Delivering the goods

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

process.

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.

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