Performance of industrial microorganisms as cell factories is limited by the capacity to channel nutrients to desired products, of which optimal production usually requires careful manipulation of process conditions, or strain improvement. The focus in process improvement is often on understanding and manipulating the regulation of metabolism. Nonetheless, one encounters situations where organisms are remarkably resilient to further optimization or their properties become unstable. Therefore it is important to understand the origin of these apparent limitations to find whether and how they can be improved. We argue that by considering fitness effects of regulation, a more generic explanation for certain behaviour can be obtained. In this view, apparent process limitations arise from trade-offs that cells faced as they evolved to improve fitness. A deeper understanding of such trade-offs using a systems biology approach can ultimately enhance performance of cell factories.