Think Hard About Conway’s Law

August 24, 2014

Was reading Adrian Cockcroft’s interview on InfoQ recently – where he talks about MicroServices and DevOps, and whole range of topics. A particular point about changing the team’s culture directly applies to reuse. 

I quote from one of his answers: “…is it Conways law?… what’s the organization…? Basically the law that says the communication structure of an organization will be reflected in the code. So you set up the … you decide what structure you want your code to have and you make the organization look like that;”

I am sure you have been in situations where you wish: the code for a reuse candidate was in a common shared source control repository, the components were adopting compatible technologies, that there was clear separation of concerns, and most important, there was a true culture of sharing and systematic reuse across projects. 

This is so true that it got me thinking – how often do we want something to happen – be it collaboration, co-creation, systematic reuse – and yet we run into organizational roadblocks? Lack of core competencies – too many people solving the same problem in a sub-standard fashion, conflicting priorities, inadequate knowledge sharing of not just code but more fundamentally: key requirements, lack of human / monetary / infrastructure resources, etc.

Instead of negotiating constantly across multiple teams – all looking to meet several success criteria – have you thought of organizing them by the outcomes you seek? If you want shared software assets, you need to foster sharing organically, through the organizational interactions that happen every single day. Who reports to who, who is held accountable for what, – the nuts and bolts of responsibility and accountability have to be thought through for the shared software assets you aspire to create and reuse. 

It’s easy to get a single flash in the pan reuse success story – it’s much harder to institutionalize it across teams and projects. Have you got the responsibilities in the team defined in terms of the shared software assets you envision? More often than not – we tend to look for magic bullets in terms of tools, technologies, trends, fads, and yet – systematic reuse is fundamentally about the delicate dance of interactions, trade-offs, and decisions that development teams have to make in the midst of competitive pressures and harsh deadlines. Focus on the form and structure and reuse will follow. If you aren’t getting reuse, think hard about Conway’s Law – the state of your software won’t lie – it won’t hesitate to show up the healthy or not so healthy nature of team interactions, incentives, and priorities that are alive and thrive on the ground. 

 


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