A father was sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a late afternoon cup of tea, when his daughter came bounding in after her Saturday soccer game. She had a skinned knee and a huge smile on her face,
“Well, it looks like somebody had a good game…” Dad said.
“Yeah, I scored a goal!” the daughter proudly proclaimed.
“That’s awesome!” Dad replied “How much did you guys win by?”
“Win? We didn’t win, we lost 10-1.”"Any organization that designs a system will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure." Click To Tweet
Back in 1967, Mel Conway submitted a paper called “How Do Committees Invent?” to the Harvard Business Review (HBR)
They rejected it, on the grounds that he had not proved his thesis.
He later submitted it to Datamation one of the major IT magazines of that time and got it published in April 1968. A 4-page PDF of the Conway’s paper can be downloaded here.
Conway’s thesis is:
“Any organization that designs a system (defined more broadly than just information systems) will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.”
Fred Brooks cited the idea in his elegant classic “The Mythical Man-Month,” calling it “Conway’s Law.” The name stuck.
There are many applications and important corollaries.
- “If you have four groups working on a compiler, you’ll get a 4-pass compiler.” ( Eric S. Raymond (October 1996). The New Hacker’s Dictionary – 3rd Edition. ISBN 978-0-262-68092-9.)
- If the parts of an organization (e.g., teams, departments, or subdivisions) do not closely reflect the essential parts of the product, or if the relationship between organizations do not reflect the relationships between product parts, then the project will be in trouble … Therefore: Make sure the organization is compatible with the product architecture. Coplien and Harrison (July 2004). Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development. ISBN 978-0-13-146740-8.
- Organizations often produce web sites with a content and structure which mirrors the internal concerns of the organization rather than the needs of the users of the site.
Conway’s law was not intended as a joke or a Zen koan, but as a valid sociological observation: the structure of any system necessarily will show congruence with the social structure of the organization that produced it.
Which begs the question: How does your organizational structure lend itself to building the best product for your customer?How does your organizational structure lend itself to building the best product for your customer? Click To Tweet