Innovation is not an event. It’s a long process that depends on incremental changes along the way. These small adjustments may not seem momentous on their own. Yet in their context, they can be game-changing. Figuring out how to cook a pizza thirty seconds faster doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you make seven million pizzas a day, that tiny alteration suddenly has a major effect.

These kinds of modifications to an existing procedure are called process improvement systems. This form of innovation emphasizes the craft of production. Implementing apparently small but ultimately significant enhancements is a reliable and stable way of ensuring sustainable growth.

Process improvement systems will lead you to any of the following goals:

  • Optimizing resource use
  • Managing complex activities effectively
  • Aligning organizational design with key processes
  • Establishing and articulating clear roles and responsibilities

First, discuss the issue at hand and identify the problem that needs to be fixed. Ask yourself these questions: how does it occur? Where does it occur? When does it occur? Whose problem is it? These will help you select opportunities for improvement.

Try multiple options at the same time and then reconvene in two or three weeks to see what’s working and what’s not working. Now, determine the opportunity with the highest success rate and integrate these process improvements on a large scale.

Once you’ve made the change, it’s time to extend what you’ve learned. Develop simple rules of thumb based on the lessons learned–rules that you incorporate into the existing structure and procedures of your organization:

  • Technical rules: best ways to perform certain tasks, tricks of the trade, safety procedures
  • Situational rules: time allocation, priorities, boundaries
  • Behavioral rules: actions, values, attitudes
  • Leadership rules: leadership styles, mission, esprit de corps
  • Financial rules: expense approvals, rates of return, budgets

In our age where big data reigns, it’s easier than ever to find out what’s going wrong. And it’s just as easy to quickly model the things that we can do to fix these mistakes. Innovation doesn’t always have to be radical. The beauty of process improvement systems is that nothing big or unexpected happens. Surrender your imagination to the facts at hand. Don’t try to seek out a grand vision when a smaller change will do. Remember that sometimes doing more with less is the best solution.