Anderson, Boatwright, Gagen & Weingart on the Edge of Design
The old saying is “Home is where you hang your hat,” right?
Well imagine hanging your hat inside the cab of an 18-wheeler every day—and often nights—as you deliver cargo all across the United States. Combine service station coffee with a night or two inside a “sleeper cab,” and you just might be pining for the comforts of home.
This was the challenge faced by International Truck and Engine Corporation, a leading manufacturer of truck cabins, engines and buses, as it sought ideas to make its sleeper cab more like a home for its drivers.
The company knew that if it could create a space that helped drivers feel more comfortable, it would create happier, better rested and, therefore, safer and more productive drivers over the long haul.
Dee Kapur (TPR’76), president of the Truck Division at International Truck and Engine, knew that Carnegie Mellon’s unique collaborative approach to product development—an approach that brings together different disciplines and expertise—could uncover fresh ideas, new patents and a highly coveted marketplace advantage for International Truck and Engine.
That’s why International Truck and Engine partnered with Carnegie Mellon in the spring of 2005.
Why was Kapur so sure of Carnegie Mellon? Because he’d experienced the results before.
Kapur led the truck division of the Ford Motor Company when it sponsored Carnegie Mellon’s Integrated Product Development (IPD) course in the spring semesters of 2000 and 2002. This course focuses the university’s engineering, design and business expertise on real-world product development challenges identified by a corporate sponsor.
In this case, Ford asked the university to identify and develop products for its F-150 pickup truck (2000) and the Ford Escape SUV (2002). The students’ ideas were so exciting that Ford patented five of the 12 products.
IPD: Unusual, Unmatched
The IPD course—the capstone of the master’s degree program in product development (co-offered between the School of Design and Mechanical Engineering), as well as an MBA track—is led by professors Eric Anderson (design), Peter Boatwright (marketing), Jonathan Cagan (mechanical engineering) and Laurie Weingart (organizational behavior and theory).
Together, they are building on nearly 15 years of the IPD course teaching students in a unique atmosphere, where cross-functional teams solve problems and cultivate one another’s skills to make a positive impact on people’s lives.
Carnegie Mellon has been able to do this so effectively because of its unusual combination of expertise, inherent culture of collaboration and decidedly small size.
Cagan explains that finding world-class programs in business, engineering and design within a few hundred feet of one another—on the same campus, for that matter—is simply not that common. “This access and collaboration is part of what makes IPD so successful. We’re able to completely integrate disciplines, something other schools can’t do easily.”
As Weingart explains, the students’ interactions with each other provide a true learning experience that is applicable and valued within corporations.
“Any smart person can crunch the numbers, but it’s how you work with other people (persuade them, understand their interests, problem solve, understand the different perspectives) that’s really going to move the decision forward and allow the analytics to have impact,” she says. “So it’s not just what you know or what you can prove, it’s convince, problem solve, integrate and move forward.
“We’re producing people who are going to bring much more value-add to the organization,” continues Weingart. “Those are the people who get promoted. Those are the people who get rewarded. Having the right blend of the analytical skills, the teamwork, the big picture, the interdisciplinary perspective is going to propel an individual to do great things at all levels of the organization.”
Kapur agrees. “Just as refreshing as their outputs have been the students’ energies and clear learnings, not only about their projects, but about themselves and about operating collaboratively across the sometimes distinct cultures that comprise the components of the IPD course,” he says.
The Carnegie Mellon approach also produces students who can speak several corporate “languages.” Rebecca Nathenson (TPR’05) discovered that after years of working for start-up software firms in Silicon Valley, she needed to communicate equally with engineers and marketers. “In high tech, the job description is essentially to serve as translator,” she says. “You need to be able to speak their language, and if you can’t, you won’t be respected.”
This approach is not easy. In fact, it runs against the traditional perspective of more narrow, highly focused curriculum. But the results are highly valued among those who occupy the very top of the corporate ladder.
Donald Trump, at the conclusion of the third season of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” noted to the Associated Press that the winner, Kendra Todd, distinguished herself by working well with others who possessed diverse skills and talents. “I like that she’s a team player,” acknowledged Trump. “That’s how she ultimately won.”
The bottom line is that IPD, a microcosm of the Carnegie Mellon approach, pays off for both the corporate sponsor and the students. The company receives fresh ideas that can produce a marketable advantage, while the students gain invaluable experience working on everything from product prototypes to market-entry plans. They leave the university much better positioned to hear “you’re hired” and much more able to provide their employer with an immediate return on its investment.
Oh Yeah, the Sleeper Cab
So what does all of that have to do with Kapur’s sleeper cab?
As expected, Carnegie Mellon’s five teams of students enrolled in the spring IPD course produced five potential breakthrough products for the company to consider in its quest for a more homey truck cabin. While it’s still too early to tell exactly how many might become part of the sleeper cab, it’s clear that some Carnegie Mellon ideas will be pursued.
“We will be patenting several designs generated by this semester’s IPD course, with the objective of delivering one or more to the end customers,” Kapur says.
Sounds like “on the road again” and “home sweet home” could have whole new meanings in the future.
Master’s Degree Program in Product Development
Integrated Product Development MBA Track
“Creating Breakthrough Products,” the IPD course textbook by Jonathan Cagan and Craig Vogel
“The Design of Things to Come”
International Truck and Engine Corporation