Delivering the goods
- By Heather Harreld
- Jun 12, 2000
The Navy is teaming with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop
a graduate program to help Navy personnel better manage how the military
develops and deploys its defense weapons systems.
The two will create a master's degree program that will be offered at
the Naval Postgraduate School. NPS will use core course material from MIT's
graduate degree program in product development to teach engineers and other
technical personnel the nuts and bolts of managing the weapons development
MIT and its faculty will work with NPS to tailor courses based on the
Navy's needs, said Carson Eoyang, an NPS professor and executive director
of the Product Development Leadership for the 21st Century partnership program.
The partnership is designed to support efforts to transform the Navy
and the Marine Corps' acquisition and procurement process, he said. It will
support a broader Navy campaign, called the Revolution in Business Affairs,
that is designed to improve the way the Navy operates. One of its goals
is to reduce the Navy's acquisition life cycle, which averages 12 years.
"In the military, the acquisition life cycle from inception to initial operational
capability could be many, many years," Eoyang said. "The target is to reduce
[the acquisition life cycle] by half."
Studies have shown that the longer it takes for a weapons system to
be delivered, the more likely the system is to experience cost overruns
and reduced capability, Eoyang said. "It's absurd to think it's going to
take us 12 years to deliver a major communications or computer system,"
he said. "The longer we take to deploy our weapon systems, the less competitive
we can be."
MIT originally developed its degree program to train engineering and
management professionals to improve the way corporations develop and build
new systems and products.
As demand from corporations such as Ford Motor Co. and Eastman Kodak
Co. exceeded MIT's teaching capacity, the university established a multiuniversity
consortium to replicate the master's degree program with the support of
corporations. NPS will be the third university to partner with MIT to launch
a product development degree program.
The curriculum is designed for engineers who have five to 10 years of experience
and who need a product development education that goes beyond engineering
products, said Paul Lagace, co-director of MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing
and Systems Design and Management Programs.
Before the program was launched, engineers could either obtain advanced
engineering degrees or a master's degree in business administration, but
neither program homed in on the entire product development process — from
an idea's inception to rolling the product out to the market, Lagace said.
Often, an engineer who focuses solely on product development does not
have the skills to address marketing or financial aspects. For example,
engineers with traditional skills do not routinely address the financial
tradeoffs of streamlining the design of a product, Lagace said.
"There is a need for further education for some of their higher-echelon
engineers [who] need to look at the broader perspective at how the system
works, whatever their particular part of the market may be," he said.
In September, the Navy will begin offering the two-year program to about
20 students. Initially, the courses will be offered via existing videoconferencing
equipment to students at three to seven sites. Eventually, Navy officials
plan to use World Wide Web-based learning tools.
—Harreld is a freelance writer based in Cary, N.C.