As an adult I’ve returned to various locations from my childhood and
found the white picket fences, station wagons, and neighborhood shops
transformed into rough, run down, and unsafe neighborhoods. This did
not happen overnight. What happened in these places is the same thing
that can happen in a business or your personal life. I call it the
“Broken Window Effect”
Imagine the perfect “Lake Wobegone”
neighborhood where everything is above average. A baseball goes through
a window, but the owner decides not to fix it. Then, because the house
looks a bit shabby, another neighbor leaves a junked car on the street.
Then a bit of graffiti is not cleaned up. Then folks stop picking up
garbage from their yards.
The same thing can happen inside a house. One
pile on the floor doesn’t take too much room, so a few more piles are
put around it. Before long, all floor spaces have piles on them.
Maintenance items are deferred and junk is not tossed. Years pass and
eventually the house is unhealthy to live in, but no one really notices
because it happened so gradually.
In IT organizations the Broken
Window Effect can occur when management begins to tolerate downtime,
constant workarounds, and broken processes.
How do we prevent the Broken Window Effect?
downtime incident is investigated within hours of the problem, and a
full report is issued to our weekly change control board meeting. The
meeting is not punitive, it is a learning environment attended by all
my technical managers so that the entire organization can learn
together. Questions include
Was there a process failure?Was there a training failure?Was there a policy failure?Was there a planning failure?Was there a lifecycle maintenance failure?
examining ever incident when it happens and by building a culture that
encourages constant improvement based on collective sharing of our
experiences, we ensure that “broken windows” are fixed and that problem
recurrence is minimized.
The change control board was created
after my Network collapse in 2002 because at that time we discovered
several aspects of the IS organization that needed improvement such as
Lack of transparency to downtime with details not openly shared among all groupsSilos of technical knowledgeA tendency to work around and patch rather than identify and correct root causes of problemsA
lack of planning projects as a coordinated whole with all services –
applications, networks, servers, storage, desktop – considered
components of a single comprehensive implementation.
control board is so rigorous that even I can get into trouble. I
recently implemented a health information exchange application update
and did not discuss it at the change control board. Thinking that it
was just a minor update, I assumed that there were no infrastructure
implications. However, given the fact that the application exchanges
data securely outside our firewall, involves databases, integration
engines, and application teams, it was important to brief everyone
first. My next directors meeting will include an overview of all our
health information exchange projects – past, present and future – for
all IS stakeholders.
On a personal level, I also try to avoid the broken window effect by renewing/maintaining all aspects of my life ie.
erase all emails older than 90 days and all files older than 1 year.
It’s really rare that issue has not been resolved after 90 days or
someone requests a file older than a year.
I replace my laptop every 2 years
I replace my blackberry every 2 years
I replace my clothes every 3 years
I keep no paper of any kind in my office and very little in my home. All my reading materials are digital.
season has its activities that lead to renewal – Spring house cleaning,
Summer planting, Fall yard cleanup, Winterization to prep the house for
Whether it’s your neighborhood, your home or your
office, I recommend you stay vigilant for the Broken Window Effect.
Fixing all those broken windows keeps everyone engaged in renewal.