The Understated Importance of Incremental Changes

To paraphrase Peter Drucker, there is romance in innovation and invention, but flashes of genius usually don’t take you far; what carries you far is hard, organized and purposeful work. There are too many projects that never leave the drawing board, fail to be implemented because of the concerns or fail outright because someone didn’t take all the risks and resource requirements into account when attempting to make major changes.

Why are incremental changes a better approach compared to making major changes, whether making changes to workflows or back office processes?

  • You’re more likely to have the resources to make a small change than a big one, seeing return on investment for small ones than arguing for large ones that may never be made.
  • You can try something small, and if it works, build upon it.
  • The risk of smaller projects is smaller because they are less complex, less likely to go wrong.
  • You have the ability to undo a small change more easily than a major change. This improves the buy-in of stakeholders to the change.
  • The ability to test smaller changes in one work group or site versus massive overhauls reduces the odds of mistakes. In contrast, “tear it all down and rebuild” could hurt you when you need it functioning and you don’t have it running and even lack the resources to rebuild.
  • Smaller changes should be followed by thorough studies on the impact of the changes. Only then can you consider the next change. For large projects, you may not have an apples to apples comparison of the before and after state.
  • Incremental changes to address problems may eliminate the need for proposed and costly large projects.
  • Incremental changes let you make improvements toward one goal and more quickly change direction if another issue becomes a higher priority, whether cost, quality, waste or cycle time.
  • The cost of the incremental projects is not undermined by the extended shut-downs or learning curves major changes entail. The ROI for smaller projects is thus usually much greater.
  • You can’t guarantee a breakthrough, but you can guarantee progress toward a goal through repeated iterations of incremental improvement.