The Value of SDM to Our Careers and to Ford

Kathleen Blackmore and Kelly ZechelBy Kathleen Blackmore
NAC Lifestyles Interior Trim, Ford Motor Company
Kelly Zechel
Energy Storage Systems, Sustainable Mobility Technologies, Ford Motor Company
March 31, 2003

Editor’s Note: For Kathleen Blackmore and Kelly Zechel, Ford engineers and recent alums of MIT’s System Design and Management (SDM) program, attending SDM meant growing beyond traditional roles as engineers and contributing to Ford on a broader level. Kathleen’s prior educational background includes a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan at Dearborn and an MS in Engineering from Purdue University. Kelly holds a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Engineering Management from the University of Michigan, Dearborn. While they had both acquired strong engineering skills in their prior degree programs and in their work in the automotive industry, Kathleen and Kelly desired to integrate managerial skills with their existing engineering expertise. They also wanted to further their professional development by learning about other industries. SDM taught them about leadership, product development and project management, gave them the opportunity to work in virtual teams, and put them in close contact with fellow students from a wide range of industries, such as high tech and aerospace.

We chose to enroll in SDM because its Master of Science in Engineering and Management, granted jointly by MIT’s School of Engineering and Sloan School of Management, offered the ideal combination of course work in systems engineering and in management to help us reach our professional goals. In addition, SDM’s distance learning option provided the means for both of us to obtain a challenging yet achievable work-life balance.

Kathleen Blackmore and Kelly Zechel

Working together on a joint masters thesis, an integral component of the SDM program, enabled us to provide innovative knowledge transfer between MIT and program partner Ford Motor Company. Our research involved business model and system architecture integration for the development of new model product features. We believed that this approach could help Ford compete more effectively by improving how it builds a brand through active feature/function enhancements that support the desired brand image.

We started with an original system architecture and business case framework developed by MIT Professor and Aeronautics/Astronautics Chair Ed Crawley, instructor of our System Architecture class, who also consulted with us twice throughout the revised framework development process. This framework provides an integrated approach to evaluating the total business value equation by considering the key engineering issues at the system architecture level and their interaction with the key items within the business case. This framework is manifested throughout the product development process in an iterative way in order to develop a comprehensive value equation that contains the business and engineering elements in an integrative fashion.

Our research indicated that the proliferation of feature enhancements becomes a complex management issue requiring a delicate balance between the feature’s cost and the value offered to its target market. Our thesis built a business case for understanding the importance of a systems approach to addressing and managing the breadth of factors contained within the multiplicity of elements. As such, we added many enhancements to Crawley’s framework. In total, we integrated sixteen different elements: five in the Business Case Model; five in a new Corporate Model and five in the Architecture Model.

We developed six case studies designed to test the validity of our enhanced model. Two were regulatory–influenced, involving occupant classification systems and seatbelt reminder features. The remaining four studies pertained to market-driven features including adjustable pedals, vehicle stability control, active diagnostics/prognostics, and modular radio. The case studies demonstrated that use of this enhanced framework will enable Ford to consider the importance and impact that each architectural and corporate element may have relative to new product implementations early in the product development process. The new framework also provides critical checks and balances in the total product development value equation. All of this can help eliminate surprises that can arise along the way.

Our SDM thesis – and the SDM program more broadly – taught us methodologies and provided us with tools that enable us to solve problems more efficiently and effectively. The program has helped us to develop the leadership and change agency skills to transfer this knowledge within Ford, and between Ford and its suppliers. Our newly acquired knowledge will help Ford save time, reduce costs, and produce better products, thereby enhancing value to customers, shareholders, employees, and society at large.