Kärcher’s Process for Developing a New Product that Captured the Market

I love a good product story — how the seed of an idea transforms into a tangible product or intangible service that provides value to customers. One reason I love these stories is because how much can be learned from them.  And, this is a good product story, one that includes industry awards the product has received.

I learned about the journey of this product from 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 the consumer, commercial and industrial sectors. He 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.

From the discussion with Bill, product managers and innovators will learn about:

  1. identifying customer needs,
  2. using Voice of the Customer research to uncover and prioritize needs,
  3. navigating the Lean cycle of Build, Measure, and Learn, and
  4. launching successfully.

Below is a summary of questions discussed followed by a link to the interview.

Where does this product story start?

It begins with Kärcher North America, 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?



Listen to the interviewheadphones-2 with Bill on the Everyday Innovator Podcast.


image credit: depositphotos.com


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Chad McAllisterChad McAllister, Ph.D. is a product innovation guide, innovation management educator, and recovering engineer. He leads Product Innovation Educators, which trains product managers to create products customers love. He also hosts The Everyday Innovator weekly podcast, sharing knowledge from innovation thought leaders and practitioners. Follow @ChadMcAllister

Chad McAllister




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