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  • Writer's pictureJames

Marginal Gains v Transformational Change

In today’s business world, characterised by fluid supply chains, rapidly evolving technology, and intricate tax regimes, modern organisations are in a constant state of change. Lift the lid on most businesses and you would find them to be in the middle of a digital transformation, a change program, an organisational restructure, or all the above.

There is an argument that this type of sweeping change is often too disruptive to daily operations, and that’s why they can fail. The counter approach is to seek out small, measured, and impactful improvements rather than decide on massive disruptive change.

Why Not Transformation and Continuous Improvement?

Both approaches have a place across industries for companies trying to keep up with the fast pace of an ever-changing business environment, which can be because of external environment or technology developments, responding to competitors or due to new regulations, all of which require businesses to make changes, both large and small. The challenge is how to enable these big and small changes to co-exist and work together.

Sir David Brailsford introduced his theory that if you broke down everything that goes into racing cycles and improved it by just 1%, when you added those improvements together you were looking at a significant overall increase. His approach led to the hugely successful results of the British cycling teams at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Unsurprisingly, this ‘marginal gains theory’ was translated to the business world – by adding together small, incremental improvements in a business process, you can affect significant overall improvement. This approach has been extended to exercise and health regimes, education and learning, providing services, and beyond.

A complementary methodology is the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen, which promotes a similar mindset where small incremental changes create an impact over time, and by making many small improvements this can generate big results. Through methodologies such as Six Sigma and Lean, current day businesses across the globe adopt Kaizen to practice continuous improvement.

Agile Approach to Transformation

At any level, a transformation is the change that you want to bring about. By applying an iterative approach that underpins an Agile transformation, enabled by technology, businesses learn how to deal with continuous change and begin to work smarter, not harder, creating more value with less work (see my previous blog considering this topic).

Integral to these transformational change programs should be a drive for smaller, continuous improvement. These changes need not be necessarily at the organisation level but can implemented at a department, team or even process level.

If we take the premise that businesses are a collection of individual operations that are interconnected to create and deliver value and results, then an improvement at your team or business unit level can have a meaningful positive impact throughout your organisation. Modern organisations increasingly contain both hierarchal structures and networks, which co-exist and share data flows and processes.

A tax team that automates its quarterly forecast and delivers tax reporting even 1 day earlier each quarter not only gives the whole tax team 4 extra working days a year to add further value, but also will give review and analysis time to the finance and audit teams for critical deadlines, bringing comfort and an easier night’s sleep to the CFO!

Getting Started

The first step in considering a continuous improvement model is having a base line measurement of current processes and practices, and identifying the data and metrics that enable you to measure and track the impact of any changes made. By mapping out your processes and capturing these benchmarks, you can quickly start to discover inefficiencies that can be eliminated and improved upon - remove duplication, tidy up dirty data and implement automation and you’ll find many 1% savings that will soon add up.

Understanding the desired end state – like fixing a process bottleneck or deploying tools and resources more effectively – that is driving the transformation is also key. However, ignore perfection and focus on making progress and compounding improvements made. Consider adopting the Pareto principle of the 80/20 rule in your approach, identify and prioritise the areas for improvement that can yield the most impactful results.

What should also be kept in mind is that change needs to be managed, and the outcome of certain changes and improvements may not be immediately apparent. A process cycle may be quarterly or annual or can rely on other data sets and relationships in the network, and you may need to wait to see results.

However, the danger is that by looking for big gains in one go, you may end up ignoring compound effect of the smaller tweaks that result in significant improvement over time.

In today’s environment, doing nothing is not an option.


In the current fast-paced and competitive business environment, data process automation is no longer a luxury but a necessity. It's time to embrace the power of automation to streamline your data processes, improve efficiency and accuracy, and foster a more productive and satisfied workforce.

Start by identifying the low hanging fruit in your data processes and engage with experts to help you navigate the myriad of automation technologies and tailor a solution to your business needs. Invest in your employees' understanding and skills development to ensure a seamless transition and harness the full potential of data process automation.

At MJ Solution Consulting, we're dedicated to helping businesses like yours streamline and optimise their data processes. Our team can help you identify inefficiencies, develop tailored solutions, and implement best practices to drive significant improvements in your data management. Reach out to us today, and let's work together to take your data processes to the next level, empowering your business to thrive in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

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