of Denmark discussed his research in "Designing Product Families." Today's customers expect products to be tailored to their exact needs. Using product platforms, firms can customize products, each product being a variant of a product family. Mr. Elgård discussed the design principles that can be used to create architectures supporting variety, from conventional modularization to inheritance and parameterization.

Under the auspices of the Center's outreach program and supported by a Research Experience for Undergraduates grant from the National Science Foundation, six undergraduates from universities across the nation joined Center scientists and engineers in June, 1998, to experience first-hand how basic research is carried out. The ten-week summer program, which began in early June, targets talented, underrepresented minority and women sophomores and juniors.

Each summer, Center faculty, students, and staff also assist the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science Program (MITES). The MITES program is a six-week residential summer course designed to introduce promising underrepresented minority high school juniors to careers in engineering and science. In summer, 1997, Center personnel assisted more than 40 MITES students in two courses: one on entrepreneurship, the other on design.

The Center welcomed Conger Gabel as the Executive Director for 1998. Mr. Gabel is on leave from the Xerox Corporation. Linda Breisch also joined the Center as the Communications Coordinator. Kamala Grasso, the Center's Director of Industrial Collaboration, left MIT for a position with the Bose Corporation. Jo-Anne Lema, the Center's Director of Finance and Administration, left MIT for a position with St. Paul's School in Concord, NH. Suzanne Weiner, the Education Coordinator, left MIT for a position with North Carolina State University.

More information about this center can be found on the World Wide Web at the following URL:

Warren Seering

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98