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System Design and Management student testing new offering for Lyft

Riders can schedule cars for busy times, like pre-dawn airport trips.

By Kathyrn M. O'Neill  |  October 18, 2016

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Shelley Chan

Customers of the ride-hailing service Lyft can now schedule rides up to seven days in advance, thanks in part to the work of MIT Sloan student and Lyft senior analyst Shelley Chan.

“This new feature satisfies a new use case. It's for users who are looking for something in addition to the on-demand part of Lyft’s service. It gives them peace of mind that a ride will be on its way when they need it,” said Chan, whose team has been responsible for determining metrics to measure the success of the feature.

Founded in 2012, Lyft operates in over 200 cities, offering more than 14 million rides per month nationwide. The new scheduled ride feature, which is available in San Francisco and also being tested in Chicago, Miami, Portland, and Denver, enables customers to plan ahead for transportation at times when on-demand services might be in short supply, such as pre-dawn trips to the airport.

“We need to ensure confidence,” Chan said, noting that her team is keeping tabs on the new offering by tracking such factors as on-time arrivals. “We’re still looking at how to make the experience better … to figure out what it feels like from a passenger perspective and from a driver perspective.”

What drivers think matters, Chan said, because treating them well is a competitive differentiator for the business. “We are … driver community–centric. That’s very important to us.”

While Chan works full time at Lyft, she is also enrolled as a distance student in MIT’s System Design and Management, a program offered jointly by MIT Sloan and MIT’s School of Engineering that leads to a master’s degree in engineering and management. The program, which centers on addressing complex problems by examining all the interconnected aspects of a system, offers distance learning as a way for students to continue to work while pursuing graduate studies. Chan is currently taking the program’s core course from her home in California, participating remotely in live classes.

Chan, who has an engineering degree from Princeton and several years of experience as a management consultant, said she was drawn to System Design and Management because it combines her interests in engineering and business. “The SDM way of thinking is applicable to any industry. You can apply it to a technical challenge, but you can also think about how it applies to the organization,” she said.

Chan said that over the years, she has observed that engineers typically zero in on product details while senior managers look primarily at the big picture—so that each group often misses something that the other can see.

“I feel like there is a mismatch between people with business skills and people with technical skills. I looked for something that bridged the gap,” Chan said.

Chan said she is already learning things she can use on the job. “Probably within the first week I found lectures applicable to my stakeholders today,” she said. “I work with a few different teams in the company, so it’s helping me think about how different outputs will impact each other.”