Using Lean Six Sigma Methodologies to Dream with Customers: A Xerox Case Study

Xerox has evolved its innovation process by focusing on customer pain points for research inspiration and product enhancement. The approach is called "dreaming with customers"; and it promises future technologies that reduce processes or systems that aren’t as effective and efficient as needed.

According to Sophie Vandebroek, Xerox Chief Technology Officer, "Customer pain points power innovation. Engaging the customer early and dreaming together is truly beneficial. It provides inspiration to guide our inventions and turns them into innovations that become critical customer assets."

Proof of the Power of the "Dreaming with Customers" Approach

The power of "dreaming with customers" recently led to the development of a pioneering set of software tools and a unique method to optimize and manage print shops more efficiently than ever before. The process called Lean Document Production (LDP) is protected by more than 60 patents and was a finalist for the top international award for operations research.

In addition, the Xerox iGen4™ press—the most productive and highest-quality cut-sheet digital press in the printing industry—is wildly successful thanks in part to Lean Six Sigma. The Xerox Innovation Group was tasked with finding ways to address Xerox iGen3™ customer feedback for what was to become the iGen4 press. The team invited Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Jeff Knauss to lead a project helping them identify the core challenges facing customers. Knauss worked with the team to eliminate "solution jumping" and focus on explicit customer requirements.


"The Lean Six Sigma process encouraged us to be very disciplined in defining our goals. Taking the time to really understand what the customer was facing was critical so that all the engineers could address the right solutions for both current and potential customers," said Mark Gwaltney, Xerox iGen product manager.

Knauss recommended gathering input from potential customers—those new to the digital color world or ones currently running competitors’ equipment. He also encouraged members of the iGen4 press team to "walk the customer’s process" and observe press operators in action to fully understand their needs.

This direct interaction between researchers and customers creates an intimate understanding of key customer needs. The traditional tools of market inquiry are employed in combination with customer dreaming sessions, customer interaction knowledge repositories and ethnographic work practice studies. Focusing on the Voice of the Customer allowed the team to identify what was needed to make the iGen4 press not only achieve the highest image quality, but also satisfy customers’ productivity requirements.

Lean Document Production and product development, such as the iGen4 press, are just two examples of how Xerox integrates the principles of Lean Six Sigma into nearly everything it does, both inside the company as well as in the services offered to customers.