The customer set the work estimate down with a stunned look on his face, “You must be joking! We don’t have that kind of money!!” The mechanic nodded sympathetically, “Few people do these days.” The glum silence held for a moment as the mechanic considered his next words carefully, “Um, you do realize that you could get exactly what you want for about a third of my estimate, right?”

The customer’s brow shot up as he yelped, “Well why didn’t you tell me that to begin with! How?” The mechanic chuckled, “Buy a race car.” Seeing the crestfallen face across the desk, he asked, “Is that out of range?”

“No,” the customer sighed, “But my boss insists we find a way to transform this into something the same as or better than a race car. See, this little red wagon is his baby; he helped build it when he first joined us. He doesn’t like the idea of taking a loss on it, especially since it hasn’t actually broken down yet. He believes this just shouldn’t be that hard to do, after all, it’s just parts for a machine.” His hand rested on the rusted side and he patted it with a gentle smile, “It has kept us going a long time, you know.” The mechanic nodded sagely, “I see. Well, if you don’t mind my asking, how much do you spend a year on maintenance?” The customer grimaced, “You don’t want to know.”

They both took a moment to look at the wagon; over time, they had extra handles added so anyone could pull it from any side without having to walk around it. Extra stability bars and baskets were added to increase its carrying capacity. Manually pulling it eventually became too unwieldy; so, now, jutting out from the rear of the wagon, was an engine that looked like it had come off of a space shuttle; the worn gaskets and smell of burning oil combined with the scent of earth that had encrusted the tires so thickly that they were almost three times their normal size. Both remembered that conversation; the decision to leave the encrusted earth intact because removing it might result in the wagon being unable to sustain its competitively required capacity and top speed.

“Ok, well, how many people does it take to keep it operational between maintenance periods?” The customer laughed, “Oh, we’ve almost tripled in size over the last few years; most of our new hires do nothing BUT manage this.” The mechanic again nodded, “The cost of all those people and the maintenance is pretty high?” The customer snorted, “Let’s just say if we didn’t have to pay for all of it, we could easily buy a race car. Do you know we have a special team that does nothing but make sure the grit balance on those wheels remains in tolerance?”

The mechanic shook his head, acknowledging the words with a crooked smile, “So what happens when even regular maintenance and all those people can’t keep it running?” He held his hand up briefly to indicate another thought, “Wait, a better question: Can you possibly think the cost to upgrade or rebuild it is going to go down over time?”

If it were possible for the customer to look any unhappier, the mechanic couldn’t imagine it; the man heaved an even heavier sigh and said quietly, “No, I’m sure it won’t. And I really don’t want to think about what happens when we can’t keep it going. Everything we do relies on it.” He looked up with hope, “Can’t we just replace it a part at a time?”

The mechanic shook his head sadly, “Well, here’s the thing; they don’t make the original parts anymore, so those will have to be custom cast. And the upgrade that you did a few years ago means that none of the newer parts will fit or work properly even if custom cast without pulling most everything out, measuring it for recasting specifically to fit the custom design.”

The mechanic took a breath and continued, “The problem there is, anytime from here on that you want to make any changes, we’re going to have do the whole operation all over again, not to mention conduct a full re-balance and retest just to make sure it works as expected.” He shook his head grimly and added, “There is also the increasing probability that any time you try to do this in future, things have changed to the point that it’s no longer possible at all.”

He looked up at the customer and continued, “For the time, money, and resources, you’re going to spend at least four to eight times more than had you just bought a new race car; worst of all, at the end this project, if you go ahead with it, you’re still going to have to catch up with all the changes in engineering, not to mention new designs that came out since we got started… for each one, you can roughly estimate the cost of catching up is going to double or even triple what you are now considering.”

“So what do I do?” The customer asked in exasperation. “Well,” the mechanic replied, “I’m not sure you can do that much unless you can help your boss understand all of this. Even if you factor a parallel acquisition and implementation for a new race car, complete with a competitive freeze for the actual switch over, you’ve got a long road to go beyond that before the cost eclipses your current operational expense;” The mechanic winked at him, “Not to mention opportunity cost and risks of not getting that race car in your garage before your wagon finally quits or your competitors have long ago left you in the dust.”

They shook hands at the door, “Thank you for the honesty,” said the customer. “Anytime,” answered the mechanic, “After all, it’s not like agreeing to do this would be giving you the best service. Plus, it doesn’t really meet my personal rules for good business. I might take this to help you over the crisis; but afterward?” He scratched his chin absently, “I would probably refer you to someone who cares less about your future than how many of your dollars they can shove into their own pocket.” The customer chuckled, “I know; that’s why you have our business at all.”