Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: @DevOpsSummit, Microservices Expo, @CloudExpo

@DevOpsSummit: Blog Feed Post

The Emergence of Business Agility By @TheEbizWizard | @DevOpsSummit #DevOps

The law is more of an observation of correlations between system designs and communication structures

Conway's Law and the Emergence of Business Agility

In my last Cortex newsletter, I discussed the history of Conway’s Law, and took a close look at how this erstwhile law can help us understand the reorganizations and deeper cultural shifts behind devops and digital transformation.

The law – “any organization that designs a system will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure” – is more of an observation of correlations between system designs and communication structures, rather than anything resembling a law.

Nevertheless, in the 47 years since computer scientist Melvin Conway inadvertently entered the techie lexicon, there have been various attempts at deriving causal principles from the law. And while causal relationships between our organizations and the software systems they create have plenty of examples, the true causal story – the why of such correlations – has largely escaped us.

That is, until now.

Party Like It’s 1967

zapposRemember that Conway came up with his law in 1967, where newfangled software organizational concepts like Agile and Lean were little more than a gleam in his eye. Instead, his context was the traditional command and control lines of communication within a standard hierarchical organization.

Within such hierarchical organizations, the fundamental difference between one twenty-person team and four five-person teams, for example, are the differing decision making and enforcement structures.

Regardless of whether we have one large or four smaller teams, the resulting systems will clearly follow Conway’s Law – with the one large team creating a single system design, while the four smaller teams will end up producing modular, differing system designs.

When we look at the relationship between our software and our organizational structures within the context of digital and devops transformations, however, the Conway’s Law causal story gets decidedly murkier.

As I explained in the previous Cortex, the diversity within the continuous development, test, integration, and delivery toolchains that devops efforts use would contraindicate the cross-organizational cultural shift that devops represents.

Only if we recognize that the broader open source community is largely responsible for such toolchains, then we can look to the decision making structure of that community at large to indicate why such toolchains have a chance of working together properly. After all, only when our technology works as an integrated whole will Conway’s Law give us hope that we’ll be able to achieve the cultural change we desperately desire within our own organizations.

So too with digital transformation. If we take too narrow a view, perhaps focusing only on the fact that customers are demanding mobile interactions with companies, then Conway’s Law would suggest that the modularization of our system design around mobile technology will cause us to build mobile teams separate from other teams within the digital initiative.

Taking this modularized approach to digital initiatives, however, is a recipe for failure, as this view shortchanges the true nature of digital transformation. But many enterprises are falling into this trap nevertheless, as Conway’s Law would predict.

Self-Organization: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle
However, customers aren’t simply demanding mobile experiences. In reality, they desire omnichannel experiences – interactions with companies that cut across technology touchpoints and form factors to support coherent, long-term relationships – or customer journeys in digital marketing parlance.

Ideally, such omnichannel customer demand should drive crosscutting technology architectures, which in turn should drive crosscutting digital reorganizations. But if we understand Conway’s Law in terms of traditional command-and-control communication structures, we’ll inevitably end up with siloed technology that reinforces rather than breaks down our siloed organizations.

If we do away with such hierarchical thinking, however, an amazing thing happens. People will organize themselves into teams (if you even want to call them teams). Such self-organization, in fact, is behind the success of open source-driven devops toolchains.

The open source community at large is primarily self-organized, as individuals decide where and how to participate, based upon individual priorities and the priorities of the various projects – not 100%, as sometimes external forces drive the organization of such teams, but the community is sufficiently self-organized for sufficiently integrated toolchains to emerge.

Self-organization is also the key to digital transformation. If people self-organize around customer omnichannel priorities, then they will form cross-organizational communication structures that will drive end-to-end system architectures, as Conway’s Law predicts – but only in the presence of such self-organization.

Self-organization alone, however, is not a panacea. After all, in an environment of highly modular software, people are likely to organize by technical specialty around each package. To complement self-organization, therefore, we must introduce the appropriate constraints.

Such constraints should always include the strategic business priority, and should also include necessary governance and security limitations that any team, self-organized or not, must adhere to.

Perhaps the most important effect that establishing this model of self-organization within the context of external constraints is its fundamental adaptability. The constraints can be as dynamic as the situation requires, and people will naturally organize or reorganize as necessary to comply with those constraints – in marked contrast to the inflexibility of traditional command-and-control organizational structures.

