4 reasons to do small improvements

Jason Yip
2 min readAug 5, 2023
Prompt: “Create a cartoon image representing small improvements”

Implementing a small improvement is like deploying a single line of code.

“How long would it take your organization to deploy a change that involves just one single line of code?”

Mary Poppendieck, Tom Poppendieck, Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash

The purpose of deploying a change that involves just one single line of code is to use the simplest possible change to expose systemic obstacles in the deployment process.

Implementing a small improvement serves the same purpose in exposing systemic obstacles in organisational change.

Any successful improvement undermines the narrative that change can’t happen.

It’s harder to believe that “nothing gets better here” when you see something successfully improve. Small improvement attempts are the easiest to try and the most likely to be successful.

Successful improvement builds momentum and makes the next improvement easier.

Once people see a successful improvement and start to believe that “things can get better here”, they’re more likely to believe in and support further improvements which make those further improvement easier to try and more likely to be successful… which further increases the belief that “things can get better here”, supporting even more improvements…

Small improvements limit damage if they fail.

Large failures tend to discourage further attempts to improve. Small improvement attempts are less likely to fail but even if they do fail, tend not to have that much negative impact, so are less likely to discourage further attempts.

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Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl