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.

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