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Going forward by working backwards

news #inspiration #design

There’s an approach to doing things over at Amazon that may seem a little backward to some organisations. And that’s exactly what it is.

"Working backwards" is how Amazon creates focus and momentum around products and ideas, in the most efficient way imaginable.

Our head of design, Richard Beaumont, visited Amazon to find out more. He says:

“A few weeks ago around 12 of us from DLG joined Amazon at their offices in East London to learn all about their working backwards approach. They’ve moved into so many new business areas over the last few years, so they’re clearly doing something right. We thought it would be interesting to find out what some of that success is built on, and also if there’s anything we can learn from it.

Rather than being focused on a solution, Amazon looks at how to solve customer problems. It’s a small, but important, distinction.

It either makes the idea better or it kills it completely. It’s a brilliant approach.

The idea behind their working backwards approach is that someone writes a hypothetical press release for a product or service they’re developing. They explain what the product is, why it’s good, what the benefits are and the customer problem it solves. They even put some hypothetical customer testimonials in there.

They then get a group of their peers into a room and have a ‘red pen’ session.

That means sitting down, reading the press release and pretending that it’s a product that has already gone to market. Those same people put notes on the press release (challenges, ideas, thoughts, opinions and comments) and feed them all back to the person who owns the document.

The point of all of this is that it makes the product manager focus on the problem they’re trying to solve, and all the various people they need to help them. It brings clarity to their vision and can help cut out a lot of wasted time.

It either makes the idea better or it kills it completely. It’s a brilliant approach.

One of the people who gave a talk on the day was a solution architect. He saw that everyone he had to deal with on the road to getting something delivered was a customer, not just someone that he had to work with. That’s the real difference in how Amazon operates; everything is about the customer.

Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, is known for bringing an empty chair to his meetings, because he wants to be absolutely sure nobody forgets the customer. Eccentric maybe, but it does the trick.

At DLG, we always want to put the customer first, too, but we’re aware we don’t know everything. That’s why we’re eager to learn from our peers in other industries.

Simply copying isn’t right for us, but there are definitely things we can take from Amazon and apply to how we work.”