Building 2000 units of a product, part 1: sourcing COTS parts – Elaine Chen

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Elaine Chen

From Dragon Innovation Blog

There are many phases of engineering development before you get to a looks-like, works-like prototype. At this phase, the product looks like and works like a final product. Hopefully it has been designed with the final manufacturing techniques in mind.  Like many modern day hardware companies, you probably went the extra mile in validating your market before scaling up your operation. You have probably run a successful crowdfunding campaign. You now have a 1000-2000 unit preorder that you now need to fulfill.  How do you go from the prototyping techniques you have been using to date to sourcing and building a small lot of this scale?

At 1000-2000 units, this is considered a low volume production run. This is a very tricky quantity to build, especially for consumer electronics products with a low cost-of-goods-sold (COGS). In fact, Ben Einstein of Bolt VC famously calls this quantity the “uncanny valley of manufacturing” in his awesome talk about prototyping (see Slide 41).

What’s involved in a 2000-unit build?

Read More »

Is this the new class every student should take? – Dimitris Bertsimas

MIT Sloan Prof. Dimitris Bertsimas

From eSchool News

With the high-school graduation season over, it’s time for grads and parents alike to celebrate and relax a bit – and maybe enjoy a long summer before recently minted graduates start college or a new job.

But here is something to contemplate (hopefully not too strenuously) over the coming summer weeks and months: What is the next learning step in the graduate’s preparation for a future career?

Whether a recent graduate plans to study 18th Century English literature in college or jump right into the workforce in any number of jobs, I have a one-word suggestion for them: Data.

Specifically, start learning about the analysis of data.

As seemingly odd as that might sound – perhaps even odder than the elder gentleman who recommends “plastics” to the young Dustin Hoffman character in the classic movie “The Graduate” – the simple fact is that our lives and careers, moving forward, will be increasingly influenced and determined by data analytics in just about every field, from what consumer products we buy to the type of medical treatments our doctors prescribe.

The data analytics era is already here. We see it every time we surf the web and those same pesky advertisements keep following us around, from site to site, no matter how much we try to lose them. Those ads are the result of data-analytic computations by Google and others designed to specifically figure out, mathematically, our consumer interests based on past purchases and web browsing histories.

Read More »

Whole Foods CEO’s poor excuse for poor performance – Jose Alvarez and Zeynep Ton

Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Jose Alvarez

At a town hall meeting announcing Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, a Whole Foods employee had this question for CEO John Mackey:

“I have a question about Whole Foods’s commitment to those win-win-win-win partnerships with our suppliers, with our team members— and how that’s going to live on once this merger is complete.”

Mackey’s response was curious, to say the least:

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

“I think, sometimes, our company’s gone a little bit too much team-member focus at the expense of our customers. And that’s one definite evolution that’s gonna happen. I love the passion these guys [Amazon] have around the customer. They put the customer first in everything they do and think backwards. And— we— we’re gonna be the same way.”

If Mackey thinks that investing in people is part of the reason for Whole Foods’s poor performance, he’s wrong. From what we see, the real problem is a lack of operational excellence. Whole Foods may be paying its employees more than competitors do, but it has not created an operating system that leverages that investment. You can’t put premium gas in a clogged-up engine and expect to win a race.

Whole Foods strikes us as an organization that doesn’t standardize where it needs to and doesn’t empower where it needs to. Five stores within a city may have five different people purchasing from the same local farm in five different ways. Their information systems are mediocre at best.  John Mackey’s own words about Whole Foods technology are useful here: “So I think that we can expect that we’ll go to the front of the class, eventually, in the grocery business, from … the class dunce to… the class valedictorian.”

Poor systems and lack of appropriate standardization mean lower labor productivity and higher costs. At the same time, frontline team members appear to have little empowerment to satisfy customers. One of us recently wanted to return a $3 Whole Foods reusable shopping bag that had broken the first time it was used.  You would expect the cashier to just exchange the bag for a new one.  Instead, she called for her manager to resolve the problem.  It was a waste of time for all, including the other customers waiting in line. Paying team members more than competitors do won’t pay off if you don’t empower them to make a $3 decision! Lack of empowerment reduces not only motivation but also customer service.

Read More »

Flipping the office telepresence model – Peter Hirst

MIT Sloan Executive Director of Executive Education Peter Hirst

MIT Sloan Executive Director of Executive Education Peter Hirst

From TechCrunch

What if I told you that you could visit three continents in one day without leaving your office and truly feel like you were there in person? That you could move down a hallway or across a stage, make eye contact and feel, well, more like a human being than just a face on a screen?

Earlier this year, Paul McDonagh-Smith — my coworker at MIT Sloan Executive Education who is based in London — did just that with the help of “telepresence robotics.” First thing in the morning, he co-presented at a conference in Singapore alongside our colleague Cyndi Chan, then had a business meeting in Cape Town, South Africa and later that afternoon met with me and other team members on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read More »

How ride-hailing apps like Uber continue cab industry’s history of racial discrimination – Christopher Knittel

MIT Sloan Professor Christopher Knittel

MIT Sloan Professor Christopher Knittel

From The Conversation

From hailing taxis that won’t stop for them to being forced to ride at the back of buses, African-Americans have long endured discrimination within the transportation industry.

Many have hoped the emergence of a technology-driven “new economy,” providing greater information and transparency and buoyed by an avowed idealism, would help us break from our history of systemic discrimination against minorities.

Unfortunately, our research shows that the new economy has brought along some old baggage, suggesting that it takes more than just new technologies to transform attitudes and behavior.

Our new paper, “Racial and Gender Discrimination in Transportation Network Companies,” found patterns of discrimination in how some drivers using ride-hailing platforms, such as Uber and Lyft, treat African-American passengers and women. Our results are based on extensive field studies in Seattle and Boston, both considered liberal-minded cities, and provide stark evidence of discrimination.

Read More »