Part of the activities during the Lean Experience workshop is a factory simulation—we build aircraft, very complex aircraft.  During the 1st round the noise is literally almost deafening.  The noise gets louder and louder the longer the simulation goes on and more as the system fails to deliver.  During the 2nd round, after redesign, it is remarkable how quiet and almost calm it becomes.  During the debrief we discuss how a structured system takes the noise out, both literally in the simulation, but also figuratively in every process in an organization.  We further discuss how difficult it was during round one for the participants to see problems and the opportunities to improve, help their fellow team members, or take advantage of their expertise or creativity.  During round two the problems and opportunities to improve are obvious, team members work together (even at times when they don’t necessarily like or respect each other), and it’s amazing the creative solutions that surface.  It’s not magic.  You simply can’t see the problems, effectively contribute or even be creative in chaos—“in all the noise”.  We only do two rounds but we are frequently asked if we will do another round to further improve.  The excitement for CI is encouraging.  In reality you often don’t hear the noise but it’s there and it has the same effects.  Another lesson learned is that the potential for noise increases with the complexity of the system. 

So what constitutes your everyday noise?  It could be quality issues including the quality of the information. Expectations are not defined or are ambiguous.  Problems surface but they are worked-around or even ignored.  Communication breaks down.  There are personality disagreements or conflicts.  It could be interruption in product or information flow.  Maybe it’s a broken connection or a failed activity. Even geography or layout can be an issue.  It’s all noise and there is more.  You may not hear it, but it creates the same problems in every part of your organization as it did in the simulation.

How do you eliminate the noise?  You can put on earmuffs or take action.  The answer is simple but execution can be difficult—STRUCTURE.  Structure every activity, every connection, every flow and every output.  Activities should have an identified owner, structured work content and sequence, timing and an expected result.  Connections should require the structure for what and when to request, what and when to respond, and a standard for how to do both.  Flow of information, product and people need to be simple (no waste), specific (only one way) and clearly understood.  Finally, outputs must have clearly and well defined expectations.