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A machine with low maintenance requirements was a critical input element John Deere product planners received from customers during the development phase of the new 60 Series Combines.
When the challenge is developing new harvest technologies, finding the proper balance of customer input on potential features and design is critical to market success. Incorporating too many diverse ideas might result in a machine very few producers could afford; too little and the result could be a product that very few would want.

"Customers played a critical role in the development of both the 60 Series Combines and the 600 Series Grain Platforms," notes Bob Malcolm, manager of product planning, John Deere Harvester Works. "The key is to look to producers for direction, not solutions. Our job is to come up with the solutions by analyzing the input they share. Customers help us identify current and future trends, which translate into drivers for change in engineering and product specifications."


Although the process of compiling customer input is never-ending - from product satisfaction surveys, dealer meetings, farm shows and other forms of direct contact - focus groups also play a critical role in any new product development process.

According to Malcolm, the product planning team worked with three distinct customer groups on the new harvesting systems. Included was a group with a corn/soybean focus, another with a small-grain emphasis (including both producers and custom harvesters), and a third focused on the development of the new Class V STS.

Using the corn/soy group as an example, Malcolm says, "These customers had one thing in common: the production of corn and soybeans. Beyond that, it was a very diverse group with different ideas, needs and priorities."

That diversity is key for a couple of reasons. First, it helps uncover a range of issues for consideration during the product-planning process. Second, it helps validate the work of the product development team when that team keeps hearing about the same core issues that affect a wide range of customers with a wide range of experiences.

"In a nutshell, the key issues with our customers were productivity (acres per hour), uptime, simplicity of operation, low maintenance requirements and product support. So these served as main areas of focus during the development process for both our combines and our new grain platforms," Malcolm notes.


The customer focus groups, Malcolm emphasizes, are very much a two-way relationship. "We share a lot of information about our business - in fact, just about everything short of financials. We have to do this because we realize the more we give, the more we'll get back. Candor is extremely important."

That candor - a company hearing what it needs to hear, not just what it wants to hear - is crucial in the ultimate development of a top-quality product.

"We value our customers' input, and that is demonstrated by the fact that we act on their input," Malcolm says. "It helps ensure the products we introduce meet the needs of the market as well as our customers' expectations of quality from any piece of equipment that carries the John Deere brand." AM

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