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Elvis Chidera

How do committees invent? — Paper Summary

summary, paper1 min read

Author: Melvin Conway

Date: 1968

Link: PDF


  1. The basic thesis of this article is that organizations that design systems are constrained to produce designs that are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.
  2. There is no such thing as a design group that is both organized and unbiased:

    Given any design team organization, there is a class of design alternatives that cannot be effectively pursued by such an organization because the necessary communication paths do not exist.

  3. The very act of organizing a design team means that certain design decisions have already been made, explicitly or otherwise.
  4. There's never enough time to do something right, but there's always enough time to do it over.
  5. Any system of consequence is structured from smaller subsystems that are interconnected.
  6. Each subsystem can be viewed also as a system made up of smaller subsystems.
  7. An organization that is not completely flexible in its communication structure will stamp out an image of itself in every design it produces.
  8. Measurement of resources which arises from conventional accounting theory necessitates all resources to be measured using units of measurement which are convertible to the unit of resource (i.e: the dollar).
  9. One fallacy behind this calculation is the property of linearity which says that two men working for a year or one hundred men working for a week (at the same hourly cost per man) are resources of equal value.

  10. Ways must be found to reward design managers for keeping their organizations lean and flexible. As long as the manager's prestige and power are tied to the size of his budget, he will be motivated to expand his organization.
  11. Probably the greatest single common factor behind many poorly designed systems now in existence has been the availability of a design organization in need of work.

  12. There is a need for a philosophy of system design management that is not based on the assumption that adding manpower simply adds to productivity.
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