Program Management Engineer Discovers Value of Systems Thinking

Juan Romeu, SDM '13 By Lois Slavin, SDM Communications Director

Juan Romeu, SDM ’13, joined MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) program in January 2013 as a distance student, and he has already found that learning about systems thinking has made a significant difference in his professional evolution.

“I’m able to apply systems thinking at work in the decision-making process,” said Romeu, a program management engineer at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, MI.

This process includes determining how to set and balance key product attributes; defining trade-offs that will deliver customer value without compromising those attributes; and using a holistic approach to propose product alternatives. “Every day I think more like a system architect than a traditional program manager,” he said.

Romeu got interested in becoming an engineer by watching his father, a chemical-industrial engineer in the automotive accessories industry. In high school, Romeu spent summer vacations helping his dad to design and build accessories for trucks and trailers. “He taught me how to interact with colleagues; to understand and negotiate with customers; and how hard you have to work to achieve your goals,” said Romeu, adding that those “working vacations” are what ultimately led him to choose engineering as his career.

After graduating from Universidad del Valle de México with a bachelor of science in mechatronics engineering, Romeu joined Ford of Mexico as a programs and engineering services trainee. He subsequently worked in computer-aided design, followed by a stint as a program management engineer, where he led the successful launch of the 2012 Ford Ikon in the Mexican market. For the past two years, he has served as the program management design studio engineer for the Lincoln brand.

Recognizing that business management was becoming increasingly important to his professional development, Romeu considered pursuing an MBA. He also thought about getting a master’s degree in engineering to further develop his technical acumen. But then he learned about SDM from colleagues at Ford of Mexico, an SDM partner company.

“I chose SDM because it offered the best of both worlds—engineering and management. It’s an unbeatable combination,” he said.

Since starting the program, Romeu has attended classes online in real time and used videoconferencing tools to collaborate on class projects with teams of SDM fellows—gaining the full benefits of his MIT education while continuing to work full time. These benefits include working with sophisticated mid-career professionals from a wide range of industries.

“The rigor of the methodologies and the diversity and excellence of the SDM cohort are helping me adjust my way of thinking about engineering management and shape my ability to analyze, understand, and manage projects and people,” said Romeu. “It will help me enhance my career in project management, where understanding how complex systems work will definitely assist in delivering the value that the customer is expecting.”

Currently Romeu is working on narrowing the topic for the required SDM master’s thesis. “I’m considering dissecting the design phase of the product development process in order to understand how to incorporate market and customer requirements into holistic engineering targets,” he said. “A system architecture approach, where objects of form and function are integrated to deliver value, will enable us to lay the foundation for designing a product that meets both aesthetic goals and functional targets. After all, [every product] not only has to look great, it also has to function well.”

Juan Romeu, SDM ’13