What Is Conway’s Law?

Organizational design is the very heart of a company. How you structure your employees—as well as how they communicate with one another—is critical for the success of your organization.

But structure and communication are also critical for the quality of your products. That’s where Conway’s Law comes in.

What Is Conway’s Law?

In 1967, Melvin Conway, a computer programmer, coined this phrase:

“Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.”

Since then, this principle has become known as Conway’s Law. But reducing such an essential concept to a single sentence doesn’t do it justice.

Let’s explore Conway’s Law a little deeper.

What Does Conway’s Law Mean for Your Company?

There are three primary components to Conway’s Law:

  • Organization
  • System
  • Communication structure

To understand what Conway is saying, we have to connect those dots.

Organizations have a communication structure. That’s how all the employees, teams, and departments are grouped together and interact with one another. You could define it as where they work, who they work with, who they report to, and who reports to them.

One of the easiest ways to see an organization’s communication structure is through an org chart.

The communication structure of your company is all about how employees share information and make decisions based on that information. Those decisions then revolve around the organization’s system.

The system is your product or products. It’s the objects, designs, content, services, or software your company creates. In short, it’s the very reason your company exists in the first place.

And according to Conway’s Law, how an organization establishes its communication structure will impact the system, the product. Because your product is created and maintained by people, those people—and how they relate to one another—will ultimately determine the outcome of the product.

For example, if a software company has a muddled, disjointed, and confusing communication structure, you can expect the software they produce to also be muddled, disjointed, and confusing.

On the other hand, if they have a clear, streamlined, and efficient communication structure, they can expect the software to follow suit.

This means that by shaping the structure of your organization, you can take more control over the results of your product. Whatever goal you’re trying to reach with your product, you’ll need to reflect that spirit in how you structure your company and who you add to the team.

For example, if your goal is to produce innovative products, you’ll need an innovative communication structure made up of innovative people.

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How Should You Use Conway’s Law to Enhance Your Product?

To make Conway’s Law work for your company, you need to be intentional about how you structure your company. There isn’t a right or wrong structure, of course—just better or worse for what you’re trying to achieve.

Then, you should foster clear, meaningful communication among your staff. Again, confusion in the company will lead to a confused product. Where misunderstandings, assumptions, and information gaps pop up, you can bet they’ll harm your production.

Your ultimate objective is an organization full of employees who connect with each other, communicate freely, and unite to strive for a common goal. You need a company that’s greater than the sum of its parts. (So that your product will be, too.)

That might seem like an impossible task, but fortunately, there are tools that can help. One of those tools is an org chart.

The transparency that an org chart provides will make it easy to see how your company is structured. This will help you see any ways it can be improved. An org chart can even help you improve it in the most efficient manner.

To learn more about how an org chart can help you, see our guide here:

Why Companies Should Have a Public Org Chart

Or, if you’re ready to go ahead and set up an org chart for your company today, click here.