The Grey Chronicles


If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It

Coming from toy shopping for the Holidays, I came across a magazine article used as wrapper for one of the toys. I was immediately intrigued by its title and was soon reading the fallacy of “If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It” which meant to warn against unnecessary action. Apparently, the advise may be the height of wisdom, but it also represents poor judgment and lack of foresight.

The article, which unfortunately was without any authorship or devoid of which magazine was it published, also included on how to use this fallacy especially to situations where remedy, repair, and other constructive action is contemplated. To properly apply “If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It”, the following questions might as well serve as a guide. These questions may refer to people as well as machines or equipment:

1. Does careful consideration suggest that there is nothing to gain by fixing? If so, accept the “if it ain’t broke” dictum but schedule another check at a future date.

2. Do the warning symptoms suggest a need for action? If Yes, proceed with a repair or remedy. If No, proceed to the next question.

3. Has examination been made carefully enough to detect minor but significant problems? If No, reinspect, or call in a more expert expert. If Yes, ask question 4.

4. Is the diagnosis clear? If so, does it involve: (1) a physical malfunction; (2) timing that is off, out of phase, and so on; (3) elements that are worn down; or (4) other problems? The fixing operation should suit the need, in terms of people doing the repair and the repair they’ll be doing.

5. Something may not be broken, but may till need cleaning, refurbishing, or maintenance procedures such as greasing, oiling, or replacement of work parts.

101 Greatest Ideas in ManagementAt first glance, I noticed that the above quoted words were very eerily familiar. Sure enough, I searched for my copy of Auren Uris’s book 101 Greatest Ideas in Management (1986) and the article freely used the same exact words. Maybe somewhere in the article, whoever wrote it also acknowledged Uris’ book or at least made mention of that fact.

What lured me to read the article was the last line which stated:

“ … don’t let the apparently unassailable logic of “If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It” intimidate you. Both the tense of the verb and the meaning of “broke” are ambiguous. A thing need not be broken to warrant attention. Today’s perfection may herald tomorrow’s breakdown.”

I have written previously about the Obamas cautioning White House’s visitors of not breaking anything and applied it to the present scheme of things. I will not be repeating the same lines written before, for my dear readers might deduce that I am already losing my grip or that I do not anything more to write about. The previous post was written months before the Grey Day in September, and thus, it still stands.

With my professional background in line with facility maintenance, this dictum was also very prominent when I was a Maintenance Planner for various production lines in National Steel Corporation’s cold-rolling mills. Back then, every vulnerable equipment part was afforded with something called an Insurance Spare. The latter, although carried in the Central Warehouse, sit idly and just wait for the opportunity of being brought online. With NSC being Iligan-based, equipment parts—control cards, valves, or even fuses—with invariably long purchasing lead times were kept at close hand. In the event that the installed component at the production line sustains damage, the Insurance Spare could readily be withdrawn from the Warehouse and the production line could be brought online back again in a matter of minutes.

The caveat of this scheme, NSC still carried a sizable portion of these Insurance Spares even when it closed down in 1999. I remember sometime in 1995 when the head of the Facility Maintenance, also my professor in the Master in Business Management [MBM], introduced Just-In-Time [JIT] in a seminar. One of the participants asked whether JIT was appropriate for NSC. My professor replied that with the Philippines surrounded with possible spare parts suppliers in China, Japan, or Australia there is a need for such a company to handle the warehousing of such spare parts and thus there is an urgency for the establishment of an Special Economic Zone [SEZ] near NSC. If such Zone exist, spare parts suppliers could be enticed to establish branches here and inclusively supply NSC. With them near NSC, there would be no need for the company to carry a sizable amount in terms of cost and number of these Insurance Spares, literally: tied down costs, which could be profitably used elsewhere. He also predicted that with the implementation of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement [AFTA] the importation of such spare parts will be at reduced tariffs and thus more to the advantage of those companies settling at the Special Economic Zone. Unfortunately, even after ten years, the SEZ remains a dream.

In retrospect, it was easy to decide then whether to fix or replace. More often than not, Maintenance Planners opted for the latter using the Insurance Spare. Equipment delay was seemingly an anathema to the respective Maintenance Planner of each line because response to a prolonged delay is included as one of the Key Result Areas [KRA] in the latter’s job performance. At NSC, job performance is related to renumeration.

If the component could be fixed, but at some considerable time, the Insurance Spare was withdrawn from Stores and installed while the defective part was repaired in one of the various NSC engineering shops: instrumentation, electronic, electrical, mechanical, structural, hydraulic, or fabrication. The experts’ diagnoses were also insightful, but they gravitate toward the same line: replace with Insurance Spare with the pulled out component sent to the repair shops.

Furthermore, when all was said and done, the incident—the particular equipment breakdown—was analyzed up to component level. When the root cause was identified, appropriate actions were also planned not only with that particular, but also of similar, component or equipment across all production lines. If the identification of the root cause was elusive, continuous monitoring of such component and/or equipment is laid out and an inspection, servicing, repair or replacement [ISR] maintenance activity is ordered for the next Maintenance Downturn.

Aha! The joy of finding gems in the trash! And they surely brought back memories . . .


Uris, Auren (1986). 101 Greatest Ideas in Management. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1986. pp. 195-6. back to text.

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 LicenseDisclaimer: The posts herein do not necessarily represent any organization’s positions, strategies or opinions. Read the full version of self-imposed rules for this blog: A New Year; New Rules. Unless otherwise expressly stated, the posts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Comments are moderated to keep the discussion relevant and civil. Readers are responsible for their own statements.



  1. the line/adage you state is something i’m looking to find an original mention of including name and date said.

    Comment by m harrington — 2010.March.10 @ 09:53 | Reply

    • Sorry, I only have the quoted line but no attribution.

      Comment by reyadel — 2010.March.13 @ 18:37 | Reply

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