Can Purchasing Use Some Aspects of Broken-Windows Theory?

By Tom DePaoli

July 24, 2015 at 4:34 AM

Broken-windows theory is primarily used in law enforcement. It is not a complex or very complicated approach in concept. When a neighborhood starts to show disorder, decay or even minor crimes occur, the police force acts aggressively to prevent further disorder and increases in crime. Then significant statistical analysis recommends where and how to deploy police resources. More enlightened law enforcement also tries to improve its personal connection, presence and understanding of the neighborhood at risk. This is to help uncover the root causes of the decline. Town hall and community meetings are used to listen to and solve neighborhood issues.

Can purchasing use any elements of this theory to be more effective? Yes, it can. Unfortunately, many organizations are not empowering employees, quite the opposite, they are ignoring them or at war with them. 

In my most recent book, Broken Windows Management in Business, I state, 

“The analogy is this. In many cities of the country there’s a fear of the streets especially if there’s disorder and things are in disarray. In many organizations there is a fear of management. No small part of this is due to employees not understanding the actions of management....Prevention of disorder and actually fixing things that employees say are wrong; goes a very long way in establishing trust and credibility with management.”

The empowerment aspects of the broken-windows theory require taking the time to listen to what employees want fixed and their issues. Fixing what is broke, no matter how minor, expeditiously and showing meaningful progress is critical. This requires a management commitment, but purchasing can contribute by ensuring that its suppliers can perform under pressure and quickly. Purchasing can also provide the resources to employees and maintenance personnel to easily fix the problems that they have identified. By providing a quick uncomplicated way to enable employees to handle such repair transactions on their own, purchasing can insure that it is not a barrier to fixing issues but rather a catalyst. 

Purchasing can also encourage the use of quick process improvement tools. In one of my previous blogs Procurement Needs to Lead Process Improvement, I noted that purchasing should employ and lead rapid process improvement tools like kaizens and some principles of lean. In fact the 5S concept can be used to help create order out of disorder much like the core principles of broken windows theory.

In 5S the five steps are as follows (Courtesy of the Kaizen Institute):

  • Sort: Sort out and separate that which is needed and not needed in the area.
  • Straighten: Arrange items that are needed so that they are ready and easy to use. Clearly identify locations for all items so that anyone can find them and return them once the task is completed.
  • Shine: Clean the workplace and equipment on a regular basis in order to maintain standards and identify defects.
  • Standardize: Revisit the first three of the 5S on a frequent basis and confirm the condition of the Gemba using standard procedures.
  • Sustain: Keep to the rules to maintain the standard and continue to improve every day.

In summary, although purchasing cannot make the corporate-wide decision to implement the principles of broken-windows management, purchasing can play a strong role in facilitating a broken-windows approach to management. I remain convinced that fixing a company’s broken windows, or listening to employees’ issues and fixing the issues quickly, does more for management credibility and trust, than any other approach.

Also see at My Purchasing Center, Can Appreciative Theory Work for Purchasing?

Tags: purchasing Supply chain management Careers Procurement Lean manufacturing sourcing management
Category: Blog Post

Tom DePaoli


Dr. Tom DePaoli is the Management Program Director at Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wisc., and the Principal (CEO) of which does general business consulting in the supply chain, Lean Six Sigma and human resources areas. Recently he retired from the Navy Reserve after more than 30 years of service. In other civilian careers, he was a supply chain and human resources executive with corporate purchasing turnaround experience and Lean Six Sigma deployments. He is the author of eight books and numerous articles. His Amazon author’s page is


Please add a comment

You must be logged in to leave a reply. Login »

Related Content

Thought Leadership and the Demise of Your Third-Party MRO Outsourcing Program: Part 4

George E. Krauter

When one defines third-party MRO (3PMRO) success, one assumes that fundamental operations are being executed and that expectations are being met (i.e., ROI goals are surpassed} Read More

Guidance for Addressing the New Talent Acquisition Challenge

Dennis Bouley

The US Labor Department reported in March of this year that there were 6.6 million job openings, a record high. Although most of us applaud these numbers Read More

Millennials in Supply Chain Management Seek Advancement and Development Opportunities

Marisa Brown

Millennials working in the supply chain management field don’t fit the mold that the older generation assumes for them. APQC’s recent study Read More

Supplier Profiles


Staples Advantage is the one supplier that offers all the business solutions you need, all with the expertise of a specialty vendor. Read More


It started in 1972 with an idea, a new concept in distribution. Today, Digi-Key Corporation is one of the fastest-growing electronic component distributors in the World. The stimulus for this growth is Digi-Key's customer-centered business philosophy… Read More

Lunney Advisory Group

Lunney Advisory Group was founded in 2007. Our firm is not your typical consulting company. Some members of our firm are highly qualified and experienced industry executives/practitioners while others are full time or adjunct university professors.… Read More


What CEOs Expect Of Purchasing

Guest Contributor

Procurement and supply management leaders have a seat at the table, and management’s expectations are high. But what do CEOs really want, and is purchasing delivering on these expectations? This webcast looks at how procurement and supply management … Read More

Growing Purchasing Influence On Indirect Spending

Guest Contributor

At world-class companies, purchasing’s influence touches just about every area of spending. But, how exactly do procurement teams get to the point where other departments approach them for help with sourcing such indirect categories as human resource… Read More

Procurement-Finance Collaboration

Guest Contributor

Procurement & finance are two business functions which are often at loggerheads with each other. One reason for this is the lack of perception alignment on an important metric of procurement and finance performance - 'savings'. Read More