Conway’s Law

What is Conway’s Law and on what observation is it based?

Smartpedia: Conway’s Law states that the structure of a system to be developed is predetermined by the communication structure of the implementing organisation.

Conway’s Law – the system as a direct result of the organisation

Melvin Edward Conway – a US-American developer – published an article about “How Do Committees Invent” in 1968 in “Datamation”, one of the most famous IT magazines of that time. One of the theses was: “Any organisation that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organisation’s communication structure.” Frederick Phillips Brooks Jr. – an American computer and software architect – cited this thesis as “Conway’s law” in his book “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering”. Conway’s law was born.

The foundation for Conway’s Law

Conway’s law is based on a sociological observation: Only if the developers of module A communicate with the developers of module B in a target-oriented way can modules A and B interact with each other as desired. Or to put it another way: The interaction of the interfaces of a system necessarily depends on the social structure of an organisation. Frederick Phillips Brooks Jr. – an American computer and software architect – cited this thesis as “Conway’s law” in his book “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering”. Conway’s law was born.

Conway’s law is based on a sociological observation: Only if the developers of module A communicate with the developers of module B in a target-oriented way can modules A and B interact with each other as desired. Or to put it another way: The interaction of the interfaces of a system necessarily depends on the social structure of an organisation. A lack of interpersonal communication leads to a poor solution.

Since 1968, there have been various studies and findings that prove Conway’s law. What is striking here is that not only the communication between the developers involved is decisive, but also the organisational structure as such. If there are three developer groups E1, E2 and E3, there will usually also be one system with three subsystems S1, S2 and S3, four groups will have four subsystems, etc.

Conway's Law - Software architecture follows Organisation structure

In agile software development, this insight can lead to an agile organisation in which the system to be created does not adapt to the organisational structure, but the organisational structure adapts to the desired system. It is important that the company management is willing to support such an adaptation and reversal.

 

Impulses to discuss:

Since Conway’s Law is not a law or a rigid rule in the true sense of the word, but rather an observation, how well does the term “law” fit in business practice?

And how important is the factor that Melvin Conway formulated his law when the outer limits of software were still called printers and input terminals and not, as today, microservices and cloud computing?

Note:

Here you can find the original text of How Do Committes Invent.

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