I understand what the term as it's applied to Biotechnology, Chemistry. I am not quite sure what it means when it's applied to other area.

One example is:

Or do you allow the specifications to grow organically by allowing all of the developers to write their own tests, and forget about having a Software Architect?

which is taken from this SE Post.

Does it mean to grow dynamically with changed requirements or get modified with changed requirements?

  • No pesticides may be used on those specifications. Jun 5, 2012 at 12:17

3 Answers 3


In this context, for the specifications to grow organically means there is no overarching control or direction. Each developer writes their own tests, without consultation with or approval of a higher authority. Metaphorically, it evokes an image of a tree or plant which grows outward and higher from the bottom up. So the phrase describes a "bottom up" process, as opposed to a "top down" architectural or dictatorial process.

So you see, your final question "Does it mean to grow dynamically with changed requirements or get modified with changed requirements?" isn't really addressed by the phrase. It simply means there is no single authority which dictates the specifications. They will arise (grow organically) from each developer's tests.

  • Lack of overarching control isn't necessarily the fundamental principle at work here. A tree grows into a tree because it is controlled by its DNA. Just as a tree grows a series of branches governed by its DNA, so does a software program grow branches outward governed by a fundamental set of specifications. More info here: findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0SMG/is_n5_v10/ai_8411932 Mar 25, 2011 at 14:50
  • 1
    @Robert: Perhaps inserting "perceived" would help? "Lack of perceived overarching control." If we are willing to discuss DNA with regards to a tree's organic growth than it would probably be difficult to say anything does not have some form of overarching control.
    – MrHen
    Mar 25, 2011 at 16:08
  • 4
    @MrHen: It is more a question of distributed control, as opposed to a rigid, hierarchical command and control structure. Computing history is replete with examples of large, monolitic, centrally controlled software projects that collapsed under their own weight, which is why we use agile software development methods now, for the most part. Mar 25, 2011 at 16:10
  • @Robert: Ah, excellent point. I think that makes much more sense.
    – MrHen
    Mar 25, 2011 at 16:19
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    @Robert Exactly, that's what I was driving at. Organic growth is distributed growth not top-down directed growth.
    – ghoppe
    Mar 25, 2011 at 17:05

I see a slightly different meaning than ghoppe here, which is more about steady, sustained, fixed-rate growth. The New Oxford American Dictionary somewhat supports this:

organic: characterized by continuous or natural development: companies expand as much by acquisition as by organic growth.

  • +1: Interesting. If I understand this correctly, does it mean that organic growth means hiring individuals and promoting from within rather than buying a smaller, existing company and assimilating those employees?
    – oosterwal
    Mar 25, 2011 at 16:40
  • @oosterwal: yes, I would say so
    – F'x
    Mar 25, 2011 at 16:59
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    I agree, but I think in the context of the source there was a contrast of what was driving the growth rather than what rate of growth or type of growth was occurring.
    – ghoppe
    Mar 25, 2011 at 17:04
  • I think that in this definition, organic growth for a company means especially growing its sales volume and profits by selling more products, serving more customers, being active in more markets, without emphasis on hiring individuals.
    – ogerard
    Apr 11, 2011 at 23:50

Here, for the specs to grow organically implies that they emerge over time via implicit consensus, rather than being manufactured or prescribed beforehand. Often, this implies a grassroots structure rather than being indoctrinated by an external agent (e.g. the software architect).

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