Continuous Improvement – Fixing Yesterday’s Successes While Forgetting About Tomorrow’s Aspirations


If you currently find yourself in an assignment where the idea of continuous improvement has taken on a life of its own, I’d like you to consider the possibility that such efforts may have reached a plateau and may be counter intuitive to your organization’s strategic goals and objectives. The more tightly aligned you are to “fixing things” the less likely you are to innovate and certainly the more constrained you become over the long run.   While the idea of continuous improvement in the U.S. took root in the U.S. auto industry where we saw transformative benefit, we are not in the 80s and 90s anymore and it is time to question whether or not such efforts remain value add.

Your competitors are different and the market leaders are able to bring product to market faster.   While you are in the weeds looking at how to make widget “A” better, other companies are turning the page on next gen products and technologies that are “good enough” to grab share and build brand and a following.  I get it.  Blasphemous words from a Six Sigma Lean certified guy but I believe that we have seen some emerging consequences of what happens when you are so entrenched in fixing yesterday’s successes that you forget about tomorrow’s aspirations.  I certainly have an appreciation for making things better but I object to what can sometimes amount to an all-in, including the kitchen sink mentality that there is value to be found in continually tweaking things only to eventually come back full circle after adopting iterations of “improvements”.

If Japan taught U.S. companies about the importance of driving towards efficiency in manufacturing and product development through its rigid discipline and adherence to process improvement in the 80s and 90s, then surely we must look to the fallout of an economy that endured a period of stagnation and retreat known as “the lost decade”.  In 2014 Japan’s GDP of 2.2% fell more than a full point off from projections but was high enough to claim some margin of victory as it climbed out of a recession.   Nevertheless, some of Japan’s biggest electronic giants continue to post staggering multi-billion dollar losses.  When was the last time you bought a Panasonic product?

It’s time for us to get out of the my framework and 100 templates are better than yours churn that reinforces theoretical constructs but very rarely delivers measurable benefits and get back to the business of creating some new stuff.

I’d bank on demonstrated leadership in the Executive ranks and a group of managers who know how to identify talent and are hungry to close on opportunities that are in front of them over the billion dollar process improvement industry any day of the week.    Leave the utopic visionary process stuff to the consultants and let’s start innovating again.

About the Author

Gary Garris is a recovering process guy who likes to work with organizations who are interested in winning, excelling and thriving in product development, delivery and innovation.   Follow his blog at  or reach out to Gary directly at for business inquiries or opportunities.

Categories: Mentoring, Motivational, Project Execution