Action Learning

MIT’s motto is Mens et Manus – mind and hand. We believe that theoretical knowledge isn’t enough; one must be able to apply it. LGO students have many opportunities to work on applied projects during their time in the program. MIT action learning happens through MIT Sloan’s Action Learning Labs, multiple engineering courses such as Global Engineering, and is a key component of the LGO internship.

LGO Action Learning

MIT action learning_LGO project Amgen
LGOs conducting action learning research at PG&E in San Ramon, CA

Within Sloan’s portfolio of action learning labs, Operations Lab (or Ops-Lab) is the lab dedicated to operations problem solving. This lab gives students the opportunity to tackle action learning projects that really leverage LGO engineering and management skills. Traditionally, Ops-Lab has three kinds of projects:

  • Operations Teams: Students work with small to mid-sized companies in the Greater Boston area. These teams are often a mix of LGO and MBA students.
  • GOAL Teams: MIT Sloan students work with companies throughout the world to implement improvements in areas like supply chain management, operations analytics, and distribution. The teams can be only LGOs or a mix of MBA and LGO students, depending on the project.
  • LION Teams: MIT LGO students integrate into a project team with sister business schools in Malaysia or China. They work on an operations project with a company that has significant operations in Asia.

A few sample MIT action learning projects that LGO students worked on last year include:

Modularity in Manufacturing at Boeing

The GOAL team project focused on modularity in manufacturing and final assembly and included a five day site visit to Boeing’s facility in Everett, Washington. During the site visit, the students spent three days observing the final assembly process, speaking with mechanics on the factory floor, and interviewing engineers throughout the organization. They returned to campus with a collection of observations, interviews, and several large data sets. This information formed the foundation recommendations to Boeing. The team presented their findings to the Boeing sponsors and provided them with recommended next steps.

Streamlining Production at SpaceX

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MIT students on site during their action learning project with SpaceX.

SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. In 2015, the company hired Kurt Campbell (LGO ’07) to tackle its burgeoning supply chain issues. He hired Elizabeth Sondecker (LGO ’16), who engaged an LGO GOAL team to help solve production delays believed to be caused by poor forecasting.

The LGO team was made up of students with expertise in aeronautics and astronautics, including an Aero/Astro doctoral student. The team interviewed key members of the company’s receiving operations group. They walked through the entire receiving flow to gain a systems perspective of SpaceX’s operations. They also analyzed data to develop a deeper understanding of supplier variability. The team discovered that while the company did have supply issues, it also had inefficiencies in its own operations that delayed production. By applying lean principles and 5S methods learned in their MIT coursework, they produced a forecasting model that tracked supplier performance. The team provided a list of recommended improvements to SpaceX’s shipping and receiving operations.

A SpaceX manager called the students’ analysis “extremely valuable” and noted that the project “provided quantifiable insight into supplier behavior.” SpaceX was quick to implement both the model and the improved management system. The company has continued to engage with LGO. SpaceX has participated in the LGO seminar series, recruited on campus, and would like to participate in another MIT Action Learning project.

Improving On-Time Delivery at Goodyear

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LGO students on site in Luxembourg for the MIT action learning project with Goodyear.

A longtime partner with MIT LGO, Goodyear signed up for its first MIT Action Learning project to improve the on-time delivery of its tires to retailers throughout Western Europe. The MIT LGO team had expertise in production and inventory issues as well as experience at diverse manufacturers, including Boeing and Nissan.

The team spent a week with Goodyear’s supply chain management team in Luxembourg gathering data on historical orders, cost figures, order process flows, and more. They developed a computer model from the data that quantified the tradeoff between the cost of holding inventory and the potential cost of lost sales due to lack of stock across regional distribution channels.

Goodyear was delighted with the project’s results, noting that the students’ data-driven analysis had successfully transformed how many staffers thought about how best to manage inventory and fulfill orders. The company has since put the students’ model into active use.

