What makes distributed teams especially challenging? How can we address these challenges to make our distributed organizations more effective?
In this talk, I discuss four main challenges: Conway's Law, Amdahl's Law (as applied to organizations), Empathy, and Communication. I give examples of these problems and solutions from my experience leading distributed teams over the last 25 years.
This talk was originally presented to Compare The Market in April of 2018.
ORGANIZATIONS WHICH DESIGN SYSTEMS...
ARE CONSTRAINED TO PRODUCE DESIGNS
WHICH ARE COPIES OF THE COMMUNICATION
STRUCTURES OF THESE ORGANIZATIONS.
ANY PIECE OF SOFTWARE
THAT PRODUCED IT.
Conway’s Law restated
THE MIRRORING HYPOTHESIS
“…products tend to “mirror” the architectures of the
organizations in which they are developed. This dynamic occurs
because the organization’s governance structures, problem
solving routines and communication patterns constrain the space
in which it searches for new solutions. “
Exploring the Duality between Product and Organizational Architectures: A Test of the “Mirroring”
Hypothesis MacCormack, Baldwin, Rusnak - Harvard Business School, 2008
THE HOMOMORPHIC FORCE
▸ “Speaking as a mathematician might, we would say that there is a
homomorphism from the linear graph of a system to the linear graph of its
In abstract algebra, a homomorphism is a
structure-preserving map between two algebraic
structures (such as groups, rings, or vector
By Hagmann P, Cammoun L, Gigandet X, Meuli R, Honey CJ, et al. - File:Medial surface of cerebral cortex - gyri.png, CC BY 2.5, https://
IF THE PARTS OF AN ORGANIZATION (E.G. TEAMS, DEPARTMENTS, OR SUBDIVISIONS)
DO NOT CLOSELY REFLECT THE ESSENTIAL PARTS OF THE PRODUCT, OR IF THE
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ORGANIZATIONS DO NOT REFLECT THE RELATIONSHIPS
BETWEEN PRODUCT PARTS, THEN THE PROJECT WILL BE IN TROUBLE. ...
THEREFORE: MAKE SURE THE ORGANIZATION IS COMPATIBLE WITH THE PRODUCT
James O. Coplien and Neil B. Harrison,
Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development, 2004
DEALING WITH THE HOMOMORPHIC FORCE
NETFLIX LEARNED FROM THIS [AMAZON] EXAMPLE,
AND ENSURED THAT FROM THE BEGINNING IT
STRUCTURED ITSELF AROUND SMALL, INDEPENDENT
TEAMS, SO THAT THE SERVICES THEY CREATED WOULD
ALSO BE INDEPENDENT FROM EACH OTHER. THIS
ENSURED THAT THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE SYSTEM
WAS OPTIMIZED FOR SPEED OF CHANGE. EFFECTIVELY,
NETFLIX DESIGNED THE ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
FOR THE SYSTEM ARCHITECTURE IT WANTED.
Sam Newman, Building Microservices
BY MICHAEL J. BENNETT [CC BY-SA 3.0 (HTTPS://
WE FIND STRONG EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THE MIRRORING
HYPOTHESIS. IN ALL OF THE PAIRS WE EXAMINE, THE PRODUCT
DEVELOPED BY THE LOOSELY-COUPLED ORGANIZATION IS
SIGNIFICANTLY MORE MODULAR THAN THE PRODUCT FROM THE
Exploring the Duality between Product and Organizational Architectures: A Test of the
“Mirroring” Hypothesis MacCormack, Baldwin, Rusnak - Harvard Business School, 2008