Self-Organization, Emergence, and Complex Adaptive Systems
Self-organization within the context of external constraints isn’t a new idea – how Netflix delivers innovation and resilience is one example, and Zappos’ holacracy is another. But without a solid justification for such cutting-edge organizational models, enterprises rightly see them as little more than experiments.

Conway’s Law helps us move past this experimental context for self-organization. Once we have such inherently adaptable organizational structures, we will necessarily end up with inherently adaptable system architectures – the Agile Architecture I’ve been discussing in my research for years.

But most significantly, the shift from command-and-control to self-organization finally shines a light on the why of Conway’s Law: emergence.

The causal pieces to this story only fall into place once we realize the entire enterprise – people as well as technology – form a complex adaptive system. Depending on the constraints that govern the behavior and interaction of our component subsystems (the humans and their software), different emergent behaviors result – emergent in the formal sense of a property of a complex system that isn’t a property of its subsystems.

Furthermore, the nature of emergence explains Conway’s Law – giving us the answer to our basic why question, just as emergence explains why bees create hexagonal hive structures or why many galaxies are spirals.

And we can rest assured that Conway’s Law applies across the full spectrum of subsystem constraints, with traditional command-and-control at one extreme, and fully self-organizing teams at the other. Change the constraints, change the emergent behaviors.

The Intellyx Take: Turning the Agility Dial
In fact, we now have new insight into the usefulness of Conway’s Law, as it helps us understand how to turn the business agility dial on our organizations.

Do we want highly controlled, predictable behavior, well-suited for optimizing traditional business metrics? Turn the dial toward the traditional command-and-control we find in most enterprises today – but don’t be surprised if the systems we end up building are inflexible at best or fully dysfunctional at worst.

On the other hand, if we turn our dial toward self-organization, we’ll end up with technology systems that cut across now-defunct organizational silos, responding to changing business priorities and supporting strategic innovation goals.

A desirable outcome to be sure – but easier said than done, as we must relinquish our preconceptions about how to run a business. Are you ready?

Intellyx advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Image credit: Erica Joy.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.

Microservices Articles
When building large, cloud-based applications that operate at a high scale, it’s important to maintain a high availability and resilience to failures. In order to do that, you must be tolerant of failures, even in light of failures in other areas of your application. “Fly two mistakes high” is an old adage in the radio control airplane hobby. It means, fly high enough so that if you make a mistake, you can continue flying with room to still make mistakes. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee A...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Lori MacVittie is a subject matter expert on emerging technology responsible for outbound evangelism across F5's entire product suite. MacVittie has extensive development and technical architecture experience in both high-tech and enterprise organizations, in addition to network and systems administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning technology editor at Network Computing Magazine where she evaluated and tested application-focused technologies including app secu...
Containers and Kubernetes allow for code portability across on-premise VMs, bare metal, or multiple cloud provider environments. Yet, despite this portability promise, developers may include configuration and application definitions that constrain or even eliminate application portability. In this session we'll describe best practices for "configuration as code" in a Kubernetes environment. We will demonstrate how a properly constructed containerized app can be deployed to both Amazon and Azure ...
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
Using new techniques of information modeling, indexing, and processing, new cloud-based systems can support cloud-based workloads previously not possible for high-throughput insurance, banking, and case-based applications. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, John Newton, CTO, Founder and Chairman of Alfresco, described how to scale cloud-based content management repositories to store, manage, and retrieve billions of documents and related information with fast and linear scalability. He addresse...
The now mainstream platform changes stemming from the first Internet boom brought many changes but didn’t really change the basic relationship between servers and the applications running on them. In fact, that was sort of the point. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Gordon Haff, senior cloud strategy marketing and evangelism manager at Red Hat, will discuss how today’s workloads require a new model and a new platform for development and execution. The platform must handle a wide range of rec...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DatacenterDynamics has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. DatacenterDynamics is a brand of DCD Group, a global B2B media and publishing company that develops products to help senior professionals in the world's most ICT dependent organizations make risk-based infrastructure and capacity decisions.
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true ...
In his keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Sheng Liang, co-founder and CEO of Rancher Labs, discussed the technological advances and new business opportunities created by the rapid adoption of containers. With the success of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and various open source technologies used to build private clouds, cloud computing has become an essential component of IT strategy. However, users continue to face challenges in implementing clouds, as older technologies evolve and newer ones like Docker c...