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.

Questions for project team leaders

March 21, 2014

A list of questions have been collected from students attending assorted courses on leadership and project management. Each question offers possibilities for personal reflection or team discussion. There are no simple answers, and different views in a discussion represent different experiences and beliefs.

The students who produced the questions were encouraged to study Chapter three of their text book Dilemmas of Leadership, and to support their answers with reference to dilemmas inherent in their study of project management, and through drawing on personal experiences.

1 Dealing with a crisis
We are in deep trouble as a project team. What do we do if the team believes there is no way to reach its project objectives?

2 Dealing with personal problems
What to do when the group becomes overwhelmed by internal disputes and conflicts? what basic assumptions mat be contributing to the team’s problems?

3 Using Psychological profiles sensibly
How might we use knowledge of psychological profiles to support team effectiveness?

4 Search widely, choose wisely
How can we go beyond the obvious and first ideas in our team discussions?

5 Working to a difficult brief
What can you do if you are given a difficult or unreasonable project brief?

6 Multi-tasking (independent versus inter-dependence)
How can you divide up the work among team members?

7 Conflict resolution
Are you dealing with conflict in the project as effectively as you could?

8 On team leadership
What sort of leader (or leaders) should your team have?

9 What can be done if your team members are poor at listening to each other?

The Royal Wedding and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers

April 30, 2011

A Royal Wedding brings together the worlds of performance art, fantasy, creativity, design, and entrepreneurship. One little-explored theme is the back-engineering going on centred around the design of the bride’s dress by teams of creative copyists intent on bringing their products to the market within days.

Teams of designers were in place. This is much the same as what happens in the world of product development with design teams anticipating the shape of things to come in the next Apple launch, or the latest twists and turns in tennis gear. From the first glimpses of the new designs, together with years of study, the designers discern the essence of the creative leaps involved. The possibilities for sincere flattery are assessed and enacted. Issues of financing, sourcing of materials and supply-chains mulled over

Intellectual property?

An interesting point. What are the guidelines. One designer told the BBC [Sunday April 30th 2011] that was alright as long as she just didn’t copy it too closely. That’s a new interpretation of the complexities of IP legislation for me. Yet the creation of the bride’s dress was never intended to produce a prototype for subsequent marketing.

Invasion of the body snatchers

I need some journalistic licence here for the connection between the main story and that other much-loved piece of art, the 1956 movie The Invasion of The Body Snatchers. Are the designers of copies of the dress to be compared to aliens, hatching their lookalike creations from plant-like pods? Or are there deeper symbolic possibilities. The original film, set in California, was reviewed as a critique of alienation and suppression of human rights under McCarthyism.

The lacking

And yes, this tale of The Royal Wedding and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has another curious difference from other stories of the Royal Wedding. I leave these matters for LWD subscribers to mull over. Why not let your imagination loose on them?

BP Oil-spill: Official report spreads blame

January 6, 2011

The offical report into the Deepwater Horizon disaster spreads the blame around BP, Transocean, bad management, and government regulatory laxness

Broad culpability was always likely. The offical report summarized today [January 6th 2011] leaves plenty of scope for years of legal wrangling.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was an avoidable disaster caused in part by a series of cost-cutting decisions made by BP and its partners, the White House oil commission said last night. In a preview of its final report, due next week, the national oil spill commission said systemic management failure at BP, Transocean, and Halliburton caused the blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico, and warned that such a disaster would likely recur because of industry complacency. “Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money),”

See also the Leaders we deserve reports in the months following the oil-spill.

When leadership matters. The case of the Chilean miners

August 27, 2010

Sometimes leadership matters in an obvious life or death way.  The Chilean miners are a case in point. Anyone brought up in a mining community will know why

Tudor Rickards

The stark facts of a human crisis have been told around the world.  One journalist confronted the possibility that his own profession might look for the greatest possible human interest angle in the story, as in the classic Billy Wilder movie.

