Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Amazon Works Backwards

Ian McAllister of Amazon posted this interesting note on Quora about innovation at Amazon:

There is an approach called "working backwards" that is widely used at Amazon. We try to work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it. While working backwards can be applied to any specific product decision, using this approach is especially important when developing new products or features.

For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release is the new/updated product's customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.

If the benefits listed don't sound very interesting or exciting to customers, then perhaps they're not (and shouldn't be built). Instead, the product manager should keep iterating on the press release until they've come up with benefits that actually sound like benefits. Iterating on a press release is a lot less expensive than iterating on the product itself (and quicker!).

I love this approach.  The idea of working backwards has many benefits.  First, it really causes you to sharpen your idea.  You have to be able to communicate it crisply and concisely.  If you can't, then you probably don't have a clear strategy yet.  Second, it puts you in the shoes of the customer reading that press release.  It makes you think about how they will perceive your innovation.  Third, it helps you sharpen your understanding of the target market.  Who precisely is the target?  What do they care about?  Finally, it provides a clear, compelling direction for your team - they will have a strong shared understanding of the vision they are trying to achieve. 

1 comment:

Andy Kaufman, PMP said...

I love this idea as well. Bob Pozen has a new book coming out on October 2 called Extreme Productivity. He advocates the same process as a way to help us be more productive. It reminds me a bit of Stephen Covey's "start with the end in mind". Thanks for the post, Michael.