Listen to the Interview
This interview is a great discussion about a product story — from how the product concept was developed all the way through launch, including industry awards the product has received. My guest is Bill Ott, Executive Vice President of the product development organization at Kärcher. They are the world’s leading manufacturer of cleaning equipment. Bill is a hands-on executive with global experience in private, Fortune 500 and start-up environments within the consumer, commercial and industrial sectors. Bill started his career as a design engineer and progressed from an individual contributor to management roles while working for IBM, Thomson Consumer Electronics and Philips Electronics.
In our discussion, product managers will learn about:
- identifying customer needs,
- using Voice of the Customer research to uncover and prioritize needs,
- navigating the Lean cycle of Build, Measure, and Learn, and
- launching successfully.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of some questions discussed:
- Where does this product story start? Karcher North America is the market leader in carpet extraction cleaning. The core product line was 15 years old and in need of innovation.
- How did you identify what the customer needed? Our goal for improving the product line was to decrease the time it took to clean carpet by 30%. That formed the basis of our fundamental requirements and resulted in what we call a concept definition package. We added objectives of reducing work effort that causes fatigue and adding agility so the carpet cleaning machine could work in small spaces like hotel rooms. Our Concept Team takes it from there. The Concept Team consists of the product manager, an industrial designer, an engineer and a project manager. They have the responsibility of developing the concept that ultimately goes to development. Next is voice of the customer (VOC) research.
- How was the VOC research conducted? We have a skilled group of ethnographic researchers. We do interviews as well, but a lot of the time we actual watch the operators use the equipment and visually observe reactions, how they go about doing their job, where the pain points are, and ultimately creating a map of the processes they use. We conducted VOC research with existing customers that matched our target market for the new product: universities, schools, hotels, airports, office buildings, and casinos – anywhere with large amounts of carpet.
- What happened after the VOC research? We accumulated a long list of needs from VOC research. We apply the Build, Measure, Learn cycle from the lean startup methodology. Our designers conduct brainstorming and use affinity diagramming to organize ideas for solving the needs. Those ideas are narrowed, focusing on the highest potential, and then prototyping of the ideas begins. We invite some customers to our lab to provide feedback, helping with the “measure” part of the lean cycle. Then we learn from the feedback and conduct another round of Build, Measure, Learn. Another tool we rely on is Value Stream Mapping. We have a lean master who facilitates a meeting with the Concept Team to map out the complete process from the point in time that the operator shows up to clean carpet to putting the machine back in the closet, including when the space with the carpet can be used again. This helps us identify areas of waste to eliminate.
- What is the finished product?
For more, listen to the interview or read the transcript below.
- Bill’s LinkedIn profile
- Product video showcasing the product Bill’s team created, the Armada.
- Karcher’s US website
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and follower.” – Steve Jobs
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.