Conway’s Law

What Does Conway’s Law Mean?

Conway’s law is an aphorism in IT that posits the idea that “organizations
which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the
communication structures of these organizations.” This idea can be traced back
to a programmer named Melvin Conway who developed this principle in the late


Techopedia Explains Conway’s Law

Another way to explain Conway’s law is that the teams of people that work on a piece of software will make their own marks on its eventual design. One common example used is the example of a software compiler. One of the most frequently cited statements around Conway’s law states that “if you have four groups working on a compiler, you’ll get a four-pass compiler.” A software compiler can be either a one-pass compiler or a multi-pass compiler. The number of “passes” is the number of times that the compiler goes back over a piece of source code. The idea is that if there are multiple groups working on the compiler, each one will construct their own unique pass that will be different than any of the others.

Rather than pooling all of their resources to come up with one monolithic code structure, individuals or groups of firms will contribute their own code modules which are distinctly unique. Some of the implications of Conway’s law are that people always put their own unique stamp on their contributions to a software project, and that humans may be inherently unable to work together in a monolithic way to write source code.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…