John Deere - Commercial Mowing Cost Tool MBA 541 | Spring 2017

John Deere's challenge

In 2016, John Deere’s marketing and sales teams did not have a tool to provide customers with detailed costing information about its different models of lawn mowers.

Such a tool would:

  • Help customers compare options and make an informed purchase decision
  • make it easier for the marketing and sales teams to show business owners which mowers they should sell in their stores
  • provide an opportunity for John Deere to improve its relationships with its dealers and direct customers

The assignment

John Deere turned to a team of MBA students from NC State to create the costing tool with expectations that it would lead to increased customer satisfaction, improved word of mouth recommendations, increased repeat purchasing and overall higher profits.

The students' approach

Before they could begin developing the tool, the students had to coordinate extensively with the John Deere team to identify specific needs and desired outcomes.

They determined that the tool needed to:

  • have the flexibility to compare two or three John Deere mower models
  • be able to eventually incorporate the data of competitor products
  • be user friendly and adaptable to other types of John Deere products in the future

The team then moved forward with building the tool using Microsoft Excel.

They created an interface that would allow John Deere's marketing and sales reps to input multiple factors based on a customer's needs (e.g. labor costs) and share a summarized estimated total cost of ownership for each product model with the customer.


The finished tool consisted of five tabs:

  1. Input Tab - Where the marketing and sales reps could input the customers’ unique data points
  2. Model Data - Where the output data for the mowers is housed
  3. Calculations - The engine of the tool; where all calculations are automatically performed based on values in the first two tabs
  4. TOC Report - Provides a simple, color-coded representation of the most to least cost effective mower based on total cost of ownership
  5. Annual Op Costs Report - Presents the customer with information about what they should expect in terms of maintenance and operating costs of the mowers

The team also provided John Deere with instructions on how to add new components, manipulate existing data tables and adapt the tool for use with other John Deere platforms or for competitor comparisons.

Additionally, they provided the company with several recommendations to further increase the use and functionality of the tool, such as to obtain and utilize average cutting speeds for each mower instead of maximum cutting speeds (which would more accurately reflect operating costs).

“What I found most valuable about working on this project was learning how to very clearly define a project and create a strategic plan. These are skills I use regularly in my career, so having the opportunity to do this as part of this project helped set me up for many successes in my professional life. I also enjoyed working with John Deere, a company that is very analytics focused and passionate about working with the SCRC. Our project sponsor was an absolute pleasure to work with and helped keep us enthusiastic about the whole experience. Overall, working with the SCRC on this project was one of the highlights of my time in the MBA program.” — Brian Neal, Jenkins MBA alumnus
— Brian Neal, Jenkins MBA alumnus

The students shared their work at the Poole College of Management's Leadership & Innovation Showcase, where they received 2nd place honors.

“This project was unique in that the scope was very clear on what the output was targeted to achieve, but the customer was quite open-ended on how the team would deliver the required function and result. Nicole, Brian and Justin worked with urgency early on to understand the John Deere team's priorities, especially regarding how the sales team would utilize the model they were tasked to create. Once they clearly understood the business challenge, the project team worked very closely with their customer reviewing their progress weekly and presenting their work to the end-users many times during the semester. The final result of this project was outstanding, matching the effort of the students and the coordination and cooperation between this team and their customer.” — John Zapko, faculty advisor
John Zapko, faculty advisor



The NC State team

Justin Angel

Brian Neal

Nicole Seabrook

John Zapko (faculty advisor)

The John Deere team

Mike Schobert

Denver Caldwell

Ken Taylor

Anthony Navia