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Architecture and Conway’s Law

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

—Melvin Conway

Conway’s law
is a well-known fact of life in technology organizations. Eric S. Raymond noted that “[i]f you have four groups working on a compiler, you’ll get a 4-pass compiler”. It’s a simple fact that within groups you tend to see better communication, better trust and stronger alignment around goals. Across groups these tend to weaken.

Technologists naturally gravitate toward technical challenges rather than organizational or political ones. But architects, who are responsible for systems design in the large, need not only to be aware of organizational forces impacting their designs, but also to be advocates for organization structures that use Conway’s law to positive effect. It’s important to highlight misalignments between organizational and architectural structures because these make larger business goals difficult or impossible to achieve.

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