Conway’s Law – Software/Systems Reflect The Organizational Structure That Created It

Just heard about Conway’s Law this weekend and even though it was coined in 1968 it seems incredibly relevant. Essentially the law states that systems (especially software) will reflect the organizational structure that created them. Going beyond the obvious aspect of organization of features, information architecture etc. it goes on to state that the software/system will reflect the disfunction of the organization that created it.

It is a consequence of the fact that two software modules A and B cannot interface correctly with each other unless the designer and implementer of A communicates with the designer and implementer of B. Thus the interface structure of a software system necessarily will show a congruence with the social structure of the organization that produced it.

Think about this next time your trying to implement something with a large, extended team.

Also what does this say about the organization between such companies as flickr, google, 37signals etc.

Also, does it imply that if we organize our teams with the software/sytems/products/services we want to create in mind will we create a better software/sytem/product/service?

If we want to create web2.0ish tools that are “simple tools, loosely coupled” should we have “simple teams, loosely coupled”?

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3 Comments

  1. Posted March 19, 2007 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    > Just heard about Conway’s Law

    Just curious, whom did you hear it from?

    I heard about Conway’s Law a couple of months ago, and found it, too, incredibly relevant for our company and for the whole industry (or set of industries) we are working in. Since then, I have been talking about it to everyone, and I have noticed that this “ideavirus” has now been resurrected and is now spreading fast :)

  2. karl long
    Posted March 19, 2007 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Actually I heard about it from some folks at Ideo

  3. Posted March 25, 2007 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I’d forgotten about Conway’s law, but I think it’s right on.

    Our research into experience design teams shows that the culture of the design organization is very important to the outcome of the experience. Organizations with a culture that thinks holistically are very likely to produce holistic experiences. Organizations that segment and silo will produce experiences that feel detached and conflicting.

    Good find!

    Jared

2 Trackbacks

  • [...] Karl Long recently posted a short article where he discusses the effect of organizational culture on experience design through Conway’s Law. Essentially the law states that systems (especially software) will reflect the organizational structure that created them. Going beyond the obvious aspect of organization of features, information architecture etc. it goes on to state that the software/system will reflect the disfunction of the organization that created it. [...]

  • By Conway’s Law and Ray Ozzie | BPWrap on April 6, 2007 at 10:10 am

    [...] Then UIE BrainSparks, one of my regular reads, had an item on Conway’s Law. This discussed a longer post by Karl Long, which covers more on Conway’s Law. Conway’s Law was devised in 1968 by Melvin Conway. It reads as follows: * Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations. * If you have four groups working on a compiler, you’ll get a 4-pass compiler. Or more concisely: * Any piece of software reflects the organizational structure that produced it. [...]

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