Inventory Management at Intralox

Intralox is a family-owned provider of conveyor belting, conveyor equipment, and plant-optimization services. From its base in New Orleans, the company serves a wide range of customers from car washes to airports. Committed to meeting all its customer needs immediately, Intralox intentionally carries a large inventory. However, as the company faced the prospect of running out of warehouse space, executives asked MIT LGO for help with its inventory management.

Students interviewed multiple stakeholders within the company. They gathered data on demand/usage, production, inventory levels, and reorder points. Using this data, they developed an inventory level–setting methodology and a framework for implementation.

The students’ model enabled Intralox to conduct scenario planning. They could compare the costs of holding inventory to the costs of changing manufacturing setups more frequently. This data analysis transformed how the company thought about their business model. The CEO became receptive to new ways of running his business. Ultimately, the work also helped Intralox re-evaluate its warehouse needs. Intralox is now seeking to host another LGO team who will continue the first team’s work. In reflecting upon the students’ work afterward, one company leader noted, “We were very impressed. The insights they shared and deliverables they provided were very helpful. They did an excellent job of understanding our culture and made recommendations that fit with the priorities of our company.”

MIT Sloan Action Learning Labs

Action learning isn’t new at MIT – it’s been a part of the Sloan curriculum since the early ’60s. MIT Sloan courses often incorporate experiential learning in the classroom. Special lab classes pair students with a company to use a real world setting as practice in applying theoretical concepts. Some, but not all, MIT Action Learning Lab courses incorporate travel to the company or organization hosting the project. Some popular lab classes that LGOs take are:

  • Analytics Lab: Students use “big data” and analytics to transform businesses and organizations, both commercial and non-profit. Last year a group of LGOs worked with Boston Public Schools to help them use predictive analytics for school enrollments.
  • Global Entrepreneurship Lab: Students work with companies in emerging markets to understand and measure how entrepreneurship works in different places, looking at a variety of influencers in that market like economic, political, and cultural. Host companies are located throughout the world, and students spend two to four weeks on-site with the company.
  • Healthcare Lab: Student teams work on complex problems with host organizations in critical areas, including operations management, analytics, IT, delivery innovation, strategic marketing, and organizational dynamics with an emphasis on healthcare delivery and improving health outcomes for the population.

Other MIT Action Learning

Action learning at MIT doesn’t stop with MBA elective options. Many classes throughout the institute have an applied component. Below are just a few options LGO students have when they join MIT as MBA and engineering graduate students.

  • D-Lab: Development Lab courses work on solving poverty issues in the developing world. Professors associated with D-Lab come from multiple departments, from economics to mechanical engineering. Nupur Dokras (LGO ’17) completed D-Lab as one of her electives at LGO. She spent time conducting water resources research in rural India.
  • Global Engineering: Professor Amos Winter in the MIT mechanical engineering department teaches this popular course, which also satisfies the product design requirement for LGOs. Students study how to deploy new technologies to solve sustainability and poverty issues. LGOs have launched desalination systems in rural Haiti, sustainable manufacturing for the Tata Nano, and electric car technology with Daimler.
  • Independent Study and Projects: Some LGOs find other ways to pursue their passions. Phil Ebben (LGO ’18) recently blogged about his independent research project on hydropower technology in Rwanda. Other students have designed new military combat gear or taken fellowships with MIT’s Office of Sustainability to develop ways MIT can be more sustainable.

LGO Internship

The LGO Internship is a six-month research experience that takes place at one of our partner companies. Students work on business-critical projects scoped and approved by LGO and MIT faculty. LGO internships focus on topics such as analytics modelling, product development, forecasting and strategy, lean manufacturing, and systems optimization.

I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a joint LGO/China LGO action learning lab. My team consisted of three LGOs and three CLGOs from SJTU in Shanghai. We worked with a Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo factory in Kuala Lumpur. During the project, we examined all aspects of their operations and recommended ways to cut costs. This was a fantastic opportunity to see a completely different business (in a completely different part of the world). But it was also a great opportunity to apply LGO classes and work with students from a very different culture. There is no substitute for practical work experience when learning valuable skills, and action learning labs enable this type of immersive experiential learning. – Jordan Charles (LGO ’17)