Sending Employees to SDM Program Pays Off for John Deere

Niels Dybro

October 1, 2010Editor’s note: Niels Dybro compiled this report from a number of sources at John Deere. Dybro is a staff engineer at John Deere’s Moline Technology Innovation Center. The one-year SDM certificate program discussed below features three courses from the SDM curriculum—system architecture, systems engineering, and product design and development—as well as a capstone project.

John Deere is a world leader in providing advanced products and services and is committed to the success of customers whose work is linked to the land — those who cultivate, harvest, transform, enrich, and build upon the land to meet the world’s dramatically increasing need for food, fuel, shelter, and infrastructure. Since 1837, John Deere has delivered innovative products of superior quality built on a tradition of integrity.

John Deere has been involved with the MIT SDM program for over four years. John Deere recognizes that systems engineering is a critical competency for managing the complexity of current and future products and services. Its goal is to move from a component-centric organization to a systems-centric organization, one that seamlessly integrates mechanical, electronic, hydraulic, power, information, and communications technologies.

To find SDM Certificate candidates in our diverse, decentralized company, we have organized a Nominating Team consisting of engineering managers and senior engineers that advocate the systems engineer approach. The Nominating Team members span each business unit and most of the design engineering centers in John Deere. Each team member identifies potential SDM Certificate candidates in their business unit, often working within the business unit’s Human Resource process, and then works with the individual’s supervisor to ensure the candidate’s qualifications using a matrix, similar to a trade-study, with must-have “needs” and scored “wants” criteria, from basic engineering skills to leadership and systems thinking abilities.

Finally, the team meets to review all candidates and their evaluations to make sure each is qualified and we can reach consensus on the pool of candidates as a whole. At that point, we inform the candidate so they can decide whether they have the interest and can make the commitment to the program.

Over the five years John Deere has sponsored students for the SDM program, 57 engineers from around the enterprise have participated in the certificate program and four are currently pursuing the master’s degree. Here are three examples of what certificate candidates do at John Deere and what they learned from the program:

Genevieve Flanagan is the Test Laboratory Automation Lead for the John Deere Power Systems’ Engine Engineering Test facility located in Waterloo, IA. In this role, she is responsible for developing and coordinating all of the software, databases, and applications in the automated engine test cell system.

Flanagan completed the SDM certificate program in 2009, and is now a member of the 2010 SDM masters program. She has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

During the certificate program Flanagan’s cross-unit team developed an architecture for a sensor network optimized for the worksites that John Deere serves. Creating a network that provides a means for worksite data to be collected is a critical enabler for an integrated decision support system for customers.

Robert Haun is a senior engineer in Advanced Research and Development. Haun has been with John Deere for 12 years and has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He is currently working on a robotic military vehicle program in the roles of lead systems engineer and lead mechanical engineer. He is involved in the development and integration of drive-by-wire solutions onto base production utility vehicles and the integration of the high-level robotics technologies. He interfaces with technology partners to incorporate customer specific payloads and with military customers for requirements gathering, demonstrations, training, and deliveries.

Haun was in the first SDM certificate program group to be sponsored by John Deere. His team’s capstone project utilized tools from the program to select EPA Tier Four engine emissions solutions for the 25 to 40 Hp tractors. Through Pugh concept selection, they found that they needed to change their focus from assigning values to criteria as in a typical decision analysis to developing new concepts.

Tyler Schleicher is senior systems engineer in JD Intelligent Vehicle Systems. Schleicher has been with John Deere for nine years and has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in agricultural engineering. He received his SDM certificate in September 2008.

The coursework was a great supplement to what he does in his day-to-day work, which involves ensuring the precision farming products that John Deere develops will meet customer’s needs and expectations in the field. To do that, he is responsible for identifying the stakeholders and documenting their needs along with how they expect their products to meet those needs.

In addition to requirements, he also leads or participates in concept selection, product architecture, make/buy and re-use decisions. His three-member capstone team’s project was a cross-divisional effort to merge GreenStar precision control with a Compact Utility Tractor, thereby providing customers with hands-free final grading capability. The resulting prototype was called GradeStar, which utilized many of the SDM tools in a real-world application.

We anticipate that by sending people through the SDM program we will create the future engineering leaders for the company. We also believe we now are near critical mass for making a lasting impact on John Deere’s business through deployment of common vocabulary, common tools and methods, and people who can spread this knowledge among the workforce for even greater benefits.