Conway’s Law

Isn’t it great when a casual conversation leads to a new discovery?

Maybe it’s a new viewpoint, a nugget of information, an idea, or a story that really rings true.

One of the great things about the Henley MBA is the experience of the cohort. The average age of 36 means plenty of stories, lessons learned, and maturity of perspectives.

I learnt about Conway’s Law last night. It states that, “…organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations”. Wikipedia article

No rocket science here. However, until last night, and despite my ten years’ experience in systems change, I didn’t have the vocabulary to fully express this principle and it’s implications for design. It was more of a feeling or an intuition. Now there is some science behind this feeling. Thanks Steffen.

I believe that being open to new ideas and perspectives is a virtuous circle, where the openness drives the opportunity to discover or be introduced to other new ideas, which spark further ideas and questions and so on.

It’s easy to dismiss something new prematurely by reacting to our emotions. Philip Cox-Hynd encouraged us yesterday to live in the question, understand it, explore it, and be comfortable in it. I like that. I’m sure it will make me better at listening, learning, and making new discoveries.

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Rob is a consultant, technologist, facilitator and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife in Henley-on-Thames.

6 thoughts on “Conway’s Law”

  1. Thank you for this entry. Thoughtful and encouraged me to reflect on this experience. Nice new look as well!!!

  2. Thought provoking as always Rob. And your entry displays great humility in wanting to learn and develop. I believe that is what Jim Collins describes as the differentiator between Level 4 and Level 5 leaders.

  3. It is really interesting how Conway made the connection between the organisation and its (IT-)system. Makes me think of the whole as an organism, ecosystem maybe symbiosis.

    What are the implications for Change, Business Agility?

    Interesting read on this (with some good graphics):
    MacCormack, A, Rusnak, J, & Baldwin, C 2006, ‘Exploring the Structure of Complex Software Designs: An Empirical Study of Open Source and Proprietary Code’, Management Science, 52, 7, pp. 1015-1030, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 14 July 2011.

    1. Thanks Steffen. I like your wide view on this.

      Considering communication structures as both formal and informal as well as our session today with David Rees makes me think of the cultural dimensions of communication structures. I’m thinking organisational design rather than system design.

      It seems to me that change initiatives driven from a systems perspective are doomed to re-engineering existing (legacy?!) communication structures unless ‘soft’ changes to organisational culture and behaviour can establish new lines of communication.

      What do you think?

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