Conway’s Law states that the structure of any system designed by an organisation is isomorphic to the structure of the organisation, which means that software or automated systems end up shaped like the organisational structure they’re designed in or designed for, according to Wikipedia.
This could be why some organisations find it difficult to embrace cloud adoption fully as certain legacy organisational structures just don’t fit into a more demanding agile oriented cloud environment. Nico Coetzee, enterprise architect for cloud adoption and modern IT architecture at Ovations, explains: “Every company that embarks on its cloud journey can count on some deliverables not going as planned. There are many reasons for the failure of certain modernisation projects and cloud journeys, but it might come as a surprise to hear that the most common reason could be as simple as traditional structures.”
If we go back to Melvin E Conway’s research on “How do committees invent?” from 1967, there are some key insights. Conway argued that an organisation without a flexible communication structure would inevitably design a system that was a reflection of its own communication structure. He further stated that the larger the organisation, the more pronounced the phenomenon. Fred Brooks, commenting on Conway’s Law, emphasised how important it was for organisations to be flexible in order to get to the best system design.
The word flexible can be substituted with agile. “With this in mind, the obvious conclusion is that the more agile an organisation, the better its systems will be designed for the cloud. It may very well be this lack of agility that is at the heart of many organisations’ failure to successfully realise their cloud journeys,” Coetzee says.
Organisations can ensure that they don’t fall victim to Conway’s Law by using the science behind it to drive change that will ultimately influence system design and architecture. Once organisations are free from their old ways of working and embracing appropriate strategies that encourage agility, the focus can start to shift towards modernising their IT systems. Embark on their journey to the cloud.
Breaking the cycle
But how do organisations break that cycle? Coetzee says that a good starting point is choosing to become more agile. “For many organisations, this will require a cultural change. A cloud-native approach to system design requires a certain mindset and approach and the transition from any legacy-type system will require commitment and a lot of effort. Stakeholders, including customers, need to be convinced that the change will translate into true value.”
He adds that there’s sufficient evidence to demonstrate how organisations are rewarded for adopting an agile approach, leading to more value for their customers. “In fact, the agile manifesto places a lot of emphasis on the customer as the driving force for developing working software that adds value to the customer. The much more challenging part is the change required in an organisation to recognise what this means and how that translates into the changes that are required to move towards this goal.”
Once those changes are in motion, the focus can shift to the actual design and architecture of IT systems, as well as establishing the appropriate tooling required for creating DevSecOps pipelines. At the same time, the organisation might need to upskill or even hire engineers.
At this stage, the organisation would be well served to find a partner to help them navigate the transition required to modernise structures and systems to render them a better fit for cloud adoption, advises Coetzee. “Very few organisations have the skills or capacity to manage the planning, change management, architecture and design, people aspects, tooling or products needed to support a successful cloud migration. It is a difficult and long journey at the best of times, and the right partnerships can make a big difference in meeting the success criteria.”
While many of the required tasks can be done in parallel, there’s also a certain order and process that has proven very successful over the years. The key is to partner with an organisation that can adapt to each organisation’s unique environment.
Once the organisation has adopted an agile mindset, it can begin its cloud journey. However, cautions Coetzee, each organisation is different, as is each journey to the cloud, so there’s no one-size-fits-all process to be adopted. “Organisations need to follow a process that starts off with an analysis phase. The outcome of that analysis will determine for how the goals can be achieved – a road map if you like.
“The analysis must focus on various aspects within key areas of the organisation, including the adoption of practices that will maximise agility within the industry within which the organisation operates. The organisation’s appetite for change and modernisation will further drive recommendations made.”
It’s also possible that the organisation may have previously attempted a cloud journey, and reached out for help because it got stuck or realised that it didn’t have the required skills and/or experience. “Findings from assessing the state of any current or previous cloud journeys and the maturity of the DevSecOps practices in this context may vary significantly,” he adds.
Ability to adapt
The success or failure of an organisation’s cloud journey can be measured in the value added to the customer. From an organisational perspective, a successful cloud journey is those projects that are able to deliver what the customer wanted in a more resilient, reliable, secure, responsive and quality experience.
Another measure of success is in the organisation’s ability to adapt to changing customer needs. Modern IT architectures, cloud computing and DevSecOps practices are all enablers of this type of agility, but it is really up to the communication structures within the organisation to achieve that required flexibility in order to arrive at the best solutions.
In conclusion, Coetzee warns organisations to be cognisant of the fact that:
- The cloud journey has no clear end due to ever changing customer needs.
- Your organisation should be continually improving its systems. “Future improvements aren’t only around efficiencies, but also security, enhancing observability, or other operational advantages that will benefit the customer in some way.”
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