Process Noise


“I stare out to sea enjoying the peace of this place. The rhythm of the waves and its noise  as waves wash up onto the sandy beach – it is harmonious. Then all is disturbed by a  rumble of thunder. Then another, louder and closer. The whole scene is changed. I am on  edge. When will the next clap of thunder come, and when the lightning?”

A sudden drop in customer demand, a machine that starts to break down, a bug in some computer software, the
arrival of a new manager, a take-over or a merger. These are ‘noisy’ processes, which can distract an organisation
and people working in it. Some changes in processes can be ‘noisy, and can take people’s attention away from
what they are or should be doing. Sometimes this distraction can have benefits in the long run – a “big bang” switch-
over to a new computer system, for example.

The negative impact of ‘noisy processes can have a very direct, physical or psychological impact on us. For example,
a noisy air conditioning system can inhibit our ability to concentrate.

So, process innovation can focus on reducing noise associated with or generated by a particular process.

Story time…

Dealing with noise 

Alan’s office was located next to the photocopying room, which was used by many people as a place to meet to
exchange gossip while they waited for their photocopies. Alan had to write quality reports on most days and found the
noise very distracting. Finally, he decided to do something about it and brought the issue up with his boss at their
Monday morning meeting. Together they considered a range of innovations to reduce the noise generated by this
process. These included:

– Relocation for Alan

– Better soundproofing for his office

– Requesting people to photocopy in silence

– Renting quieter photocopying machines.

Alan’s writing process needed quiet. Noise distracted him and this impacted on the accuracy of some of his figures. It
was decided to relocate Alan to an office where there was less noise and he wouldn’t be so easily distracted. However,
another innovation also arose. The process of analysis required a very high level of concentration so it was easy for
any other process to distract Alan. Some software was identified which could carry out some of the standard work
Alan currently did manually such as ‘analysing variance’. This simplified Alan’s worked and reduced the need for him
to be locked away for so long is total peace and quiet. Something he didn’t really enjoy being sociable by nature.

Process Noise Activity

Here’s a list of possible ‘noisy’ processes in your organisation. Put a score next to each item in terms of how ‘noisy’
that process is from your own perspective. Then put a second score in terms of how ‘distracting it is for you.

Score 1 to 10 for noise, where 1 is least noisy and 10 in extremely noisy.

Score 1 to 10 for distraction, where 1 is least distracting and 10 is extremely distracting

Noisy physical environment

Noisy co-workers

Too much change going on around you

A noisy ‘grapevine’ – a lot of gossip

Information overload – to much information arriving on your desk

The items, which you scored highest, are ripe for process innovation. This innovation will focus on reducing the
amount of noise to a minimum, particularly if it is distracting.


Visit the Innovation Realm

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