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Conway’s Law

“Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” — Jargon File

In the computer business, this is often stated as “if an organization with four groups designs a compiler, it will be a four-pass compiler.”

Here’s an interesting observation: this is a necessary condition. If an organization is big enough to have four groups, then the groups will need to have limited interfaces between them, because otherwise you run into the issue of complexity of communications among all the individuals.[1] This leads to defining an interface, a “separation of concerns” between groups, and the design will then necessarily have interfaces at the same points as the organization producing it.

  1. See, for example, the discussion of Brooks’ Law in The Mythical Man Month. Fred Brooks makes the observation that the number of communications paths among team members grows as O(n2), which leads to the observation that in most cases, adding team members means adding quadratically more communication per additional team member. Thus, adding more team members rapidly yields diminishing returns; in a late project, these diminishing returns can overwhelm the additional effort contributed by the new team member. []

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