Solutions are tightly connected to the organization – Conway’s Law

How to separate different aspects of a project in which the modules are tightly bound together can be a real challenge. If many people are involved in solving a complex project, it can be hard to decide how closely together everyone should work. Shall we have collective ownership or a hard pre-defined contract between modules and different aspects?


Mel Conway wrote in his book “How Do Committees Invent?” that “organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structure of these organizations”. When people are dependent on people in other parts of the organization, a conflict of interest can easily appear. People might share the same view today, but in the future, someone’s boss might set different priorities. When that happens, one team will follow its own objectives and might not prioritize another group’s needs as highly as their own. The further away people are from each other, the more disjointed and incongruous their objectives are likely to be.


People working in the same room can easily discuss things spontaneously within the room, or on a short notice attend a design meeting within the room. People on different floors start booking meetings with each other, either officially or in more informal settings such as over a cup of coffee.   People on different offices write memos and specifications to each other have phone meetings and occasionally meet each other in real life. When people are geographically separated from each other, have different underlying motivations or are in a different part of an organization, clearer contract of responsibility and modularization is needed.

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