Leadership

Not enough pizza? Why your tech projects are failing to deliver

Traditional approaches to IT project management are too much of a blunt instrument, it's time to introduce some finesse - and the two pizzas rule.

The IT department needs to change how it manages tech projects if companies want to remain competitive, CIOs have been warned.

After examining how more than 100 major organisations are run, Simon Wardley, executive researcher with the global research and advisory service the Leading Edge Forum, found that businesses that are getting the most from technology are turning their backs on the traditional approaches to IT.

The IT department, Wardley told TechRepublic, typically takes a blunt approach to managing technology projects. The department's or its suppliers' "one size fits all" management style, he said, is poorly suited to the complexity of IT projects.

Such an approach fails to recognise that within a single IT project many of the technologies and processes will be at different stages of maturity: some well-worn and predictable and others novel and liable to change.

Wardley gave the example of a project to build an e-commerce platform carried out using the Six Sigma methodology, which attempts to maximise efficiency by minimising process variability.

"That would be very effective for linear activities that are well-defined, but that method would also incur huge change control costs for all those activities that would change," said Wardley, who spoke at the recent Ovum Industry Congress in London.

Often there is no single methodology that will suit a project, said Wardley, but traditional approaches to project management don't reflect this fact.

"We do lots of Agile everywhere, or Six Sigma everywhere. That's either good at innovation and sucks at efficiency, or good at efficiency and sucks at innovation."

The answer, and what Wardley found works well for companies, is to break down IT projects into smaller and smaller pieces, until each piece represent a distinct and cohesive activity, for instance provision of computing infrastructure.

Each piece of work is then assigned to a small team made up of IT specialists and staff with other relevant skills, and completed using a methodology suited to the task.

"Amazon famously uses a "two-pizza" rule - where every project is broken down into services and those services are provided by a team that is no bigger than can be fed by two pizzas," said Wardley.

"By breaking down to the 'two pizza approach' you group smaller numbers of activities together so you're much more likely to have the right active processes applied to the activity."

Line managers are already choosing to form ad-hoc "two pizza" teams to work on tech projects staffed by hand-picked IT specialists and leaving the IT department out of the equation, according to recent research by Forrester.

Wardley predicts that this change in IT project management will gradually become the norm, replacing the traditional approach led by the IT department.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

15 comments
meese
meese

Misleading title! I was going to show this to my CEO to convince her we needed daily pizza parties

lubo
lubo

Ever heard of Work Breakdown Structure? WBS is an essential tool in project management used for breaking down the work until you get to work package level that is no longer in duration than 8 - 80 hours per resource.

andrew232006
andrew232006

While I don't know about the article(Just how many slices should someone eat?). I agreed with the title. I missed breakfast and I think I'd be more productive if someone gave me a pizza.

afortini
afortini

Does the two pizza rule effectively mean that big eaters have to work harder as there are less members in the team? Hardly fair if you ask me.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

What is the difference between the two-pizza rule (yum) and Agile? I thought Agile was breaking down projects into easy-to-define deliverables. Our rule in our current 4-person shop is that we don't develop anything that cannot be done by one person working alone. If it _requires_ two or more people, then chances are it is too big for us, especially if we want to be cross-trained and have any of the 4 of us able to support and debug. And while one person may do all the development work, we all do the design and job acceptance stuff together.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

That you pick a lifecycle that suits the project, not mangle the project to make it fit the "best" lifecycle. Unfortunately the panacea merchants and their marks are still in full control. Best of luck with your efforts, but a bit of advice, don't hold your breath waiting for a broad take up of these ideas. If the fact that we keep making a complete mess of a significant proportion of projects and the costs of doing so has still not percolated through IT management, I see little hope of a change of approach, and absolutely nothing in your argument that would be the hook that sold the idea that not all IT projects are the same.

jsargent
jsargent

"The answer, and what Wardley found works well for companies, is to break down IT projects into smaller and smaller pieces, until each piece represent a distinct and cohesive activity, for instance provision of computing infrastructure." Duuuhhh! No brainer! Break the problem up into small manageable bites. Anyone see the Simpson's episode when Bart got the teacher drunk?

Odipides
Odipides

What if you've got a really fat b*st*rd on the team who eats two pizzas on his own every couple of hours? Alternatively, you could have about 16 supermodels living on two pizzas a month. Not sure the 'two-pizza' model is a real unit of programming.

emedinae
emedinae

I have 2 comments, I Think that in countries like mine (Mexico) in most companies is very difficult to implement this approach because the IT departments are lack of people, one single person has a lot of responsabilities to do, so there is no enough people to build small teams for each small part of the project. I Think too, that with this approach the main Project Leader must be very cautious with the integration between the sub-projects, It could become a puzzle. Regards,

JamesRL
JamesRL

Tony and I absolutley agree on something.....

jsargent
jsargent

I'll keep the super models and you can keep the pizza. I'll even throw in a 6-pack of Bud if you like :)

jsargent
jsargent

You'll have to modify it to use the two dorrito rule. ;)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If I'm giving you the supermodels, I want some proper beer. A Keg of Webster's Penine bitter, oh and I like pizza hot.

Professor8
Professor8

Yes, standards must be upheld. No wonder the state of the profession has fallen on such hard straits. "for instance provision of computing infrastructure" Spoken like a regular B-school bozo; zero depth, maximum hand-waving and a 2 decade old buzz-word.

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