The story hardly needs embellishing. A mining accident occurs half a mile underground.  At first, the local community fears the worse while hoping for the best. Families of miners have memories of the outcomes of earlier disasters.  In South Wales when I was growing up, the mine’s alarm bell was as significant as the tolling of a church bell or a trumpet-call in other communities. Our poets and writers helped create and recreate our images of fear and heroism.  When you start from that understanding you also begin to understand how miners can survive psychologically  after days or weeks on entombment. You can also understand a little why miners have such a strong social bond, and a bloody-minded determination to keep fighting to the bitter end in an industrial dispute.

All in a day’s work

A ‘normal’ day’s work occurs under conditions hard to imagine with experiencing some analogous claustrophobia-inducing conditions.  But that normality has already helped a group of 33 men come to terms with what has happened.  Stark realism and conditioned responses come together, and maybe keep in denial being overwhelmed with dread.  Maybe, just maybe, a group of experienced potholers would be the closest approximation of skills and attitudes of survival value.   Another might be sub-mariners.  A Radio 5 news item intelligently seized on that possibility. Yes, there are similarities, their interviewee said, but at least we had volunteered to be together in a confined space for weeks on end.  But so have miners, if we set aside the level of free choice in a mining community to be either a front-line miner of part of the support staff.

Situation report

The rescue plan is fraught with difficulties, but a clear overview was provided by the BBC:

The plan to rescue the 33 men trapped 700m (2,300ft) underground in the San Jose copper mine in Chile is a complex undertaking that could take engineers until the end of the year to achieve.

In a similar operation in 2002, American rescuers spent two days drilling a hole just wide enough to fit a man to rescue nine miners trapped underground. The Americans had to drill down just 74m. By comparison, the plan to rescue the 33 men in Chile nearly three quarters of a kilometre underground is a much greater challenge. But, says John Urosek, who took part in the 2002 Quecreek mine rescue in Pennsylvania, it is not “mission impossible.”

“I would put this at the tough end of things. It’s not mission impossible but it’s a difficult mission,” says Mr Urosek who is now chief of mine emergency operations for the US Mine Safety and Health Administration. The key to the operation is the use of a specialist drilling machine, designed to bore deep narrow holes through any rock to a depth of just over a kilometre.

There are numerous uncertainties and requirements for precision-engineering. The technical side has echoes of the on-going BP attempts to ‘drill and fill’ the well in the Gulf of Mexico. Leadership above and below ground will be vital.  Above ground all the skills of project management will need to be deployed.  There are additional ‘interface skills’ already evidenced in the supplies provisioned through the tiny bore-hole, and communication systems being set up.  Underground, the leadership influences will be revealed over time.  It is likely to have a strongly emergent and distributed aspect to it.

BP Oil Spill: August-Sept Updates

August 4, 2010
Least Terns - one of many birds affected by Gu...

Image by flythebirdpath~} teddy (heart still in YOSEMITE) via Flickr

September 8th “It’s not all our fault”

BP provides oil-spill report. Accepts errors but begins cautious spreading of the errors (blamestorming?)

September 5th

Unified Command has released a video of Saturday’s [September 5th] retrieval of the Deepwater Horizon Blow Out Preventer

Just when I thought the story was going to sleep another oil-rig explosion in the Gulf (Marine Energy operated) …. Great quote: “Just when we thought we’d had a wake-up call we hit the snooze button”.

August 30th

Evidence that BP’s prospects into the future will be severely limited.

August 20th

[1] An interesting stat. Oil Spill at 6 million barrels huge. Note combined spills from three tanker spills exceed that figure.

[2] Lawyers for Transocean, the company that owned the oil rig is alleging that BP is denying them access to information they needs.

According to the BBC:

The claim is made in a letter from one of Transocean’s lawyers sent to members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet. BP rejected the allegation, saying the letter contained “misguided and misleading assertions”. Nevertheless, the claim risks piling further pressure on BP.

