Saturday, August 21, 2004

Jeff Bezos, the explorer

BusinessWeek has an interview with Jeff Bezos. Jeff argues that small projects allow rapid iteration, exploration, and innovation:
    You need to set up and organize so that you can do as many experiments per unit of time as possible. If doing an experiment costs $100 million and takes three years, well, you're not going to be able to do very much innovation. If, on the other hand, you can organize in small, lightweight teams that have certain tools so they can do a lot of experiments per week or per month or whatever the right unit of time is, then you'll get a lot more invention from that.
Excellent. Small projects minimize risk and allow rapid iteration. This will increase innovation, especially if some of the projects are rapid prototypes of radical new ideas. I'd recommend pushing this even further by giving people a fraction of their time -- 20% is common -- to work on and explore anything they like.

Jeff also defends the idea of two-pizza teams (a product group with 4-8 people), claiming they enhance productivity:
    Q: Amazon uses small teams, which you call "two-pizza teams." How do you organize projects so that such teams can work?

    A: The idea of using small teams is a pretty well-accepted notion. What happens is, as the teams get bigger, they have to spend more time coordinating. This is sometimes very misunderstood, but if you want to have a good work environment where people can really build, you don't want them to have to spend a lot of time coordinating. To the degree that you can get people in a team small enough that they can be fed on two pizzas, you'll get a lot more productivity.
As I said before, it's not at all clear to me that two-pizza teams spend less time coordinating or are more productive. You want autonomous, independent teams. You want to minimize complex interdependencies between your teams. You want to maximize informal networks, learning, and knowledge sharing. But setting an arbitrary limit on team size doesn't automatically achieve these goals.

[Thanks, Innovation Weblog, for pointing out the article]

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