Entropy is a term from physics that refers to the amount of “disorder” in a system. Unfortunately, the laws of thermodynamics guarantee that the entropy in the universe tends toward a maximum. When disorder increases in software, programmers call it “software rot.”
In inner cities, some buildings are beautiful and clean, while others are rotting hulks. Why? Researchers in the field of crime and urban discovered a fascinating trigger mechanism, one that very quickly turns a clean, intact, inhabited building into a smashed and abandoned derelict.
A broken window.
One broken window, left unrepaired for any substantial length of time, instills in the inhabitants of the building a sense of abandonment-a sense that the powers that be don’t care about the building. So another window gets broken. People start littering. Graffiti appears. Serious structural damage begins. In a relatively short space of time, the building becomes damaged beyond the owner’s desire to fix it, and the sense of a abandonment becomes reality.
The “Broken Window Theory” has inspired police departments in New York and other major cities to crack down on the small stuff in order to keep out the big stuff. It works: keeping on top of broken windows, graffiti, and other small infractions has reduced the serious crime level.
Don’t Live with Broken Windows
Don’t leave “broken windows” (bad designs, wrong decisions, or poor code) unrepaired. Fix each one as soon as it is discovered. If there is insufficient time to fix it properly, then board it up. Perhaps you can comment out the offending code, or display a “Not Implemented” message, or substitute dummy data instead. Take some action to prevent further damage and to show that your’re on top of the situation.
You may be thinking that no one has the time to go around cleaning up all the broken glass of a project. If you continue to think like that, then you’d better plan on getting a dumpster, or moving to another neighborhood. Don’t let entropy win.