As a remote work product manager, don’t be hindered by the two pizza rule

The two pizza rule from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says that teams should be small enough so that they can be fed by two pizzas. Most modern software teams fit into this model, so it’s a pretty standard practice nowadays. Typically there will be one product manager (or otherwise business owner), one or two designers, a handful of engineers (sometimes with a engineering management person and/or technical leader), and perhaps a data person.

As a proponent of remote work however, understand where the two pizza rule context is coming from, and don’t be hindered by it. Traditional large organizations typically move slower because of prolonged decision making processes and general inefficient bureaucracy. Two pizza teams empower small sets of individuals to make business decisions and execute technical deliverables to achieve those goals, as a way to overcome that big company inefficiency.

With remote work, the way to address this inefficiency is writing things down and communicating asynchronously. It is less focused on the inherent size of teams.

Consider meetings. In the two pizza world, the way to get everyone on the same page and make decisions is to have quick meetings, often. (The daily standup is the classic instantiation of this, as well as other Agile ceremonies.) In remote work, status should be entirely communicated asynchronously through the written word, or at most, using short video clips with a variety of new tools just focused on this use case. Day to day collaboration should be done through async messages in a source of truth issue tracker. And synced video chats should be reserved for more complex collaboration opportunities, such as a complicated design problem. Remote work actually affords more collaboration and at a greater scale, since it is not (or at least less so) limited by team size.

In the two pizza world, teams often seek consensus on ideas or general “buy-in”. Product managers or business analysts are often running around, sharing ideas with stakeholders from different departments, in an effort to get most people on board with a new initiative, and get everyone’s support. The burden is on the business owner of the product team to get “approval” of ideas. Even though many organizations claim that they don’t practice an explicit approval process, they are nonetheless still moving slowly because of this culture of getting permission. In remote work, this problem is largely mitigated by people writing things down transparently in a single source of truth location, and inviting all stakeholders to collaborate and critique in that one location for efficiency. The product manager should be clear what is the latest proposal on the table, provide a timeline for implementation, and blast out that collaboration space to as many people as possible, typically through some global communications channel. The product manager thus has fulfilled their responsibility in communicating clearly (and even better yet, typically succinctly) what the latest proposal entails. And it is now incumbent on stakeholders to respond and to critique. In a healthy organization, blocking approvals will not be required so that the business can move forward quickly. But even with blocking approvals required, the process is radically transparent and puts healthy social pressure on the approvers to quickly comment on the proposal (since it is being shared publicly).

In any organization, a product manager needs to juggle the chaos of many voices and often, many different personalities. The two pizza rule manages that chaos by putting inherent constraints on the organization structure. A remote work product manager however, should not shy away from that chaos, but leverage it as amazing ideas and collaboration opportunities from throughout the organization. Since the remote work product manager has established the rules of engagement (a transparent single source of truth collaboration space), they don’t need to worry about two pizzas or four pizzas or 100 pizzas (since they’re working from home anyways 😅). You can have collaboration from potentially the entire organization and still move fast. You can have your cake (pizza?) and eat it too.

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