Team Communication Costs

People often ask me, how big should an improvement team be? My answer: as small as possible.

In Fred Brooks’ Mythical Man Month, he points out that communication pathways increase in a nonlinear fashion. The formula is simple:


Where n is the number of people on a team.

  • 2 people = 1 connection (4-2)/2
  • 3 people = 3 connections (9-3)/2
  • 4 people = 6 connections (16-4)/2
  • 5 people = 10 connections (25-5)/2
  • 6 people = 15 connections (36-6)/2
  • 7 people = 21 connections (49-7)/2

The bigger the team, the more time is spent on discussion and communication, not progress.

The bigger the team, the more chance there is for confusion, scope broadening and other team disfunctions. More is not always merrier.

Smaller teams will also come up with better, tighter countermeasures and solutions.

How big should a team be? If you’ve laser-focused the team using data, 3-5 team members should do it.

Should you ever add people to an improvement team after it’s started? To paraphrase Brooks’ Law: Adding people to a late improvement project, makes it later.

Small tight teams will make more progress than large cumbersome ones.

Never choose teams before analysis. Let your data analysis dictate the people who need to be on the team.

This entry was posted by Jay Arthur in Lean, Six Sigma and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow comments with the RSS feed for this post.