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Lessons Learned Case #4

Sharing stories to speed knowledge generation across global boundaries

Author/contributor: Dan Holtshouse

Applicable to: Knowledge sharing; storytelling; Business (People, process and technology alignment; Culture); Lessons learned about lessons learned

Ratings/reviews:

Story: In the process of keeping Xerox’s large fleet of copiers and printers working in customer’s environments, the service representatives would occasionally be faced with a new problem that they had not been trained for or had not seen before. Sometimes the problem, due to a new machine bug or a replacement part not working quite right, would take hours to resolve at the customer’s location. Finally after having solved the problem, the story of its solution would get told around the local service community of 10-15 people in workgroup meetings, parts drop or one-to-one over their communication devices. The problem, however, was that the solution to this new problem did not get out to the rest of the thousands of service workers spread around the globe so that other workers did not have to reinvent the wheel again.

To come up with a way to share these workplace stories globally and in real time, Xerox, led by PARC researchers, developed over several years a knowledge sharing system (Eureka) that became embedded within the service representative’s work process and workplace. The system eventually became so successful that it was credited with eliminating thousands of redundant calls to the help line and contributed double digit savings to the huge yearly service budget. Most, when they heard about the system, wanted to see the hardware and software but what was created was more about creating the right environment for the sharing to take place that fit within the culture and behavior climate of the workers. The technology and tools were secondary.

Setting (situational context):
  • Date and time: mid-1990's to present
  • People and their roles: Xerox field engineers and service technicians
  • Place: Story begins in France
Problem (symptoms/observations, why it’s a problem and the impact if not solved): Very low customer satisfaction ratings; often it would take weeks to resolve an issue which had already been resolved elsewhere

Goal (challenge): How to get solutions to problems out to over 25,000 service engineers and technicians around the world

Root cause (of the problem/challenge and how it was determined):

Solution (action taken and how it came about): Xerox PARC research labs converted a standalone database into a mobile, interactive knowledge-sharing platform called Eureka

Outcome (the end result and its impact): Eureka is deployed globally, even with a commercial spin-off for other applications; annual savings to Xerox estimated in the tens of millions of dollars

Analysis (what worked and why, what didn’t work and why):

Cautions/warnings:

Lesson (moral of the story, guidelines, rules, recommendations):
  • Start with finding the motivation of the worker to participate. In this case, the workers were not given any extra time or incentives to participate, they just wanted to.
  • Start small and get a good reputation for the system before scaling up. Workers will turn off if the initial experience is negative.
  • Put in place a formal vetting process to ensure a high quality knowledge base or the workers will not trust the solutions in the system and not use it.
  • Celebrate and recognize participation in the sharing process by having every solution identified by author. It helps weed out low quality input and also leverages community peer participation for wider enrollment in the system.
  • The technology is secondary, the community and the work culture is the most important nut to crack. This system was built within the work environment and became a self-sustaining knowledge sharing system that improved the performance of a very large service organization.
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