Two-pizza teams feed innovation at DIA

Two-pizza teams feed innovation at DIA

Last year, when officials from the Defense Intelligence Agency took a tour of Amazon Web Services offices on the west coast, they learned about Jeff Bezos’ two-pizza-team concept. Innovation teams should consist of six to eight people, Bezos said, or as many as can be fed with two pizzas.

According to CTO James Harris, this prompted the agency to adopt a similar approach. The DIA identified agency business problems and put together interdisciplinary teams, called pods, to develop a minimally viable product or to learn lessons from “failing cheap.”

So far, the DIA has two pods working on 24-week-long projects that are proxies for intelligence capabilities. One is looking at data -- including social media -- from the last World Cup in Brazil to determine whether or not it held indications of protests, disruptions and unrest around the games.

The other pod is working on a more efficient way to match resumes to vacancy announcements. Using open source machine language, the team is turning a process that used to take weeks into one that could take minutes, Harris said.

“It’s good that we improved that business process, but it’s also a proxy for other things in the intelligence world,” Harris explained. Free text-matching algorithms could speed up the flow of information in the agency and better connect data from other repositories.  

In order to continue to promote innovation, the next round of pods will run for 12 weeks, and all new agency hires will be directly assigned to pods. This way, their first job will be to work in small interdisciplinary teams and solve problems, Harris said.

The agency hopes the pods will help create a culture of problem solving while increasing the operational performance of the mission user.

 “Our government folks are very excited to come in and solve problems,” Harris said. “Historically, we would have to put a contract out.”

The DIA will be visiting GitHub during its next west coast tour in July.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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