Conway’s law for Product Management

Mitigating the risk of being out-of-phase

We all know that Product Architecture is critical for long-term success of our offerings. In our consulting work at Tolpagorni we encounter organizations that are well aware of the need to restructure the setup of their platforms. However – since it often requires a huge development effort as well as new agreements with partners – it can take years to accomplish.

So what about the new CEO?

Background facts

A new CEO

When a major firm sees a new CEO take on his chair we expect some organizational changes. It is an opportunity to align current ways-of-working with a changed business environment.

Conway’s Law

Any organization will over time strive for defining product module boundaries that are aligned with the organization itself *.

Outdated product platforms

Product architectures are often built and developed as platforms. Over time however as new technologies emerge – there is a need to completely restructure the modular boundaries.

Product architecture upgrade strategies

There are basically two ways to update platforms. Either the Big bang project – often stops all efforts on adding new customer features for 1-2 years. Or, the gradual upgrade over time. Every single customer project will also have to take on the burden to upgrade one part of the platform (be it the database, login credentials setup or …). This 2nd option will also take normally 2-3 years.

Product management and R&D

The setup of the R&D department will have an impact on product architectures – but this is also true for product management itself. How we define work split within the PM team (creating insights and defining requirements) – will have an impact on the product and its platforms.

Situation

The new CEO introduces a new organization at top level. Rather than geographically separate entities there will be industry segment divisions.

The (leading) European region is half-way in their project to completely restructure their product architecture to a pure on-line solution. It will require another year to be fully operational.

For product management this means that the on-line product project is transferred to the “Transportation”  division.

Scenario

The new PM Transportation Team eagerly starts planning for the new “global online transportation platform”. The running project is set on hold – “first we need to make sure our new solution also will fit the US and Chinese markets”. Once this is done the team realizes that the selected technology platform wasn’t the best for world wide deployment – for one the database structure has to be modified. This in turn will have an impact on boundaries between different parts of the systems. Some key partners and vendors will have to be re-selected.

The release date is postponed for x years ..

Conclusion:

Changes in top-level organizations can have (unexpected?) impacts on long-term development of novel product architectures. Care has to be taken when restructuring the product management function in those circumstances.

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* Ref:   Melvin Conway, a computer programmer introduced the idea in 1967: It states that organizations which design systems ... are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations 

(source: http://www.melconway.com/Home/Conways_Law.html)

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About Erik Bjernulf, Profoto

Erik has extensive experience in product management, business management and development. Within the software, electronics and hardware, Erik has pursued commercial success.

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