August 16th President and daughter swim in Gulf.  Brits recall a politician (John Gummer) who fed hamburger to daughter in Mad Cow drama some years ago.

August 13th Bloomberg’s Joe Mysak writes of Oil-Spill Hysteria.

Never before has a disaster like this been accompanied by such an unrelenting torrent of hysteria, speculation and inexpert testimony… The pronouncements grew madder and madder. This was nothing less, they said, than the oil apocalypse.

What looks like what happened is that BP Plc shut off the well, after some trial and error. As they were doing so, they were also siphoning off oil, burning some and dousing a good portion of the remainder with chemicals meant to break it up so that the ocean could do the rest. Some oil was skimmed at the surface, some was collected in various barriers and some inevitably made it to shore. What’s next? The oil company still has to seal the well. Then there’s more cleanup, which will last months or years.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how the oil-spill drama will conclude. People talk a lot about the fishing industry, almost as though we were living in 1890. The fishing industry is a relatively unimportant part of the modern Gulf, which is why everyone there is eager for the real business, drilling for oil, to resume. Then of course there is tourism. Can it be restored to pre- spill quality and levels?

Americans are an impatient lot. Something tells me that you don’t clean up the biggest oil spill in the nation’s history overnight. It seems, though, the Deepwater Horizon disaster could have been much worse. Not too long from now, within our lifetimes, people may ask, “Remember the Gulf oil spill?”

August 8th Lawsuits loom. A class action suit has been filed against BP and Nalco related to use of dispersant Corexit.

August 7th
BP stands down Doug Suttles. Replacement is a less senior executive who seems likely to be there for the longer-term, and more full-time. Mike Utsler becomes lead representative in the Unified Area Command and the chief operating officer for the oil giant’s Gulf Coast restoration organization. Suttles, who has led the company’s overall response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will now return to his role as chief operating officer

August 6th “seal or sell”. Now the story shifts towards economic issues. The leak seems sufficiently under control to raise the question of the economic future of decisions being made. We have a strategic dilemma here around the decisions of selling off the well, or keeping options open of recovering revenues.

August 5th A government report says only a quarter of the oil from the BP well remains and that it is “degrading quickly”. According to the BBC, the report was compiled by 25 of “the best government and independent scientists”.

August 4th: The “Static Kill” to seal the well has begun. First indications are promising says BP senior vice-president Kent Wells (Nice name for a Wells manager?). He now will presumably front up the BP communications. US Government representative Admiral Thad Allen is now “designated incident commander”. Project management, governance, and leadership roles are coming into focus.

See Also July Entries Updated July stories

Co-Creativity: The Book with a Hundred Authors

December 10, 2009

The Industrial Design Engineering Faculty of The Delft University of Technology celebrated forty years in education with a spectacular display of co-creativity

Under the direction of Professors Frido Smulders and Han van der Meer, a hundred and six students became creators, authors, and production-managers of a book created and published within a three-month design project. The students had assembled on Sept 9th [2009] to receive their project brief, which was short and to the point. It was to collaborate in whatever way seemed appropriate to write and produce a book. The finished product was to be launched at the end of the project in December.

So it was that the students gathered on December 9th in the main lecture theatre on the appointed deadline. They had come from around the world to study at Delft’s celebrated Industrial design department. As they took their places, a large trolley was rolled in, carrying the books straight from the publishers. A first copy was handed over to Paul Rullman, Vice President Education, of the University.

The Project

What had happened between the first and last days of the project? Professor Smulders explained.

“Our Project Leadership course is part of the Strategic Product Design Masters degree. There is a great deal of problem-based learning. But we realized there were problems for students and Professors about how to conduct team work. That was the starting idea. Meike Brehmer and Geertje Roodbol did a pilot study which led to an internet survey of 15,000 of our students. They got 20% response, and we knew there was a lot of interest in giving students all around the University a book dealing with the problems of working in teams. Meike went on to be our student co-editor for the book”.

