After the first through sixth laws, Conway’s law takes into account that organizations design systems that reflect their own communication structure.
Is it true ? Let’s look for some explanations.
Conway’s Law: Why Company Structure Matters to Product Development
In 1967, computer scientist Melvin Conway made a key observation about organizational structure.
The way a team communicated and the design of that team’s products, Conway explained, mirrored each other – one always mirrored the other.
In a simple explanation of Conway’s thesis, there are two pieces of software: software A and software B. If the developers of these two pieces of software do not communicate, there is no easy way for the software to integrate. .
When communication between developers happens often and openly, on the other hand, the chances of a seamless experience are much greater.
How Apple produces an end-to-end customer experience
At Apple, teams are organized according to what is called the unit organizational form. The basic idea, rooted in Conway’s law, is that the company should be organized around functional expertise rather than products.
This means that instead of teams dedicated to products like the iPhone, Mac, or iPad, Apple has teams that work on design, teams that work on engineering, teams that work on marketing, etc
This structure encourages coordination across teams and helps Apple deliver a unified experience across all products. No product has ever been released that deviates from Apple’s predominant design, engineering, or operating paradigm. Even his credit card has an unmistakable Apple “feel”.
After the launch of the iPad, Steve Jobs said that this “post-PC device” should be “even easier to use than a PC” and “even more intuitive than a PC, […] where software, hardware and applications must intertwine even more seamlessly than on a PC. […] We believe that we have the right architecture not only in silicon but also in our organization to build these kinds of products.
Reorganizing Apple along functional rather than divisional lines was one of the first things Jobs did when he returned to Apple in 1997, and his successor at Apple, Tim Cook, still credits the success of the company’s products to this decision.
“We found a way to craft our products in a way that the experience was breathtaking,” Cook told Businessweek.
Why Github is structured as an open-source project
GitHub provides an example of a company that obeys Conway’s Law while doing so in a remarkably different way from Apple.
Instead of integrating in order to promote an end-to-end experience, GitHub is intentionally structured as one of the open source projects hosted by the service: decentralized, self-contained, and asynchronous.
This structure reflects the type of product that GitHub has built – a product designed for developers more than managers – as well as how this product works.
The GitHub tool is designed for asynchronous collaboration: new code can be submitted anytime, from anywhere, and then reviewed at will by the responsible party. Developers around the world can use GitHub to collaborate on a project without having to deal with overlapping codebase changes or inconsistencies between their work.
The company itself is also designed for asynchronous collaboration, with many of its basic organizational principles taken directly from open source development processes.
There are no codified standards for when to report to the office, and most work is completely self-directed. “If you want to work on something, then work on it,” wrote Zach Holman, one of GitHub’s early engineers.
Team members are spread all over the world, there are no daily stand-up meetings, and most of the communication you have with your co-workers happens asynchronously, via chat or email.
Collaborating asynchronously to the extreme is a way for the GitHub team to stay close to one of the biggest issues they want to solve with the company: the difficulty of collaborating asynchronously when working on software projects. One of the ways they tackle this problem is by using “open and easy-to-use platforms” – precisely what GitHub itself is trying to build.
Apple, in other words, uses an integrated organization to create products that provide a seamless end-to-end customer experience. GitHub uses an organization structured as an open source project because its goal is to give its user base of developers a collaboration platform that enables distributed and decentralized teams to build great products.
Conway’s Law helps explain not only how businesses operate – and how their structures enable or hinder business activity – but also how they are managed.
As computer scientist Fred Brooks has pointed out, for an organization that delivers a good or service, the structure it naturally adopts as it grows is probably not the ideal system for delivering that supply. Staying flexible is essential to the structure of the organization.
In other words, the people who run the companies must consider organizational design at the same level as operations, R&D and products. Much of what we attribute to the second is rooted in the first.
To be continued…