For example,

In software, as a project becomes larger, more documentation is necessary. And this relationship is not linear -- in fact, the amount of documentation over the size of the project will increase with the size of the project.

Similarly, as an organization becomes larger, there needs to be more structure. In a startup, you may not even need a real delineation of roles. But as the organiztation becomes larger and larger, more and more resources must be dedicated to "structural overhead." That is, stuff that doesn't "do" anything, but exists only for organization. Again, this relationship is more than linear -- the structural overhead necessary doesn't just grow proportionally with the size of the organization, but rather grows faster than proportionally.

As human's lives become more complex (just hunt and gather --> respond to emails, spend time with kids, write that report, practice the piano, etc. etc.) we also need more "structural overhead": to do lists, workflow managers, etc.

Is there a name for this general pattern, that as a system becomes more complex, the "overhead" also needs to become larger? And specifically, that this relationship is "more than linear," in the sense that the overhead necessary doesn't grow proportionally with complexity (or size), but rather grows faster than that?

EDIT: I'm receiving some answers about "diminishing marginal returns." The thing is, the marginal returns are not necessarily diminishing. In fact, it could be that we are experiencing economies of scale, and increasing marginal returns. More overhead does not equate to less efficiency, because it is possible that the extra overhead allows everyone to work more efficiently. What I'm looking for is a term like "____'s Law" that describes this.

  • It brings mechanical efficiency / mechanical advantage to mind, which is the theory that the more moving parts in a machine, the greater the loss of efficiency due to the extra maintenance required for repairs caused by wear, friction, and breakage. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanical_efficiency
    – Bread
    Jun 24, 2018 at 21:14
  • How about diseconomies of scale?
    – pbasdf
    Jun 24, 2018 at 21:21
  • 1
    In the academic sense of economy, they are economies of scale. They don't have to make things cheaper. Jun 24, 2018 at 21:29
  • elsmar.com/Forums/… System efficiency vs. System effectiveness
    – Bread
    Jun 24, 2018 at 21:31
  • ......... bloat
    – lbf
    Jun 24, 2018 at 23:10

1 Answer 1


In the specific context of software engineering, I believe that scalability might be a good choice (or lack of scalability, in your case).

Scalability is the capability of a system, network, or process to handle a growing amount of work, or its potential to be enlarged to accommodate that growth. [from link]

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