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Melvin Conway

Conway’s Law

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While Nigel has you thinking about how you govern your agile projects I want you to spend some time thinking about a man by the name of Melvin Conway.  In 1968 he made this observation:

“…organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

I often paraphrase this as:

“Your system’s architecture will match your org chart”

Even with the flattest, non-hierarchical org structure the way you organise your teams, even the way they are physically situated leaves a lasting finger print on any technology platforms you build.  If you have three teams which are fairly autonomously building a large system, don’t be surprised to find three different applications communicating via a series of APIs.  If you have a geographically distributed team, expect to find highly modularised systems with lots of code focused on decoupling.  If you have a large monolithic development team you’ll find a large monolithic application.

This is especially true of agile projects where decisions about your platforms are not taken by a command and control style group of enterprise architects but instead handed to the builders of individual components.  Often when talking about org design I hear something along the lines of this … “There is no perfect org structure, so this one will do” … while I think the first part is true, take a moment to think if the org structure is going to breed a sustainable platform architecture before you decide if it will do.

“Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.” – Albert Einstein.

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