Lessons From a Year Spent on a Two Pizza Team

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Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team – Steve Wozniak

In the early years of Amazon , as the company was in transition from fledgling startup to world-eating behemoth , managers held a corporate away day to consider their main challenges.

One executive opined that communication across the company needed improving – employees simply needed to talk more. The CEO , Jeff Bezos,  is alleged to have stood up and said “No, communication is terrible!

Bezos didn’t want more communication. He wanted a decentralised, even disorganised company where creativity and independence prevailed over groupthink and management.

Hence he established a fondness for what became known as the Two Pizza Rule: if a team couldn’t be fed with two pizzas, it was too big.

The term has precedence in things like Brooks’ Law – which states that “adding manpower to a late project makes it later.” Getting bigger often means your communication overheads grow and doesn’t necessarily yield faster results. As Brooks said: “Nine women can’t make a baby in one month.”

It’s interesting then if you observe any management meeting when a problem comes up around a deadline or late project. Invariably the solution is to throw resources at it. In fact the opposite is often true – you should take resource away. 

Historically career progression has been gauged on the amount of people you manage , the budgetary responsibility you bear. Your position in the hierarchy. In a networked age –  power and influence simply don’t work this way.

The monolithic management structures across much of public services need aggressive simplification. Revolution rather than evolution.

Twelve months ago , as we prepared to launch Bromford Lab, I had all my resources taken away.  And I’ve never felt better. 

We have four people on the Lab. A lot of people who visit ask if there are any jobs going. The answer, sadly, is no. Two Pizza Law means we can never expand.

What are the benefits I’ve found from this way of working?

Agility ramps up.

We can have an idea on Monday morning, have the process mapped by lunch and the product in place by the end of the day. There’s less consultation and less ego to negotiate.

Hierarchy gets blown apart.

There’s no management meetings as there isn’t really any conventional management. Everyone knows what’s going on in the wider company – even the things that could previously be marked management confidential. The tendency for lower-paid employees to defer to the highest paid person’s opinion (HiPPO syndrome) just doesn’t happen.

Performance becomes transparent.

In big teams I’ve managed and worked within I’ve experienced “social loafing” – where people exert less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when they work alone. But there’s no hiding in a two pizza team. A weak link gets shown up straight away.

I’ve noticed that performance management has become more democratised too. We call each other out publicly (usually on WhatsApp) when tasks are unfinished or performance drops.

The downside? 

Well, even Steve Wozniak would agree that to deliver great product you need a great team around you. You can’t do it alone. And that’s where the rest of Bromford come in.

Next week we’ll expand Two-Pizza working by assembling four semi-automonous squads to help us work on themes we know are important to customers.

These will synchronise with the work of the Lab, Insight and Customer Experience teams – adopting some of our agile methodology – as well as working out loud using more collaborative social business tools.

Each squad will be encouraged to be radically transparent – engaging more colleagues and customers in their work without the hindrance of line management responsibilities.  In time we hope these guerilla cells turn our approach from innovation lab to innovation company.

In truth – we know all management is waste. In a connected business power no longer emanates from the boss or the top of the hierarchy. It lies right at the centre of the network.

The challenge for all large organisations is how they make every business unit act like a startup. Every employee thinking like a business owner rather than being served by the company.

The future of work is already here, just not evenly distributed.

And it’s a lot smaller.

  1. Great post as usual Paul. But how do you sustain the motivation of a small team when one member faces a life crisis, sickness or goes rogue…?

    Reply

    1. Thanks Russell. That’s a really good question.

      I think working like this means you need very high trust levels. Vicky , who I established the Lab with, I’ve worked with for over 10 years – she’s essentially my “work wife”.

      Both Amy and Tom were recruited over quite a long period – we got to know a lot about them and how they operated as people before we committed.

      We’ve managed the life crisis event fairly well – because we work very flexibly and we aren’t restricted to a 9-5 work timeframe we’ve done OK.

      We’ve been blessed with no sickness or rogue behaviour and it’ll be interesting to see how the structure copes if that happens! We have built in a contingency that we can use to bring in external support if we need it.

      So for instance , last year we had 50K available that we simply didn’t need – but that won’t always be the case.

      Cheers for the comment – made me think!

      Reply

      1. Thanks for such a quick reply, Paul. WHat made me ask is that I have evaluated so many really effective pilots over the years which have failed to replicate elsewhere without the inspiration and motivation of the founders…

        Reply

        1. Absolutely Russell and we have examples of that internally too. We were having this very conversation with our Insight and Intelligence team the other day – how do we maintain leadership and iterative improvement as we scale pilots..

          If I discover the answer I’ll let you know!

          Reply

  2. This really resonated with me Paul and made me realise what I feel has changed for me this year. Having now set up on my own, I’ve been able to implement lots of the thoughts that I had running around my head immediately, rather than having those ideas lost in a network of bureaucracy or simply rejected as “its not what we do”. Some things were dropped pretty quickly as ended up being labour intensive and didn’t really add the value I’d hoped, but others now form part of my daily routine, but its that ability to have independent thoughts that has really enriched the experience of standard day to day work for me.
    I think having 2 pizzas to myself would send me into a food coma but I’m always up for a challenge!! mmmmmmm

    Reply

    1. So true Barry. It was working with a small startup about four years ago and observing how they worked and self-organised that inspired me.

      They got product on the street in weeks , days sometimes. How? By focussing only on the essentials that added value and not being afraid if their ideas failed.

      Good to hear you are getting the benefits too!

      Reply

  3. Really good post Paul. Mirrors loads of my own thoughts on the future of work.

    I’m fortunate enough to work in an organisation that’s allowing me to stir up a mini-rebellion regarding ‘Working Out Loud’ and banishing internal email. Being able to work in a more open and free way is a fundamental thing that I love about my job and it’s what keeps me from wandering off elsewhere.

    Reply

    1. Thank you Neil – I guess we are both very lucky to work in organisations where rebellion is part of the organisational DNA. I don’t hear that often enough.

      Appreciate the support as always

      Reply

  4. percetakanexpres April 29, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    The above information is very useful
    a lot of quotes and lessons can I take

    Thank you

    Reply

  5. […] For a superb analysis of what this might look like in practice read Paul Taylor’s recent blog Lessons From a Year Spent on a Two Pizza Team (it is stunningly […]

    Reply

  6. It was the pizza that got me reading…and the excellent logic that kept me reading. Thanks for sharing, Paul and good luck with the new squads! I’m off to ring Dominos now…

    Reply

    1. Ha! Thanks. Might join you – or wait for “Two for Tuesday” 😉

      Reply

  7. […] the team is fairly small — in fact they have to conform to the Two Pizza Rule. That is , there can’t be more of them than can be fed on two pizzas. If you have to buy more […]

    Reply

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