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A Metaphorical Axe and Your Software

March 22, 2012

Today’s blog is a metaphor. And a story. It was inspired by conversations at a roundtable at the Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professionals Association Conference.

Andy and Bob were lumberjacks. To determine which was faster at chopping down trees, they entered into a wilderness competition. Placed in the middle of a big forest, each was given camping gear and an axe and told they could chop trees for as long as they wanted each day. They were told the size of trees that were acceptable, and at the end of a month, whoever had chopped more trees would be the winner.

On the first day, Andy and Bob started at the same time – dawn. Knowing how dangerous falling trees can be in the dark, Andy resolved to keep going until sunset, but Andy noticed Bob stopped a little earlier than sundown. Andy felt great, sure that this meant Bob was not as tough as Andy, and so Andy pushed on until dark, and even a little after, getting a nice lead in the number of trees he had chopped down.

A couple more days went by like this, with Bob stopping earlier than Andy, and Andy pushing hard. Andy was quite tired at the end of each day’s work, but he was happy with the lead he was building.

By the middle of the second week, however, he saw that Bob was catching up. For some reason, Bob was able to chop more trees each day than Andy, and Andy was a little frustrated. How could this be happening?

So, at the end of the second week, Andy followed Bob back to Bob’s camp to catch a look at what Bob was doing with the time he wasn’t spending chopping trees. And what was Bob doing?

He was sharpening his axe.

Now, no metaphor or analogy is perfect. One flaw in my metaphor is apparent if you think about the first sentence of my story: “Andy and Bob were lumberjacks.” If you are really a lumberjack, you know you have to clean and sharpen your axe. Duh.

Andy and Bob are IT managers. Their “axes” are the software that runs their IT departments. Andy thinks that you can just keep using your axe over and over again and keep up with the competition. Bob knows differently. You have to invest some time in sharpening your axe. No matter how wonderful your software was when you first bought it or wrote it, the competition is finding ways to make their software better. If you don’t do the same, then your axe will be dull – at least by comparison to the sharper axe of your competitor.

Frankly, I am amazed at the attitude of some companies that think software is a static asset, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Software is not a fixed asset. It needs to be refreshed over time. But this is not a cost – it’s an investment. Software – well-written software anyway – accrues value over time as new features are added, as new capabilities of languages and operating systems are used. As the axe gets sharper, it gains value. Furthermore, the lumberjack wielding the axe gains in value, too, as he invests time in understanding how his tool works and how it can be improved.

Bob is an IT manager. Andy may be one, too, but maybe not for as long as he’d like. Andy will just keep trimming the size of his staff, and holding off making needed updates to his software, to save money on the bottom line until no one can cut any trees at all. Then Andy’s boss can get rid of Andy and hire two guys and a saw to do the job. It’ll cost more, but apparently an axe is a bad tool.

Or maybe the person using the axe should have maintained it better?

Remember – ultimately it’s your axe.

I’m just sayin’.



Twitter: #ibmi, @Steve_Will_IBMi


Posted March 22, 2012| Permalink

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