Saturday, May 08, 2004

Broken Windows

Something that I've been pushing with Kowari recently.

Don't Live with Broken Windows "You don't want to let technical debt get out of hand. You want to stop the small problems before they grow into big problems. Mayor Guiliani used this approach very successfully in New York City. By being very tough on minor quality of life infractions like jaywalking, graffiti, pan handling—crimes you wouldn't think mattered—he cut the major crime rates of murder, burglary, and robbery by about half over four or five years.

In the realm of psychology, this actually works. If you do something to keep on top of the small problems, they don't grow and become big problems. They don't inflict collateral damage. Bad code can cause a tremendous amount of collateral damage unrelated to its own function. It will start hurting other things in the system, if you're not on top of it. So you don't want to allow broken windows on your project.

As soon as something is broken—whether it is a bug in the code, a problem with your process, a bad requirement, bad documentation—something you know is just wrong, you really have to stop and address it right then and there. Just fix it. And if you just can't fix it, put up police tape around it. Nail plywood over it. Make sure everybody knows it is broken, that they shouldn't trust it, shouldn't go near it. It is as important to show you are on top of the situation as it is to actually fix the problem. As soon as something is broken and not fixed, it starts spreading a malaise across the team. "Well, that's broken. Oh I just broke that. Oh well." "
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