Conway’s law held in place by the Shirky principle

I had a good time at Devopsdays.  It’s been a few weeks, and two things are still near the surface of my thoughts.

  1. Conway’s law

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

  2. The Shirky principle.

    “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” — Clay Shirky

This leads me to the following:

System develops some sort of organization. These sub-divisions function to preserve themselves.

These two well established principles show that this doesn’t work, because they produce something that’s very resistent to change.. Even if change is needed to progress.

Put another way :

Companies build machinery (structure, people and tooling) to create software that become inflexible because the people that are the machinery hang on to their cog.

The catalysts for these thoughts:

Dan Slimmon‘s talk on Conway’s Law: The Skeleton Of Devops

Ian Malpass‘ talk  on Fallible humans: dealing with failure in the absence of scapegoats


Filed under software, work

3 Responses to Conway’s law held in place by the Shirky principle

  1. Andy

    Does this imply the machine can not create incentives for the status quo to be challenged?

  2. This was actually my biggest takeaway: the current org struct is an artifact of the previous success, thus misconfigured for the future success.
    Or do I misunderstand your message here?

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