IT Leadership Forum – The “Two Pizza Rule”

IT Leadership Forum

By Martin Ewart

What is the maximum any team size should be?  What size of team provides the right balance between capability, agility and communication before it tips over into less optimal? Amazon seems to have been at the forefront of solving this conundrum. I listened to Ian Massingham from Amazon Web Services talk about this over dinner last week at the Head Resourcing IT Leadership Forum.

The evening was on the back of hearing several C suite leaders, from different organisations grapple with this topic in recent times. They know they need to change, they are up for changing, they are aware though that the old rules and paradigms have shifted. The world of data, digitalisation and services have changed the rules around what you do, and how your teams do it.

Ian talked about the “two pizza rule”. It’s a term I had heard a few times before, it’s almost become an accepted IT industry term in some parts. I hadn’t ever heard someone, from where it emerged, talking about it though.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO is not a believer in “communication”. Well, in that he doesn’t believe you should have to try too hard to communicate. Amazon takes an approach that recognises that failure is a certainty.  They don’t shy away from it. Their response to this, in their services is to design around failure, respect it is there, and take actions to avoid it impacting the service. They take a similar response to failure of communication and team working.  They take away the likelihood of the need to over-communicate. And team size is key to their belief system.

Their thinking has basis in science, not just opinion. Think about the different experience you have at a cosy dinner party, sitting around one table with sharing platters and good company…recall what the buzz around the table is like? How do people interact? And how connected do you feel with the group?  Then compare this experience with another type of event, a formal large group occasion, like a charity dinner or a wedding.  How connected do you feel across the whole group in those situations? The buzz may well be fun on your table and around you, but how well do you connect with those at the other side of the room.  It’s this thinking that drives team size in Amazon. Communication should be natural, not forced.

Amazon’s response is to determine maximum team sizes. No team should be big enough that they can’t be fed by two large American size pizzas (max 12-14 people).  It’s a rule that has an impact. When a project team gets bigger than this, they split it into two projects. Each team delivers a service in its entirety, from end to end. Therefore, the service development becomes two service development teams. Each stand alone and accountable for designing, developing, implementing and running their discrete service.

A lot of companies continue to grapple with the challenge of the IT & change performance in this new economy. How do they access the services available in the cloud? How do they bring agility into the modern world of development? And how do they marry the innovative approach to development with the secure and stable conscious world of operations. In Amazon’s case, they make it one world. No separation.

They don’t have terms such as “IT” and “the business”. That is language that would strike warning bells through their culture. There is no boundary, logical or physical. They are one.  Ian Massingham helped us understand practical approaches to these new paradigms. Team size is critical, as are ways of working.

As I listened, the Amazon way of working feels more about peer standards, clear guide rails and socially accepted practice, than they are about command and control approaches. Going outside of these norms felt like it would get a reaction in the same way a drink driver would get in your own social circle. They would understand that it is not an accepted way of acting. The Amazon approach sets a good model for all businesses striving to accelerate their transformation journey. It seemed to me, at its centre, it’s about freeing the deep capability in your teams and giving them an environment to collaborate and perform together. It’s about two pizza teams….

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