This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Query: the classic Xerox repair techs story

In listening to some podcasts today, I heard the familiar knowledge management story of the Xerox repair technicians.  But it came with a different ending than I recall.

So, the story goes that Xerox (probably the folks at Xerox PARC, including John Seely Brown) investigated the performance of the repair technicians.  They go to client sites, fix copiers and other Xerox equipment.  They also had common meeting places for briefings and other activities.

The version I know has the powers-that-be at Xerox deciding the central meeting places were irrelevant to the jobs of the repair technicians and that they could do more repair work with radios and pagers.  However, performance went down -- performance in terms of return calls to fix equipment and length-of-stay at any one customer.  The investigation discovered that without the regular contact over lunch or coffee, the technicians were in the dark about the latest tricks and tips for fixing the equipment. 

The version I heard today twists this a little.  In this telling, Xerox realized the importance of the communication and gave the technicians radios with the express intent of putting them into contact with one another, so that they could help each other.  In that case, it extended the reach of the regular contact, and performance improved.

Can anyone shed light on which version is correct?  Fast company has an article by John Seely Brown from October 1995, The People Are the Company, that validates the second version.  It goes into more detail about how they decided to use the radios and what they did next, which was the classic KM success story of the Eureka knowledge repository.  I wonder where I got the version that was stuck in my head.

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