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So much potential
March 2, 2020   |  News

You’ve Got a Friend in Conway

One of my favorite reasons to attend a conference is the hope that a speaker or conversation will trigger an “aha” moment. We spend so much time thinking about problems from our own perspectives that it is easy to start assuming that ours is always the ideal approach. A great keynote talk can hold up a mirror and show you that you’ve been the hammer looking for nails.

I recently had one of those moments during Andrew McVeigh’s fabulous Developer Week keynote in which as he spoke about the importance of strategic architecture for scaling a team. Both of us see the need for business goals, technology strategy (including architecture), and organizational structure to align if you want engaged, scalable, and effective teams. Both of us are familiar with Conway’s Law (system design will reflect the organization that created it). But Andrew’s talk outlined a very different approach to realignment than mine.

As a consultant focusing on the organization and culture piece of the triangle, choosing to hire me says that a company considers the business goals and the architecture to be relatively fixed. My job is to use those constraints to help leaders shape an organization that connects the architecture to the business goals: a modified Inverse Conway Maneuver that looks beyond the architecture. Also considering the broader business goals and the unique individuals comprising the organization informs a robust structure that works with the architecture to avoid Conway-induced drift. Success gives employees a direct line of sight from the work that they do all the way up to the primary goals of their organization, empowering teams to execute, and scale, with confidence.

Andrew, on the other hand, is a technologist and architect. Bringing him on board to help ease growing pains signals that an organization sees the business goals and organizational structure as the constraints. His task is then to evolve the architecture and technology strategy so that the organization can execute effectively against their business targets. Of course, Andrew must also consider the potential long-term impact of Conway’s Law. The architecture he develops must be flexible enough to work both with the current org structure and with future variations.

In both situations, the goal is to create alignment across business objectives, organization, and architecture that can support the changing needs of the company. For me, this means building in check points and lightweight governance that allows the organization to adjust for ongoing alignment. For Andrew, the focus is on creating microservice architectures and enabling individual teams to execute simultaneously, at their own pace, regardless of how the teams themselves are structured.

If your teams are feeling the stress of growing pains, or seem to be spinning their wheels despite having all the right people and skills to succeed, there may be a misalignment between your business goals, your organizational design, and your architecture. My “aha” moment was realizing that there are multiple paths to realignment and that it is up to you as a leader to decide on the best approach for your company. Knowing that Conway’s Law will pull your architecture towards your organization structure, one option is to proactively design your organization to reflect a desirable architecture. The same knowledge also suggests that new architectures should be able to accommodate a variety of organizational structures. Regardless of your chosen path, the engagement and energy your team will deliver when they are able to see a direct connection from their work to the overall business priorities will be well worth the effort.

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