Defining Information with the Two Pizza Rule

In last week’s post I discussed the importance of culture and social memory in establishing the shared context in which we develop a tacit understanding of information. One of the challenges of information management is how to  transform tacit understanding into explicit definitions of information. We can recognise an object but struggle to formulate a concise definition of an object (Shekelton, 1991).

But does it matter if I can recognise a pizza but cannot define one? From an information management perspective, yes it does matter because my tacit understanding of a pizza may be different to your understanding of a pizza. If you are expecting 14 inches of deep pan dough and I give you a slice of cheese and tomato on toast, you will not be too happy!

Problems occur when terminology is misunderstood in organizations. For example, if I asked for the number of pizzas sold today would the total number include:

o   All sizes and types?

o   Calzone?

o   Pizzas sold as part of a meal deal?

o   Pizzas sold in a 2 for 1 offer?

o   Pizzas sold for dine in, take away and delivery?

o   Pizzas purchased and refunded?

o   Pizzas ordered and uncollected?

In different parts of the organization, the interpretation of the question I asked may be different, leading to conflicting results.

In organizations, defining what we mean by specific information terms is challenging. We can start by asking individual staff in the organization but we may have to go back to them to clarify what we have understood as we ask more staff for their views. We could hold a meeting to facilitate discussion of different views, but there is a risk that a consensus may not be reached.

Jeff Bezo, CEO of Amazon, has a two pizza rule. There should be no more people at a meeting than can be fed by two pizzas. This ensures the balance is maintained between enabling different opinions to be fully expressed and not becoming overwhelmed by the different views. So when you need to define information terms to understand why conflicting information is being reported, adopt the two pizza rule to organize your meetings.

Further Reading: defining information terms is discussed in Chapter 7.


Please use the following to reference this blog post in your own work:

Cox, S. A., (2014), ‘Defining Information with the Two Pizza Rule’, 25 April 2014,, [Date accessed: dd:mm:yy]

© 2014 Sharon A Cox