Does Price’s Law Apply to Software Development?

I don’t want to be part of the 90%

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If we assume there is creativity in Software development is important, then perhaps Price’s Law applies to software development.

What is Price’s Law?

Price’s law states that:

50% of the work is done by the square root of the total number of people who participate in the work

That is, if you are in a small business of 25 colleagues just 5 will do 50% of the work.

The square root? That means that the numbers doing the vast majority of the work scales linearly while the other workers scale exponentially.

1000 employees

In a business with 1000 employees 32 will do the vast majority of the work.


That number increases to just 1000.

The source of Price’s Law

Derek J. de Solla Price developed what has come to be known as Price’s Law is about the relationship between literature on a subject and the number of authors. That is, Price stated that half of the publications come from the square root of all contributors.

The fact that the original paper is about literature means that we link creativity to this law; yet there are few jobs in an organisation dealing with software development that do not have some aspect of creativity.

Not to rerun the discussion of creativity in Software development, but software development is closer to writing a book (which Price’s Law is often applied to) than stacking shelves in a supermarket, or other such work that does not contain creativity.

Measuring effectiveness

In software development there are several measurement systems that are often used in performance reviews and similar:

  • Number of lines of code committed
  • Bugs caused / fixed
  • Features implememented and/or Velocity

Ignoring the rather bizarrely named Velocity (this hasn’t caught on outside software development, unsurprisingly so) most measurement is performed for ease of collection and time

It is difficult to measure some of the following, yet these are incredibly important in terms of productivity

  • Creativity
  • Architecture for maintenance
  • Customer Delight
  • Helping other team members and Pair Programming

If we don’t value the second set of questions at the expense of the first set of questions, we may well get the outcomes that we deserve. This may actually be a known problem in many organisations.

However, Prices’s Law may mean that an inability to identify the best workers may be more costly than thought

If you are an organisation of 1000 workers and lose your top 32 employees; you might not have a business for much longer.

You need to identify and reward your best employees.

I don’t want to be part of the ineffective minority

Look: I want to be Frank. I’m writing this on a Sunday, and am coding (in a minute, alright — Frank needs a break) a fun little program to use Face ID in Swift.

I like working, and I like being productive.

There is nothing more pleasurable than working in an organisation full of people who like to get things done.

This is not to say I’m in the top few percent of great workers, but the fact that I want to learn (and, you know, actually do it) speaks for me.

It isn’t where you start in software development but is the trajectory of your learning and knowledge of the context that you work in. Improving your knowledge and competency should, invariably, result in an improvement in your career.

You just have to go and get it!


This isn’t an article about working long. This isn’t an article about knowing it all in the context you are working in. Rather, it is a growth mindset and working towards being the most productive and useful you can be in the organisation that you currently identify.

Don’t ask how useful your company is to you, ask how useful you can be to your company.

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Any questions? You can get in touch with me HERE

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