“If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Try to Fix It”

By | February 16, 2012

For the last several weeks, the Business Improvement Group on LinkedIn has had an ongoing discussion on whether the old adage, “If it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it” is still relevant in the contemporary business environment. The full range of viewpoints have been put forth, from “don’t mess with what’s working”, to “don’t settle for the status quo”. The majority seems to weigh in on the side of continuing to improve as a requirement to stay competitive and survive in today’s economy.

Several important points can be extracted from the discussion. The first point is on the definition of “broke”. Do you look at it from the perspective of internal operations, or based on customer requirements and feedback? It would seem that many people who are satisfied status quo do not look outside their organization’s business operations at what is happening in the broader business environment with customer requirements and new technologies. As it relates to our industry, even the best run commercial print operations are struggling due to changes in customer demand and competitive technologies both which are driving down volume and price. The second point that I found in this discussion is that even in companies that understand the importance of change, many of the failures, (and new Coke was used as an example), have to do with not clarifying and documenting the driving forces behind the improvements being sought. Entering into a business improvement project without a clear understanding of the business environment, including business goals, customer needs and technology, is almost certain to fall short of expectations.

A Business Process Improvement methodology can be a helpful tool in deciding whether something is “broke”, and what to do to fix it. BPI provides a framework and structure for answering these questions, and is definitely still relevant to contemporary business and especially our industry, where both customer demands and technology changes are happening at a very rapid pace. Where is your business on the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” continuum?

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One thought on ““If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Try to Fix It”

  1. Joel Salus

    Interesting thoughts, Richard, and thank you for sharing them. From my perspective (at 65, and having had great success with two former businesses; now, I’m semi-retired), my opinion is that, when you consider that “the only constant is change” – and that especially applies to the printing industry (and to the reprographics industry as well) – if one adopts the mentality of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, one will be left in the dust. I prefer to say that old adage another way: “just because it ain’t broke, does not mean that it can’t be improved.” Personally, I think business people must have an open mind to change, an open mind about progress … and should constantly be looking for ways to improve their business model. When speaking to young people, I like to share with them a story I’ve told many times; it has to do with my first company. In 1970, our sales were a bit less than $100,000 (yes, annual sales), at the same time, our largest neighborhood competitor was doing around $400,000 in sales. We were founded in 1963, my competitor was founded around the turn of the century. When I sold and retired from my first company, our sales were around $26.8 mil; our competitor’s sales were less than $1.5 mil. It was 1988. We had grown a lot; our competitor had (adjusted for inflation) barely grown. We never considered our business to be perfect, ever. Even though our business was never broken (hearken back to “it ain’t broke”), we were constantly looking for ways to improve it. I don’t know why any businessperson would not want to constantly be on the lookout for ways to grow, even if change is constantly required. We did not always make the right decisions. But, success in business isn’t a matter of always making perfect decisions – after all, it is impossible to always be perfect – success in business is simply a matter of making more right decisions than wrong decisions; hopefully, the right decisions will outweigh the wrong decisions.

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