Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon

Senteo Rating 3.5
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Author:Nicolaj Siggelkow, Christian Terwiesch
views 8346
Author:Nicolaj Siggelkow, Christian Terwiesch
Senteo Rating 3.5

Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon
Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon – Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, 9 February 2021
Senteo’s Review information

Working Backwards is written by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, two veteran Amazon executives. The pair share insights into Amazon’s internal methodology and culture, especially the eponymous ‘Working Backwards’ approach.

As the name implies, the ‘working backwards’ approach encourages executives to envision the end result for the customer when designing a new product or service. In this way, they place the desired customer experience at the forefront of their thinking, as opposed to business-side concerns like production costs. This, the authors explain, helps Amazon avoid the traditional pitfalls of product development, wherein production or supply-side concerns force the development of a product which no-one in the real world has any use for.

The ‘Working Backwards’ approach forces executives to do the following 3 things:

  1. Clearly identifying what value the product/service/experience creates for the customer
  2. Have a clear idea of what the offering would look like, how it would work, how much it would cost
  3. Identify what questions or issues customers may have with the offering as the author conceives it – and resolve them before beginning development.

This approach is closely linked to another methodological element – favoring text-based ‘narratives’ over traditional presentation styles, which favor visual elements. Focusing more on text, the authors argue, brings two benefits. Firstly, it enables executives to process more information in a shorter time frame. Secondly, it forces executives to engage with details in their presentations and prevents them from masking a lack of detail or thoughtfulness with visual flair.

While the authors discuss three text-based presentation formats in this context (the 6-pager, FAQ, and Press Release), only one of them – the Press Release – is most relevant to the ‘Working Backwards’ approach. Simply put, this format asks executive to imagine themselves preparing a press release announcing the launch of the product or service they are designing, including answering notional questions from the press and the public. The authors explain that this has several benefits. Firstly, it forces executives to develop a detailed vision of the end product from the onset, especially its crucial elements such as the value it creates, its functionality, and its price. Secondly, by imagining the questions they will likely face, executives end up anticipating potential pitfalls and faults in the product, enabling them to resolve them during the development stage.

On the whole, this is a strong framework. One can find few faults with a framework that encourages executives to think strategically, anticipate challenges and develop products and services with the customer’s experience in mind, rather than business-side concerns. Besides the eponymous framework, this book also features many interesting insights into Amazon’s culture and leadership practices, which played a role in making Amazon a household name.

For all its strengths, Amazon’s ‘Working Backwards’ approach is still, at its core, product-centric. The focus of the framework is not on creating a genuine customer experience or on developing customer relationships, but rather on ensuring that the product-design process is optimized so that new products sell better.

Working Backwards is an insider’s breakdown of Amazon’s approach to culture, leadership, and best practices from two long-time Amazon executives―with lessons and techniques you can apply to your own company, and career, right now.

In Working Backwards, two long-serving Amazon executives reveal the principles and practices that have driven the success of one of the most extraordinary companies the world has ever known. With twenty-seven years of Amazon experience between them―much of it during the period of unmatched innovation that created products and services including Kindle, Amazon Prime, Amazon Studios, and Amazon Web Services―Bryar and Carr offer unprecedented access to the Amazon way as it was developed and proven to be repeatable, scalable, and adaptable.

With keen analysis and practical steps for applying it at your own company―no matter the size―the authors illuminate how Amazon’s fourteen leadership principles inform decision-making at all levels of the company. With a focus on customer obsession, long-term thinking, eagerness to invent, and operational excellence, Amazon’s ground-level practices ensure these characteristics are translated into action and flow through all aspects of the business.

Working Backwards is both a practical guidebook and the story of how the company grew to become so successful. It is filled with the authors’ in-the-room recollections of what “Being Amazonian” is like and how their time at the company affected their personal and professional lives. They demonstrate that success on Amazon’s scale is not achieved by the genius of any single leader, but rather through commitment to and execution of a set of well-defined, rigorously-executed principles and practices―shared here for the very first time.

Whatever your talent, career or organization might be, find out how you can put Working Backwards to work for you.

The ‘Working Backwards’ approach can, in principle, be adopted by anyone who is seeking to realize a goal in practice. The general principle of envisioning the end result from the perspective of the target audience is a sound one, as is the practice of identifying potential pitfalls before they arise. However, the framework described in this book is fundamentally product-centric. We would advise readers to consult the Senteo methodology to learn how they can adopt a more experience-centric approach.

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    Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon
    Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon – Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, 9 February 2021
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