Wednesday, April 24, 2013

LGO: One Year Out

It has been nearly one year since I graduated from the LGOprogram, and with the LGO alumni conference coming up in a week, this seems like an appropriate time to write an update on my post-LGO life and reflect back on my time in the program.

The past year in review

If wrapping up a whirlwind two years at MIT wasn’t reason enough to take a break (it probably wasn’t), then having a newborn certainly was.  The transition period between school and work provided the perfect opportunity for a healthy dose of family time, some of it relaxing and some of it not (I mentioned I had a newborn, right?).  I STRONGLY recommend that anyone who has a chance to take a few months off does so.  We don’t get many of these natural breaks during the course of our lives, so why not enjoy it while we can?
Beautiful Amgen Rhode Island. 
Yes, that is a picture of the entire state.
I started my job at Amgen in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, in mid-August.  As I described in a previous post, as you surely remember, this position is the first of three 18-month roles in a leadership rotation program at Amgen designed specifically for LGO graduates.  There have been twelve LGO students hired into the program since 2008, including four in the 2013 class who will be starting up this summer.  It's a small but strong network, and the perks to newcomers like me are immense, as I describe later.
The opportunity to join rotations like Amgen’s was a somewhat unexpected benefit of the LGO program.  Many of the partner companies design roles to be filled by LGO students, and having such catered options is no small matter during the mayhem that is a full-time MBA job search. Not only do these types of positions simplify the process, but they also fit very nicely with our educational background.  In a way, they are an extension of the LGO program, almost like an apprenticeship. 

What I do

I work in a group with the unusual and mysterious name of “Digital Development.”  When we’re not trying to explain to people what that means, we help lead implementations of advanced process monitoring tools.  In our world, advanced process monitoring typically involves using multivariate models to evaluate, in real time, a current production run relative to historical runs.  We also assess the use of new technology (e.g., sensors and probes) that enable us to measure more meaningful process parameters. 
Amgen's syringes aren't
actually filled with money. No, they
are filled with liquid gold.
My job is focused on doing this work in a specific part of the process – the filling and packaging area – which, to date, has underutilized these types of tools (not just at Amgen, but throughout the industry). 
The work is fascinating in that it has given me a window into nearly everything Amgen does to prepare a product for delivery to our customers.  Perhaps the biggest revelation has been just how important it is to our financial well-being and our relationship with our customers to minimize product defects.  A vial or syringe contains material produced through many months of complex manufacturing, so when one breaks during processing we lose the time and the money that went into that making it.  Even worse, when a customer receives a defective product (this could include something as subtle as a scratched vial), they are put at risk, and so is our reputation as a company.  

