Tina Srivastava ’11: Making Services a Higher Priority

Tina Srivastava By Ted Bowen
September 6, 2012

Maintaining systems is less glamorous than designing and implementing them. You might say it’s not rocket science. Tina Srivastava, SDM ’11, whose c.v. includes a good deal of rocket science, is looking to add luster to operations and maintenance, essential and under-appreciated practices that are especially critical at a time when many organizations face tight budgets. Srivastava, who studied aeronautics and astronautics as an undergraduate at MIT, has been working to make services central to the discussion of an organization’s efficiency and adaptability.

The vehicle for this change in emphasis is the Lean Enterprise Self Assessment Tool (LESAT), which is a product of the MIT Lean Advancement Initiative (LAI), a consortium of industry, government and academic organizations. The tool helps organizations gauge their readiness to adapt to new conditions, change course, and modify strategy when necessary. LAI consultants, including MIT students, work with organizations to implement LESAT, often conducting regular reviews. The highly technical LESAT is sometimes combined with the management services of a Deloitte or McKinsey as part of a wider review.

LESAT was designed for organizations involved in product development, rather than services like operations and maintenance. As her SDM thesis, Srivastava has outlined an extension of LESAT for servicing existing systems, which encompasses operations, maintenance, upgrades, repairs, and overhauls. The scope is broad. The extension is intended to help organizations get the most out of core systems, such as airline reservation systems; to help governments and utilities maintain critical infrastructure; to improve supply chain management; and to extend the useful life of a host of other "in-service systems".

Srivastava presented the work, "Lean Effectiveness Model for Products and Services: Servicing Existing Systems in Aerospace and Technology," in July at the annual conference of the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) in Rome. In drafting the LESAT extension, Srivastava collaborated with the INCOSE In-Service Systems Working Group and aerospace and technology giants Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, and Raytheon and reviewed relevant literature to derive best practices.

The idea is to get more out of systems and to improve product design by learning from the experience of operating and maintaining existing systems. Srivastava notes that 70 percent of the total life cycle cost of US Department of Defense weapon systems goes to servicing existing systems. In general, spending on services accounts for an increasing portion of organizations’ budgets as they buy fewer new systems.

The proposed LESAT extension emphasizes the use of service contracts, formal inclusion of operations and maintenance staff in cross-department decision-making and better coordination between the users and maintainers of products and the developers of those products. It also encourages organizations to realistically factor the cost of maintenance in their budgets.

The process can help managers work past preconceived notions, according to Srivastava. "Oftentimes enterprise leadership is surprised to find the underlying root cause in an unexpected place," she said. "For example, they might think manufacturing is too slow and hurting profits, but it could be a trust relationship with a supplier."

The proposed methodology feeds back into product development, benefitting from experience in the field to improve product refinements and redesigns. The LESAT approach to services also helps organizations assess whether they are better off repairing equipment in-house or externally.

At the same time, Srivastava identifies barriers to this approach, including a general bias among top employees against services jobs versus new product development, corporate strategies tilted toward selling new systems, and equipment depots too fragmented and committed to too many individual internal groups to participate effectively in planning and development processes.

In a related presentation at the INCOSE conference, Srivastava and MIT colleagues Victor Piper and Jose Aria discussed their review of the U.S. Army’s abandoned Future Combat Systems (FCS) modernization program, a complex ‘system of systems’. Their analysis, which grew out of a systems engineering class project at MIT, identified shortcomings in traditional systems engineering approaches. In particular, FCS managers failed to anticipate delays in beginning production, the project’s ballooning number of lines of code, and significant cost overruns. They stuck with the same planning approach despite the ongoing problems. The project’s complexity also made it hard to account for conflicts of interest among stakeholders, according to Srivastava.

From early on, Srivastava has combined advanced technical design with management, notably heading a team of 40 MIT students in the design, construction, testing and launch of a satellite. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/zero-g-0625.html "I was always interested in strategic technical decision making as a way of improving efficiency and effectiveness," she said.

Srivastava is active in Women in System Design and Management (WiSDM). Prior to her term as an SDM fellow, Srivastava was a senior systems engineer at Raytheon and will return to the company as deputy technical director of electronic warfare.

Tina Srivastava
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography