Shades of Conway's Law

25-minute Talk

When scaling an organisation or an IT system, we need to consider Conway's Law. We need to adapt the IT system to the organisation or vice-versa. If we do not, this will have a serious quality impact.

Virtual Pass session


10:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Wednesday 20th


Room F1 - Track 1: Talks


Change agents, C-level, QA & Engineering managers, team leads, architects, all kinds of engineers.


  • Explain how the organisational design and the system design maintain each other in balance.
  • Understand that system design is organisational design and vice-versa, organisational design is system design.
  • Describe the impact of long-living IT systems on organisational design.
  • Acknowledge the organisation might prevent us from building the right thing.
  • Accept we cannot think big but need to start small and grow to satisfy Conway's Law.

How organisational and system design characterise testability and quality.

In short, Conway's Law says any organisation that designs a system will produce a system design that copies the organisational communication structures. Here, Melvin Conway sees “system” as broader than only IT systems. It can be anything an organisation designs: software, buildings, planes, machinery, …

Over the years, many individuals rephrased Conway's Law in various ways.

  • Systems are isomorphic to the organisation, Edward Yourdon and Larry Constantine
  • Organisation and Systems are congruent, Eric Raymond
  • The organisation must be compatible with the system, James Coplien and Neil Harrison

Every paraphrase brings new insights and non-negligible consequences. Sometimes they give the impression they contradict each other. However, in the end, they all come to the same conclusion. The organisation and the system keep each other in balance. Modifying the organisation will have an impact on the system. Modifying the system will have consequences for the organisation. Not considering that will cause friction in the organisation or the system. That may have dramatic consequences from a design point of view, but even more so from a testability and quality perspective. It will slow down teams, reduce feedback and consequently drive down quality.

To be competitive as an organisation in the market, and to effectively design the right thing our customers expect us to deliver, we'd better understand and take advantage of this.

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