How MIT has helped

Here’s a little tidbit that shouldn’t come as a surprise: there are many things you learn in school that you will never encounter again in your life.  Those Monteverdi operas I suffered through in my Baroque class at Williams?  They haven't exactly come up at any recent Amgen meetings.  Nevertheless, I have been pleased to already put to use some concepts from MIT classes and seminars.  Below are a few examples that I hope demonstrate the practicality of the LGO experience.
Lean/Six Sigma: My group’s projects generally follow the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) framework that is a foundational principle of Six Sigma.  This is something we learned about during our very first summer in LGO and then repeatedly came across throughout our time in the program.  It’s such a simple concept, but without it our initiatives would almost certainly fail to meet their goals.
Financial acumen: I don’t need to know much about finance for my job at Amgen, but knowing anything at all has proved to be an asset (no pun intended…really!).  All of our projects require a business justification, and a critical component of that is an estimate of the financial benefits.  I have spent a lot of time assessing how Amgen’s financial statements might be impacted by our work and using this information to buttress our business case.
Design of Experiments (DOE): Who knew that the famous helicopter project could have a lasting
The good 'ol days: making helicopters.
impact?  My role here involves some use of experimental design, and while the projects might not be quite as fun to execute as the helicopter drops were, the results are probably somewhat more meaningful (assuming, of course, that Roy doesn’t sell those class project results to Sikorsky).
“Soft” skills: There’s a lot of griping in school about the “soft” skill classes, like OP, Comm, Leadership, etc., yet we were told by countless alumni of the long-term value of the concepts and methods we learned in each.  There’s a reason for that: IT MATTERS!  My interactions over the phone, over email, in meetings, and one-on-one play a huge part in my success or lack thereof.  This has been especially true during the early months of this job, as I’ve relied heavily on others for help.  If I’d not asked questions effectively, or if I didn’t understand Amgen's informal networks, I may have shot myself in the foot before that foot even got in the door. (Double metaphor = 50 points!)
Operations Strategy: I’ll admit I haven’t yet had many chances to pull any tools off my Operations Strategy belt, but I continue to wear the belt regardless.  In fact, I have found myself performing meaningless inventory calculations just for the fun of it.  (That sentence is both a testament to the life-changing impact of an LGO education, and an indication of the extreme nerdiness that we embody upon graduation from MIT.)  
Here is proof:
I like tea.  At work, the best tea option is Lipton Green Tea.  Not exactly a luxury brand, but that's fine with me.  Because I like tea so much, and because I like numbers so much, I started keeping track of how much green tea is available at the nearest kitchenette area whenever I go to get my first cup of the day.  
Here's what the inventory number have looked like since I started doing this:
You'll notice we had a stockout in March.  I had to walk ALL THE WAY to the next kitchenette to get my tea for three whole days.  Not fun.  Based on the data collected, our service level is ~95%.  Is that good enough?  I think not.  What we need is a consistent reorder point, rather than the seemingly random approach taken now. To get this, we need some more stats.  Here's the average daily consumption:
There is an alarming point embedded here: I drink almost 40% of the tea in this area.  It's almost like Amgen is buying this tea just for me.  That makes me feel pretty special.  
In any case, if we want to strive for a 99% service level, what should be our reorder point?
Reorder Point = mean demand + safety factor*std dev
R = 4.5 + 2.4*3.0 
[2.4 is the safety factor for a 99.2% service level]
R = 11.7 tea bags remaining
I will be sure to pass this essential information along to our service provider as soon as I get the chance.

What’s next

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.  The flexibility of Amgen’s rotation program is both a blessing and a curse; I have so many options to choose from, I can’t decide which direction to go.  I’m told this is alright, since I still have 10 months before I move to my next rotation.  Still, it’s something I think about nearly every day.  Whatever choice I make, however, will not be uninformed.  Amgen provides too many resources for that to happen.  Here’s a sampling of the help I’m getting with this:
  • Supervisor: I have weekly meetings with my supervisor, and he has shown enthusiasm for helping me in my career development. 
September 16, 2009
NOT my experience.
  • Mentor: As an LGO alumnus, I have the privilege of being matched with an executive mentor at Amgen.  We meet monthly to discuss, well, really anything we want to.  Much of the conversation is focused on leadership development, but the relationship is really designed to provide us LGO alums with access to someone who has already achieved great things and can advise us on how to shape our own career paths.
  • Amgen LGO Alumni Network: Beyond the obvious benefit of having familiar faces scattered around the company, my fellow LGO alumni represent a great resource, given that they have all already gone through exactly what I’m going through now.  We have biweekly phone calls to chat with one another as a group, and many of these conversations have come in the form of extremely helpful advice.
So, in summary, I’ve had a great first eight months on the job.  There’s really something to be said for working at a company with a strong LGO network.  There are so many people looking out for me and helping me in my transition, all of which has made for a relatively easy adjustment.  In the spirit of paying it forward, I eagerly await doing the same for our next batch of hires and interns. 
One final note: I’ll plan on updating this blog once per year in perpetuity, so interested readers can see how the life of an LGO alum progresses (or doesn’t). Talk to you in a year...


  1. Looking forward to seeing you at the Alumni conference and your next post in a year.

  2. Your Blog post has very helpful information.
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