Professor Dan Roos Speaks on MIT/Industry Initiatives

By Lisa Nold
July 30, 1999

Dan Roos, MIT Associate Dean of Engineering for Engineering Systems, recently gave a presentation on the development of university and industry relations at MIT. His presentation, entitled, "MIT/Industry Initiatives," was part of SDM’s 1999 Summer Business Trip.

Roos serves as MIT’s Associate Dean of Engineering for Engineering Systems, Professor of Civil Engineering, Japan Steel Industry Professor, and Director of MIT’s Cooperative Mobility Program. Roos also holds leadership positions on the International Motor Vehicle Program and The Transportation Research Board. He is co-author of over 50 professional books and papers, including the "The Machine That Changed the World," and "Made in America."

Roos explained that the bond between MIT and its industry partners was influenced by three critical factors over the years: changes within MIT’s engineering program; changes within MIT’s management program; and shifts in the "outside world" of industry.

Roos noted that MIT’s engineering and management programs were both highly specialized at their inception. In particular, the engineering program was influenced by the post-World War II imperative to focus on engineering sciences and technical specifications, and the management program was hemmed into a focus on traditional management principles. It wasn’t until the explosion of international competition 1970s and 1980s that the nation as a whole, and MIT in particular, acknowledged the need to address issues of quality and manufacturing.

"It became clear that we were not educating our students in the right manner. In order to increase our national productivity and competitiveness, we needed to bring engineering and management closer together," noted Roos.

This imperative was supported by a series of MIT research projects led by Roos and his associates. The first project, conducted by the Commission on Industrial Productivity, of which Roos was a member, identified patterns of weakness and best practice in eight global industry sectors. The findings, which supported the argument for increased manufacturing productivity, were subsequently published in the book, "Made in America."

Roos explained that the second major study was made by the International Motor Vehicle Program, which was directed by Roos. This work, which set out to identify the factors behind Japan’s automobile manufacturing success, ultimately yielded the book, "The Machine That Changed the World." Roos noted, "It was the first time we proved that product development and manufacturing were critical to business success."

These research projects helped to justify the need for MIT’s LFM program, and later its SDM program. Roos elaborated, "LFM is over 10 years old now, and it is still one of the only programs to effectively combine engineering, management and industry for the examination and improvement of manufacturing practices. Our aim is to foster leadership in industry, not just classroom knowledge."

Roos noted that the SDM program emerged out of discussions with CEOs who liked the LFM perspective, and favored its educational principles, but could not spare their best employees for an extended period of time. "Distance learning was clearly the best option for these companies and it became the foundation for the SDM program," added Roos.

Roos observed that the engineering and business programs at other leading business schools, such as Harvard and Stanford, still maintain a strong division between the engineering and management programs. "It’s clear that cooperative, integrated programs like LFM and SDM are a legitimate alternative to an MBA. They’re only going to grow in importance as we move into the future, so my advice to these other schools is to either combine the engineering and management practices, or hire staff with expertise in this hybrid realm."

Roos also described a new program, called Product Development 21, which is currently operating under an NSF grant to investigate the development of regional educational resources for major industry leaders which are linked to MIT. With manufacturers like Ford and Xerox involved, Roos claimed that the program could grow into a national or even international educational resource.

Roos closed his discussion by describing MIT’s cross-disciplinary Engineering Systems Division and its importance to LFM, SDM and other integrated programs. "Engineering science is going through a major transition, but it’s one that we’re implementing on an incremental level with many of our existing program resources."