By Eric Smalley
November 1, 2011
At first glance, you might think that someone who sells diapers has little need for systems thinking. Look a little closer and you’ll see that in today’s world of global brands, localized markets, and globalized supply chains, a deceptively simple object like a package of Pampers embodies a wealth of complexity.
Armando Hurtado’s seven years in product development at Procter & Gamble have taught him that developing global products involves a host of challenges that the term "supply chain" only begins to hint at. Hurtado, SDM ’11, is a senior engineer in product development. He worked on Pampers for emerging markets and now works on Gillette razors for Latin America and Asia.
One of Hurtado’s tasks is cost engineering to make the products affordable in developing countries. He has to ensure that his global suppliers are not only inexpensive but will remain inexpensive for at least three years. This involves assessing political stability and currency exchange issues, as well as the usual measures of good suppliers.
Hurtado also analyzes consumer needs to tune products for different markets. He has to find the right balance between producing products that appeal to both the Brazilian and Turkish markets, for example, and producing products that can be aimed at different markets without reinventing the wheel for each one.
The key is thinking in terms of product platforms. "You’re not just designing a product, you also need a manufacturing technology for that product," Hurtado said. "Plus, you need that manufacturing technology to be flexible enough to be able to change and make products that you don’t even know you’re going to need."
The complexity of managing a global product platform isn’t well understood, which is a key reason Hurtado came to SDM. "I saw that in order to progress as a good technical leader, I needed to learn so much more than what I could just get from work experience."
Hurtado was looking for a program that linked business and engineering, and that could expand on his engineering training to help him manage complexity. He was also looking for a program that could help him reach his ultimate goal: becoming a CTO or vice president of research and development. "I saw that SDM was unique in that," he said.
The SDM program has given Hurtado tools that he’s able to bring back to his job. He’s been able to use statistical tools for predicting a design’s robustness, and he’s learned techniques for managing large complex projects. And simply being at MIT has helped him keep up with new technologies and trends, he said.
Being able to continue working while in the SDM program is a major advantage. "I didn’t have to quit everything I was doing for a year or two," said Hurtado. "I’m still very much involved with my work. I love developing products and bringing them to market. And I plan to continue to do that in a leadership position, and influence the product development chain for Procter & Gamble," he said.
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography