Rachel Le Vely brainstorms with a Honda employee

Systems THINKing: SDM Students Run Ideation Workshop with Honda THINK Lab

In the spring semester of the combined core class in systems thinking, System Design and Management (SDM) students partner with sponsors to solve real-world problems using the tools and skills taught in the course. This spring, one group partnered with the Honda THINK Lab to develop a process for identifying future projects for Honda to explore. As part of this partnership, SDM students Ria Bissram, Lee Johnson, Rachel Le Vely, and Adrian Ortiz traveled to Japan to collaborate on an ideation workshop with the team at Honda and Hideyuki Horii, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Tokyo. We asked the students about their experiences in Tokyo; their answers are below.

How did you come together to work on this project, and what was the project pitch? 

Three members of the Honda THINK Lab came to MIT’s campus in January to pitch two projects: designing a process for future products based on scenarios for 2050, and developing scenarios of the future to guide strategic roadmaps. We were interested in the large problem space and strategic nature of the project proposal for the first concept, so we put in a bid to work with Honda and were placed on the team together to design the process for products in 2050. Honda also needed to learn how to implement a new strategic process that combined inputs from many existing teams and used new methods for analysis and providing recommendations. 

How did the workshop come about? 

The workshop was suggested by both Hideyuki Horii and Honda THINK Lab during the initial phase of the project. We learned in our lectures how valuable a workshop can be to generate ideas and discussion, especially when the group is diverse. We floated many ideas for a workshop, including an all-day conference call and an in-person workshop with the sponsor.

What led you or the sponsors to decide that an in-person workshop would be the best way forward?

We tried a mini ideation conference call with our sponsor using the collaboration tool ApisNote. However, we struggled to derive value from this process; it took a lot of time without yielding much content. After that attempt, we decided that an in-person workshop was vital to the success of our project and would create a solid working relationship with our team’s sponsors.

What took place at the workshop?

The main focus of the workshop was to understand Honda’s extreme users – customers that are outlier use cases for the company’s products – and generate profiles of these users by meeting with key stakeholders across Honda, including Honda THINK Lab and its business divisions. During the second half of the workshop, we held multiple ideation sessions using ApisNote to capture all the ideas from the workshop. These ideas were not for development as part of our project; instead, they were generated to demonstrate that our process could include extreme users as part of the 2050 design scenario. 

Rachel Le Vely brainstorms with a Honda employee
Rachel Le Vely brainstorms with a Honda employee. (Picture provided by Ria Bissram)

In addition, we gave a three-hour overview of MIT System Design & Management (SDM)—covering what the program teaches, the benefits it provides to students and sponsor companies, and what we have been learning. Our sponsor had requested an overview as part of the workshop, and we found that teaching them gave us a better understanding of the course material ourselves. This part of the workshop was engaging for everyone, and we received many questions from Honda team members about SDM’s certificate program.

What surprised you the most about the experience? 

We were surprised by how engaged Honda’s participants were throughout the entire workshop. The level of enthusiasm for generating ideas and learning about SDM was impressive and productive. In addition, the final concepts from the ideation portion of the workshop were surprising to most of the participants. These concepts included a rideshare service equipped with mobile office space for working during long commutes and a medical device that could affect a user’s sensitivity to temperature by reducing blood flow.

What were the highlights of the workshop? 

The amount of collaboration between all the team members made the entire process a huge success. The dinner celebration after the workshop was also a highlight. We were able to interact with the Honda team members in a more social setting—and we got to toast with Japanese sake! 

What were the key takeaways? How did you carry workshop lessons forward as you worked on the project for the rest of the semester?

In-person meetings are key to working on a successful global team. The workshop enabled us to connect with our sponsor in a more direct way. We found that if you can build a successful working relationship during some key, in-person meetings, everything will go more smoothly and more efficiently down the road. 

To learn more about collaborating with SDM students, email Ben Linville-Engler, Industry Co-Director, at benle@mit.edu.