Adapting Lean Six Sigma at Xerox

Gregory North

When you know where you are going and that it is a place you want to be, change is exciting, says Gregory North, Vice President of Corporate Lean Six Sigma at Xerox. Here's how Xerox is evolving the who, the how and the what of Lean Six Sigma.

It is often said that most people resist change. In my experience people resist change only when the need for change is not clear, how it will benefit them is not made explicit, or where change is leading is not known.

My family and I recently moved from Boston to Rochester when I joined Xerox and we were a little unsure how our 12 year old would handle the transition. But when we took her for a visit – gave her a chance to see the area, meet other kids in the school she would be attending, take in a few of the local sights – she came home excited about the move, telling her Boston friends about all the cool things to do in Rochester. Her subsequent transition has been remarkably smooth because she not only knew what to expect, she also knew what she liked about the change.

Change in the world of business is no different. When you know where you are going and that it is a place you want to be, change is exciting.

When Anne Mulcahy launched Lean Six Sigma at Xerox in 2003 the purpose was clear – use Lean Six Sigma skills and insights to change the way we do business, with a goal of both improving the customers’ experience and becoming more cost competitive. Ever since then Lean Six Sigma-trained employees have played a key role in making big change happen at Xerox, from forging a unified business process and IT infrastructure in Europe to perfecting the features on our iGen®press. When Mulcahy passed the leadership role to Ursula Burns in 2009, the first woman-to-woman CEO transition in a Fortune 500 company, Xerox’s commitment to Lean Six Sigma was strengthened further as she was one its earliest proponents. Now Ursula is challenging Lean Six Sigma to help the company master the skills needed to meet the transformational challenges facing us today.

Xerox is in the process of transforming, from an acknowledged leader in printing technology to a business that is services-led and technology-driven. This is a major break from the traditional perception of Xerox as a copier company, but when Xerox acquired Affiliated Computer Services, a leader in business process and IT outsourcing, it was clear that transformation was well underway.

To meet that challenge, and help accelerate the pace of change at Xerox, we recognized that Lean Six Sigma would have to change – become more agile, more capable of driving transformation across all of our company’s functions and geographies, and more relevant to every employee as they engage in their daily work. We call this next phase in our quality journey, Lean Six Sigma 2.0.

Lean Six Sigma 2.0 changes the who, how and what of our approach to process excellence.

The Who

Lean Six Sigma is not just for Black or Green Belts anymore. The idea that Lean Six Sigma principles apply to all employees at all levels is the foundation of our culture of continuous improvement. We are engaging the entire Xerox population through our new QwikSolverTMtool set that gets to the heart of the DMAIC process in just five simple questions. With QwikSolver, employees at Xerox can address the problems they face in their daily work without having to have a belt, get a belt involved or start up a project.

We’re using a viral, train-the-trainer approach to spread QwikSolver to the masses, and it’s taking off like wild fire. We started by training a small group, who were responsible for training the next group, and so on. We started a spark and our employees are curious and eager to know how they can be a part of this change. In less than a year nearly 6,000 Xerox employees around the globe have been trained in QwikSolver.

The How

We are also taking a tough look at how we execute Lean Six Sigma projects. We’re placing a much greater emphasis on leveraging innovation tools to assure we surface new ideas and use the fastest path to convert those new ideas into actions. We want our belts to ask themselves, "Is there any particular reason we can’t use a Kaizen instead of a full blown DMAIC project? Why not start with QwikSolver?" The goal is the shortest path from defining the problem to implementing the best solution. One definition of "best" is "simplest" – and in Lean Six Sigma 2.0 we have set the clear expectation that when we touch a process we need to make it simpler, taking complexity out and strengthening value add.

The What

Most important aspects of Lean Six Sigma 2.0 is making sure that we are focusing on the critical X’s that drive the Y’s of our change agenda at Xerox. We are aligning our best Master Black Belts with our most important company-wide initiatives. We are redoubling our focus on the customer experience – requiring that every project have a clear line of sight to its customer impact. As processes today tend to cut across functions, we are stressing an end-to-end scan of the value chain – including suppliers, partners and customers – to identify opportunities and constraints.

More than ever before, Xerox is about change. Our service offering is changing our customer’s way of doing business – and inside Xerox we are changing to assure that our offering is best in class. To help us stay on top of these waves of change, Lean Six Sigma at Xerox is changing too. More and more it is something we use every day, at every level – from driving our most strategic multi-year initiatives to solving basic daily problems. And as we have seen with the rapid take off of QwikSolver, our employees are excited about what this change means for them.

Hear more from Gregory North and the changes that Xerox is making in this Process Perspectives podcast: Time for Lean Six Sigma to Grow Up? QwikSolver and Lean Six Sigma 2.0 at Xerox