So the project was born, grounded in a lot of information about student needs in project work. In the next stage (after Sept 9th) the information was restructured into a conceptual framework of 70 themes identified by ‘root-cause analysis’. This led to the four main categories in the book, and to 12 main chapters.


Each chapter was allocated to a student team, with a further set of issues framed as ‘how to .. ‘ challenges such as ‘how to initiate a good team atmosphere’ , and ‘how to give and receive feedback’. At the book launch, a hilarious video showed the team leaders in a wild scramble for a chapter for their team.

Smulders again: “This is not a final product. It’s ‘ a zero edition’ like you get a zero series in such products as cars. But we can build and develop it.”

I suspect he is right. The product is indeed a bit raw around the edges, but in my view it reaches a remarkable level of technical competence of its content. It is also meeting a niche need. Frido and Han van de Meer always saw the potential beyond that of the needs of their design students . It may well be that the pioneering product will go through further editions, and attract international attention. I would encourage students and tutors to take a look at the zero edition.


Smulders, F., Brehmer, M., & van der Meer, H., (2009) TeamWorks: Help Yourself By students for students, Delft, NL: Delft University of Technology, ISBN 978 90 81 5053 1 4

Airbus delays as A380 production continues to stall

June 1, 2008

Delays to Airbus flagship A380 came as no surprise to anyone following the extended story of this mega-engineering project. Do we have a tale of a jumbo jet turning into a white elephant?

The extended case against former Boss Noel Forgeard rumbles on. This may still be harmful to the company. But the production struggles associated with the A380 persist, and seem more likely to prove commercially damaging.

When a project starts badly there seem to be inevitably further problems right down the line. How much of this due to the complexities of project management? How much to leadership or lack of it?

The company said the latest delays were due to problems moving from the initial production phase, responsible for the first 25 aircraft, to a more intensive production line. No details were given about the financial implications of the announcement.

“The extent of the additional costs will be influenced by the actual production and delivery scenario,” Airbus said.

Airbus – which is part of aerospace group EADS – now plans to deliver 12 planes this year, instead of the 13 expected. In 2009, 21 A380s will be supplied to carriers against the previous plan to deliver 25. Deliveries for 2010 would be discussed with airlines in the coming weeks.

A scale-up problem?

Further light is thrown on the delay by Aerospace reporter James Wallace

The latest delays will affect planes that are delivered in 2009 and 2010. These are what Airbus calls its “Wave 2” A380s, in which new automated production methods will be used that eventually will streamline the production process. The first 25 A380s are essentially being wired by hand, and problems with the wiring bundles caused the earlier major delays.

Wallace writes with insight about the pressures facing the rival firms Boeing and EADS. He recalls with some nostalgia how

Thirteen years ago [dating back from May 15th 2008] Boeing Co. delivered the first 777 to United Airlines — on schedule to the very day it had been promised years earlier. But meeting schedules for the next generation of jets from Boeing and Airbus, with all the advanced technology and new production methods, has proved impossible.

The A380 production lines are struggling, but Wallace offers even more gloomy expectations for the challenges facing the rivals and their next generation promises for the 787 (Boeing) and A350 (Airbus/EADS).

Commenting for the Herald Tribune, Caroline Brothers outlines the press conference call from Thomas Enders which briefed on the delay.

Because of rising fuel prices, the delivery slowdown will hurt airlines seeking to get the most efficient aircraft onto their flight schedules. Enders declined to estimate the financial impact of the delay until Airbus completed discussions with its customers. Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Qantas are all expecting deliveries this year. Air France-KLM and Lufthansa are expected to receive the A380 in 2009.

The report also suggested that Air France might take a particularly hard hit. Now that’s something worth watching out for. Surely political influences on EADS are not being exercised in a direction which disadvantages French interests?

Acknowledgement: Image from M Puddy’s excellent Aerospace website