La théorie de la vitre brisée : une ode à l’agilité ? 

The broken windows theory is a theory established and published in 1982 by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson. It analyzes the impact of the police on the sentiment of security, stating that it is not directly the criminality that generates a feeling of insecurity, but the feeling of insecurity that allows the criminality to settle. 

This is based on the following analogy: 

If you leave broken windows on a building without repairing them, the other windows will be broken too. Leaving that one window unrepaired supports the idea that it's okay to break the others.


How does this relate to agility?

This theory is ultimately a call for discipline. In the same way that it is not recommended to let a broken window or a burnt car in your neighborhood, making concessions, bending rules or avoiding some responsibilities could largely have consequences for the agile team and the delivery quality.

If this discipline is not the prerogative of an agile context, it is a key element in it, as the empowerment of the teams is key.


Few examples of deviations that need to be quickly corrected to cultivate excellence within an agile team.

Software development and code production.

When developing professionally, the triptych of code, unit tests and technical documentation is to be considered as atomic: 

  • The code meets a need. 
  • The tests ensure the adequacy of the expected behavior and guarantee the durability of the product development.
  • The documentation ensures the durability of its maintenance.

Apart from the very specific case of the POC (Proof of Concept), each time that concessions have been accepted to this rule of atomicity, due to lack of experience, lack of competence, or pressure, the quality of the production has collapsed.

Visual management

Agile teams generally rely on visual management, whether physical or virtual. 

When it is allowed to go unmaintained, it ends up being considered unreliable and therefore abandoned (or put on a drip by a zealous Scrum Master who will exhaust himself trying to compensate for the lack of involvement of his colleagues...)

Rules and empowerment fundamental to a "self-organized" team

If an agile team is a self-organized team, it does not mean that it is free of rules. It simply happens that the rules followed by the team are determined by the team itself.

Arrangements and circumventions tolerated by even one member are inevitably destructive to the team dynamic. The meaning of the work, motivation and quality are the first to suffer.  

Meetings: agenda and timing are key.

When participating to meetings or workshops, it is quite common not to respect the agenda. Worse, some meetings have no announced agenda. The consequences are immediate: digressions, lack of interest, non-achievement of objectives, apprehension about the relevance of future work sessions and absenteeism... 

Likewise, respecting the timeboxing is key. The best examples are the daily scrums (or daily stand-ups). These meetings aim at efficiency, must be completed in 15 minutes and respect a precise framework. To reach your objectives in such a short time, it is essential that everyone is aware of their role and the impact of a delay. Inspired by SAFe, why not plan "Meet After" sessions where topics can be discussed with only the people involved? 


The broken window theory was revived in the 90's as the basis for New York City Mayor (Rudy Giuliani)'s policy to fight crime and delinquency. If the issues are not the same at work, it is not uncommon to witness abuses or omissions. Therefore, relying on this theory can be useful for any manager of agile teams to get a feel for the impact of these behaviors. Remember that no one is immune to deviation and that it is always easier to be vigilant collectively.

Christophe Deniaud, Agile Practice Leader
Christophe Deniaud, Agile Practice Leader
Christophe Deniaud, Agile Practice Leader

Christophe Deniaud

agile practice leader

Christophe Deniaud has been passionate about agility since his (almost) accidental encounter with this natural and disruptive mindset more than 18 years ago. With a solid experience in accompanying teams through their organizational transitions, he has been contributing to the development of agility at Ausy since 2009, and more particularly now through the animation of the agile practice on a national scale.