If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it


There’s a nice expression in English that says ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Freely translated: ‘when something works, leave it alone.’

As I child, I didn’t really understand this expression, which is why the first PC at our house was disassembled within a few days, much to my parents’ frustration. Later in life, I realized that most of my fellow students had a similar experience. In proper English: ‘If it ain’t broke, tinker with it ‘till it is.’ However, if you disassemble a PC, the system won’t function for some time. This is a problem when your parents need to use the PC, but it becomes an even bigger problem when the system in question is a critical process and the disassembling is done professionally under the pretext of improvement.

We saw a fine example of this during the past quartile. My department had a well-functioning system for printing and distributing examinations. Teachers who had compiled an examination in time would send it to the administrative office, the staff would print a sufficient quantity of copies in the proper format and subsequently send these to the correct location. A nice supporting process that corresponds perfectly with the needs of staff members.

However, this process didn’t run quite as smoothly at other departments. And so, the system had to be disassembled and put together again. As a result, teachers now have to login to a printing service and indicate exactly how many examinations they need, how many they want printed in A4 size and how many in A3, how many examinations have to be sent to which hall, and who is going to pay for it. Little pieces of information that most teachers don’t have or aren’t interested in. Instead of sending a single email with a pdf, teachers now spend a lot of time collecting, entering and approving these bits of information.

Mobile laboratories

ICT support is another example, one that applies more specifically to the department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Many colleagues at other departments simply use the computer as a workplace, but at our department, we use computers as mobile laboratories - and laboratories need specialist support. Our decentralized ICT department understands that, and together they make sure that most wishes are complied with within a reasonable timeframe. A few dedicated members of the supporting staff represent a vast amount of specialist knowledge. However, this is another example of a well-functioning system that is slowly being dismantled. ICT needs to be standardized. You have to fill out a form to get anything done, and staff members have to account for every minute using so-called ‘tickets.’

And the unfortunate consequence of all this: staff members who continue to put their heart and soul into making sure that processes run smoothly don’t feel appreciated anymore, because suddenly, their assessment is no longer based on ‘customer’ satisfaction, but on the number of ‘tickets’ they manage to close on time. External portals make them invisible, but they are the ones who are held accountable when something goes wrong.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to call on TU/e’s administrators to ignore their natural, technical instincts, and stay true to the English expression ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

Share this article