This is a term used in the tech biz for when a company or team is no longer investing in a feature, tool, or app. They put it into “maintenance mode” and don’t work on it until something breaks.

Of course, something always breaks.

It sounds good at face value. We can keep something we built going while simultaneously devoting our time to building something new.

Win-win.

Except that everything needs regular upkeep or it decays. Our tools rust, our cars break, our apps go out of date, our bodies atrophy, our relationships fall apart.

Fixing things that are broken is hard. When you don’t regularly maintain something, you forget how it works and might no longer have the necessary tools.

Just ask anyone who stopped exercising for a few years how they got back into shape or a divorcee how they saved their marriage. I guarantee you if you can find anyone that did either (rare) it was very hard and they wished they’d never let it get to that point.

Of course, there is a fine line between too much maintenance and not enough. In Steady state and the trigger for change, Seth Godin wrote that:

“Setting the triggers for action is best done in advance, and maintained regularly. Waiting for a crisis is expensive and risky.” – Seth Godin

I totally agree.

In The Disappearing Art Of Maintenance, the author Alex Vuocolo describes how a regular (and unpopular) maintenance routine kept New York City’s R32 trains running 23 years past their expected lifetime. They also describe how a pragmatic maintenance framework might help in much bigger arenas, like climate change.

The concept is compelling.

I know that I’m guilty of treating far too many things in my life with a “break-fix” mentality.

From here on out, I’m going to try to think differently.

Maintenance mode is a good thing.


Comments welcome!

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