3 research-backed principles that help scale your engineering org

  • Dunbar’s research says that the most evolved part of the human brain can maintain a maximum social group size of about 150. Heed Dunbar’s number and keep a maximum team size of 150 and this should be entirely a standalone system. Ideally, have 10 people or fewer per team. Add system-level interfaces, roadmaps, and tools like Jira once you exceed 35 members. Institute monthly cross-team demos to share knowledge and make time for relationship building at personal and not just a professional level.
  • Use Conway’s Law to your advantage by strategically building your organizational structure to reflect your desired software architecture, since you will typically find the systems you design anyway mirror your company’s communication structure. This inverse Conway maneuver also means merging teams building similar systems so that duplicate systems converge.
  • Circumvent Brook’s Law (aka the Mythical Man-Month), which says adding manpower to a late project makes it later. If you must add team members to long, large projects, look for people who already have hands-on experience with the codebase or consider shuffling people across teams (in consultation with their managers). Complement this by factoring in time needed to onboard new people and train existing ones when committing to a schedule.

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