How Conway’s Law Influences Business and Design

4 Min Read
How Conway's Law Influences Business and Design

Conway’s law is something you may never have heard of, but it may have had a bigger influence on your business than you knew.

What would you do if you had the opportunity to redesign your business/ organization from scratch? Create computer systems, business processes, and workflows from start to finish.

In this article, we would like to reveal a powerful principle that may affect your business without you even being aware.

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What is Conway’s law?

Conway’s law is a principle based on the sociological observation study of ongoing behavior.

Identifying that businesses and organisations design systems that are similar or mirror their business communication structure.

Conway’s Law states “Any organization that designs a system will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.

What is meant by Conway’s law? Conway’s laws connect how businesses and organizations influence design through the influence of how they already do things.

History of Conway’s law

It was first formulated by the computer scientist/ programmer Melvin E. Conway in his paper called “How Do Committees Invent?” in 1967, which he submitted to HBR (Harvard Business Review) and was instantly rejected based on a non-proven thesis. 

Following this rejection, he decided to submit it to the IT magazine “Datamation”, and they published the paper in their April 1968 edition.

Following on from this publication, Fred Brooks cited the paper in his classic iconic book “The Mythical Man-Month”, published in 1975, which explains why software projects take longer to develop than predicted. Referring to the principle as “Conway’s Law.” after Dr. Mel Conway himself, which has stuck but can occasionally be referred to as Conway’s Principle.

Even though the concept originated in software development, it can be used in many other applications. Conway himself definition of systems is the broadest term — originally based on computer systems, it can be applied to all types of systems from public transport and can work at all levels. Fred Brooks identified how useful it is in management theory.

Why is Conway’s law important?

Why is Conways’s Law important to consider when looking at redesigning structure, processes, computer systems, workflow or even producing products for clients?

The structure of software, apps, business processes, and workflow, for example, will be structured like the business that designed and built it.

Teams will build systems that are carbon copies of their own communication structure.

Why do you need to understand Conway’s law?

So what does it mean in practice? Conway’s Law forces us to think about our environment and how it might affect our designs. And it forces us to design solutions that are appropriate for our environment. 

This principle is one of the most powerful laws in business. Conway’s law states that the design of anything is constrained by the requirements of its environment. It’s not just a theory but has been proven true in many different ways.

In fact, the law is so powerful that it has become the basis for creating many successful products. So what does this mean for you? It means that if you want to redesign your business from scratch, you must start with the environment first.

Have you been surprised that a well-planned project with clear goals doesn’t achieve the expected impact? What has happened? Have you made a mistake? No, you have just overlooked the importance of Conway’s Law.

Designing Processes and Systems Solution

The Bottom Line Conway’s law is the basis for developing any successful product, system, process, or service.

Teams will build systems that are carbon copies of their communication structure. Identifying that small teams with small communication channels offer a better solution than a huge team. Smaller teams can be far more effective because they have better communication channels between team members.

A smaller team will give you a better system, and bigger teams won’t necessarily get a job done quicker. Big teams are great for chopping vegetables but won’t work the same when building systems.

Build the smallest team needed to get the job done this will give you the smallest communication network so that they can be lean and flexible.

Project Management Laws

Managing projects and creating efficient business processes and workflow require teamwork, efficient communication, and knowledge of the environment you are developing for.

Conway directly references Parkinson’s law plays an important role in system design because projects will expand to fill the allocated time frame.

Brooks’s law also plays a role “adding additional manpower to a late project makes it later” this came about 7 years after Conway’s Law but came from the same thinking: small teams are better.

You might not have known that Conway’s law has had a bigger influence on your business than you know, but you can now see how you can use it to business advantage in the future.

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