Is the Two Pizza team the future for project management?

September 6, 2014

Amazon Web Services believes it has found the recipe for successful innovation in Two Pizza teams which it claims have launched nearly three hundred new services and features this year

A BBC article on innovation [September 2014] pointed to the fate of once-successful companies that had lost the innovation game to more dynamic and younger competitors. It cited Polaroid, Alta Vista, Kodak among the recent casualties.

The article went over ground that can be found in textbooks of innovation management: Innovate or die. One consultant was quoted as saying “Typically, big companies are much more conservative than start-ups and won’t do anything that is untested or could risk future profits”,  It then listed an approach advocated by Amazon Web Services:

Two Pizza teams

The challenge is to find ways of recreating the energy an dynamism of lean start-up operations within larger companies. Which is where Amazon’s Two Pizza teams come in: Perhaps it is online retailer and web services provider Amazon that best exemplifies lean start-up principles in action.
“Keeping teams small enough to be fed by two large pizzas, giving them autonomy and direct access to customers, encourages risk taking and innovation”, says Ian Massingham, technical evangelist for Amazon Web Services (AWS), the retailer’s cloud platform. “AWS has launched 280 new services and features this year – it’s all about making things better for our customers.”

Most commentators accept there is no one way for big companies to innovate, but they all agree that without innovation your days at the top could be numbered.

As simple as that?

Not really. The basic point has been around as lean thinking since the 1980s and a best-selling book of that name by Jim Womack and Dan Jones, founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute and the Lean Enterprise Academy. Lean thinking is a mix of practical advice for project managers with a philosophic (sometimes evangelical) background for overcoming the functionalism and silos of large organisations. The shift is exemplified in the shift from Fordist production lines to Toyota’s dynamic small teams.

Teams shall not live by Pizza alone

But teams shall not live by Pizzas alone. Amazon already had an innovation culture before the Two Pizza concept was announced. As Massingham said, encouraging risk-taking and innovation requires more distributed leadership, and autonomy to workers. Transformation requires more than a smart name.


Leadership Lessons from Lady Gaga

October 11, 2011

by Dr Dina Williams

Lady Gaga Poker Face

She causes controversy, her music is might not be your cup of tea but it is certain that you will be familiar with the girl from the Lower East Side of New York who in a few short years transformed herself from Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta into one of the world’s best-known musical performers

Who we are talking about? Lady Gaga, of course

She blasted to the stratosphere of music industry with her first album The Fame, the best-selling debut album of 2009. Her single, Poker Face, is the most downloaded tune in the history of U.K. digital music.

Music icon plus

She is not only a music icon but an iconic business model from which corporate leaders can learn a few lessons. According to a recent article in The Economist, Lady Gaga has what Anderson, Reckhenrich and Kupp call “leadership projection“. This is a concept in which communication, behaviour and aspiration are integrated to provide a leader with wide recognition across an industry or sphere of public life.

Leadership projection is very much about attracting followers. The authors believe that her ability to build emotional commitment in those she leads is a capacity of increasing value in today’s business world. Financial Times summarising the case study puts her business success down to knowing how to use social media:

“She is the first living person to achieve 10 million fans on Facebook, which has grown by a further 2 million in a fortnight; she has nearly 5 million followers on Twitter; she is the first currently producing music artist to reach one billion YouTube views…Currently ‘Lady Gaga’ is searched 151,000,000 times a month.”

She has an instinctive understanding of how to handle social media and digital platforms. Forbes states:

“She is directing every frame of her music and her life, imagining how clips will appear on YouTube and what people will tweet after she appears on the VMAs.”

She likes her fans and they like her back

An industry insider is quoted as saying: “Maybe Gaga points a way to the future – to make your fans your trusted friends. After all, who steals from friends?” She constantly engages with her fans creating a feeling of ‘friendship’ which is reinforced by pet-naming her fans Monsters thereby familiarising them and creating a definite loyalty to her brand.

In an interview with Stephen Fry she says:“Well actually, I sent them hot chocolate yesterday, and macaroons, and then today I had the press all day and I felt a bit bad because I wouldn’t have much of a chance to go down and say hello. But I did manage to go down and brought them some fresh cookies and flowers”. She even named her second album “Fame Monsters”

She builds on others’ fame

Lady Gaga does not do feuds, and happily shares her platform with potential “rivals”. She has teamed up with Madonna, Beyoncé, Elton John. According to Forbes she “leverages buzz” by sharing the limelight with other, mightier entertainment brands than her own. She admits the influence in her work of David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson, Prince and others.

She is the brand

Lady Gaga does not endorse brands. Instead she creates new products in companies that have asked her to come on board. The objects with which she is identified are bounded by her own values. The latest news is that she is now a creative director at Polaroid, introducing to the market a range of innovative products of Polaroid’s Grey Label line, their flagship range including sunglasses which take pictures and technology that allows you to print photos directly from your mobile.