Fix broken windows

In March 1982, a paper was written about how some housing estates decayed over time and became places where crime thrived. The reason was broken windows.

Apparently, when a broken window goes for a long period of time without being repaired, it sends a subtle signal to everyone around that the place is uncared for, and a spiral of decay follows. This was a story used in the book The Pragmatic Programmer to talk about software quality, standards and collective code ownership. When you look after the small things, the big things are easier to deal with.

I was recently at a customer site doing a review of a major program and I was trawling through their documentation on a wiki. Unfortunately, most of it was out of date, wrong and incomplete. The major source of knowledge and sharing of information wasn’t useful or usable. More problematic, it told people the wrong thing. People stated that there were 3 different ‘eras’ of information on the site, and it was useful if you knew where to look. The problem was that most of the new folks didn’t know where to look.

Standards slip very easily. Not just on estates, wikis and in code – in all areas of life.


What broken windows exist in your work life? Are there areas where you can fix a few small things to ensure the big things remain easier to deal with?

Related content