Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Working Backwards to Innovate at Amazon

Recently, Lisa Eadicicco wrote an article for Business Insider titled, "This is the test Amazon uses to decide which ideas are worth turning into new products."  She describes the "working backwards" methodology that Amazon routinely uses during its new product development process.  Here's an excerpt: 

And while Amazon's product portfolio may be larger and more diverse than ever, there's a simple process the company uses to figure out which ideas are worthy of becoming real products: writing a press release.  This is what has come to be known as the "working backwards document" within Amazon, a mock press release that describes the product and the problem it's trying to solve.

"Everything starts as a working backwards document," Miriam Daniel, Amazon's vice president of Alexa and Echo devices, recently said to Business Insider following the company's fall product launch event. "The reason we write a press release is, when we read it, we want to be able to say as a consumer, 'Wow, I want that.' We write with that end in mind."

All of the devices Amazon unveiled during its event at the end of September started as a working backwards document, says Daniel. The goal of the working backwards document is to help the product team focus on what the main use case for a particular product would be.

Often, at Amazon, they not only draft the press release as part of this working backwards process.  They also write the frequently asked questions document that will be provided to customers if the product/service is built.   These documents help Amazon's managers envision how customers will react to the new product, and in particular, whether it will fulfill a customer need or alleviate a key pain point for users.   

I wrote about the working backwards approach in my book, Unlocking Creativity.   It's a powerful technique that can help individuals step back and gain some distance from a challenging problem.  They can look at the problem in a new way by jumping forward in time and trying to predict how others will react to our solution at that point in the future.  For more on how and why this type of approach is worthwhile, check out the video below: 


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