location_city Melbourne schedule Nov 29th 10:10 - 10:40 AM AEDT place State 3

You’re probably familiar with Conway’s Law, that “organizations which design systems ... are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations." But did you know that there’s a tradition in academia spanning as far back as the 1960’s that has studied it in action?

Our understanding began in the traditions of organisational design, product design, and organisations-as-complex-systems. Conway’s Law is a separate tradition in technology, embracing our idioms and ways of storytelling.

But all three traditions point back to the same underlying concepts.

Conway’s Law has been studied across auto, aviation, software, banking, and healthcare. Each study has revealed how humans organise to build systems, and how those systems influence how we organise ourselves.

The results are not what you’d expect.


Outline/Structure of the Talk

  • What is mirroring?
  • Why do we mirror?
  • How we know mirroring: Conway's Law
  • How academia knows mirroring: organisation design, product design, and complex systems
  • Highlights of organisation design research of the last 60 years
    • "The architecture of complexity" Simon, 1962
    • "Organization design: an information processing view" Galbraith, 1974
  • Highlights of product design research of the last 60 years
    • "On the Criteria To Be Used in Decomposing Systems into Modules" D.L. Parnas, 1972
    • "Architectural Innovation: The Reconfiguration of Existing Product Technologies and the Failure of Established Firms" Henderson & Clark, 1990
  • Common threads
  • What the research tells us
  • What are the drawbacks of mirroring?
  • How open source breaks the mirror (maybe, depending on time)
  • How do we apply this?

Learning Outcome

Participants will understand:

  • The mirroring hypothesis
  • What the history of mirroring tells us

Participants will learn and be able to apply:

  • Several models for understanding how communication works across organisational units
  • Insights from research about strict mirroring vs breaking the mirror, and when to apply different strategies
  • Strategies for organising people around products through the evolution, growth, and maturing of the product

Target Audience

Engineering management, and people responsible for organisational design



schedule Submitted 5 years ago