a waste basked with scrunched up paper around it
The Power of Your Frustrations
May 27, 2024
a waste basked with scrunched up paper around it
The Power of Your Frustrations
May 27, 2024
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Noise and Standard Work

smiling person holding up the book called "noise

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel-winning father of behavioural economics, died last month shortly after his 90th birthday. To mark his life, Steve Levitt replayed an episode of his podcast ‘People I (mostly) admire’ where Daniel discusses his research resulting in the book ‘Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement.’

Noise is the fact that two people execute the same work in a different way, and as a result produce a different outcome. Daniel’s research has quantified this variation, which he calls Noise, and found that in some areas it was a great as 50%. It is obvious that this Noise can be hugely expensive for a business. As a Lean practitioner this is interesting, as it has all to do with Standard work and the financial justification for adapting Standard Work in any business.

In the same week, I had a conversation with my son, who works for an engineering company designing foundation protections for offshore windmill parks. He is currently part of two similar projects: one that is already in operation and the other is still in the design phase. Let’s call them project A (in operation) and B (in planning). Both projects use the same ship to deposit these structures on the sea bottom. The team leader of project B wants him to go and see the work of project A, to make sure he can observe the work to make a better design. Excellent Lean thinking, go to the Gemba.

The interesting part is that the team leader of project A does not find it necessary for my son to travel to the ship to observe the work that he is currently improving. Both team leaders are part of the same excellent engineering company. This example shows that a site visit is not part of standard operating procedure, but at the discretion of the team leader. It would be interesting to find out the cost/magnitude of the resulting noise.

When thinking about Standard Work, I generally visualise a task or piece of work with a discrete timeframe, e.g. operating a machine, or preparing a quote. This example shows that Standard Work also applies to the work of highly trained professionals. For these functions, Standard Work needs to be balanced with judgment based on expertise. The challenge lies in the word “balance”.

I love it when a few things come together and make you think and see concepts from a new perspective. So, I have dusted off my copy of Noise and I am going to read it a second time. I am sure I will learn something new.

About the author: Liddy Bakker is a Director of Productivity People.