The Conway’s Law which I got introduced to some time ago states that:

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

This is how (IMHO) this law would be represented graphically:

Think about it!

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  3. Very interesting indeed Shim. I’ve not considered Conway’s law as a matter of complexity (necessarily).

    The HBS paper referenced in the Wikipedia entry seems to support the assertion that the efficacy of communication in a development team is inversely correlated to the modularity of the architecture.

    (as efficacy of communication goes up, modularity goes down)

    I have found this to be true in my personal (anecdotal) experience, which isn’t evidence but it just means my professional intuition is in line with the evidence presented in the paper.

    So, I’d like to get your response. To my mind right now, I think your assertion regarding complexity is invalid. It’s too broad and I argue that modularity can imply added complexity or reduced complexity depending on the specific implementation.

    I am very willing to be proven wrong, however!



    • Hi Josh, I took some time to read the HBS paper referenced in your comment. Having read that in the context of your comment it seems to me that we are talking about two different things that might not be contradicting after all.

      You are talking about the impact that a complex organization has on the modularity of a system. And in that context, increased modularity cannot be seen categorically as a negative outcome.

      I am looking at the law from the perspective that a complex organization has on the number of technologies deployed and used by the organization, and in that context I believe the outcome will be predominantly negative.

      Large organizations tend to create organizational units dedicated to the dissemination of specific technologies. As such, these organizational units are engaged in self preservation via the utilization of their area of specialty in projects where their involvement might render the solution less than optimized (or in other words, more complex).

      I will be surprised (when the appropriate research is finally released) if the above conclusion is found to be incorrect.

      Cheers, Shim


  4. Thanks Shim. You are probably right, I wasn’t really focusing on complexity in my comments, only on efficacy of communication and modularity. Although complexity and size influence these, they are not the same thing.

    Perhaps modularity isn’t even what I’m trying to get at… I’ve worked on projects where multiple agencies and contractors were contributing to different parts of the system, but there were lots of technical dependencies. Due to poor communication and coordination, there was a lot of “CYA” going on. Groups had to “make up” inputs from other groups, and it just caused a ton of re-work, frustration, and schedule slips.



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