Gene Kim on scheduled maintenance

The excellent book The Phoenix Project has a choice quote that stuck with me.

In this scenario, the Yoda-like character asks the hero to imagine a company that makes deliveries. If the trucks break down, the deliveries stop, right? So you change the oil, since not changing the oil causes trucks to break down.

“Metaphors like oil changes help people make that connection. Preventative oil changes and maintenance policies are like preventative vendor patches and change management policies. By showing how IT risks jeopardize business performance measures, you can start making better business decisions.”

Here’s a real world example. More than a decade ago, I got a help desk call about a printer during tax season. A poor, miserable HP Laserjet 4050 or 4100 had dutifully printed several tens of thousands of sheets in a single day (they were going through multiple toner cartridges in a day), but it was falling over. Our service provider had just performed its scheduled maintenance on the printer a day before, and now it was failing. The problem was, the printer had done its monthly duty cycle in a single day.

But of course it was the IT department’s fault.

An imperfect (but understandable) metaphor would have been not to complain after driving from New York to Los Angeles and back that it’s already time to change the oil and rotate the tires when you did it a month ago.

This wasn’t IT’s fault (at least not in this case); they pressed a printer into service whose monthly duty cycle was about what they were trying to print in a single day. On the other extreme, we had someone in the executive’s office who had one of those printers that he didn’t share with anyone. The only problem he had was that his printing supplies wore out from age rather than from use. I bought one of those printers from a recycler a few years ago and that’s the problem I run up against.

The trouble we run into, frequently, is that the people who run the business just see IT as the people who get in the way all the time–for example, taking away e-mail for a few hours every month because they get their jollies rebooting servers.

Here’s how I might take the edge off that conversation.

“Do you like cars?”

“Well, yeah, I guess so.”

“Let me tell you about my Honda. It’s an ’02. I’m about to roll 200,000 miles on it. One of the reasons for that is because I put synthetic oil in it, and I get the oil changed every 6,000 miles or so. I wouldn’t say I like taking it to get the oil changed, but I like that the engine starts every single time I put the key in the ignition and turn it. Patching a server isn’t any more fun than getting my oil changed, but I’ve seen servers fail and stay down for days, so if I can prevent that by taking it down for 30 minutes every once in a while, wouldn’t you say that’s a better situation for everybody?”

Or, relating the Honda back to that printer: I drive 30 miles a day. I’m on my second radio, my fourth windshield, my third set of tires, and my third battery, but I’m still on my first engine and transmission. There’s a courier who uses the same mechanic as me, and drives an ’02 Civic like me, but he drives to Kansas City and back every single day. He doesn’t quite get 200,000 miles out of his engines and transmissions even though he does a better job of keeping up with his maintenance than I do. Using something a lot causes some of the parts to wear out faster.

2 thoughts on “Gene Kim on scheduled maintenance

  • January 1, 2014 at 5:09 pm
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    Why on Earth have you had to replace the windshield four times?

    • January 2, 2014 at 7:33 pm
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      Let’s see…. The first one was vandalism in the parking lot at work. The rest were from rocks flying off trucks at 60 mph on the highway. I deliberately try to avoid flatbeds and dump trucks, but inevitably sometimes I get boxed in near one.

      There are laws against unsecured cargo, but a lot of people ignore them.

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