Working Backwards (the Amazon Method)

What Is the Amazon Working Backwards Method?

The Amazon working backward method is a product development approach that starts with the team imagining the product is ready to ship. The product team’s first step is to draft a press release announcing the product’s availability. The audience for this press release is the product’s customer.

Amazon Working Backwards Method Explanation Graphic


What Goes into the Working Backwards Press Release?

A product team can draft this mock press announcement in any way it chooses. But according to a former Amazon director—Ian McAllister, now the head of product at Airbnb—your announcement should have at least the following details:

  • The product’s name
  • The intended customer
  • The problem the product solves
  • The benefits to the customer
  • A quote from someone at the company explaining in an inspirational way why you developed the product and what you hope it will do for your customer
  • A call to action telling the customer how to advantage of the product right away
  • Optional addendum: FAQ answering the business or tactical questions about building the product

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Note: McAllister says that a product team needs to spend a lot of time revising and cutting down the verbiage of this product press release. He believes the announcement isn’t ready until it is as short, clear, and makes a compelling case for the product.

Why Should a Product Team Use the Working Backwards Method?

As Amazon’s product management teams have explained over time, they find several benefits of using the working backward method.

It’s a useful gut-check about a product’s viability.

Drafting a press release is a lot easier and requires far fewer resources than building a minimum viable product or even creating and sending out a series of customer surveys.

When a product team writes this mock press announcement, they can get a gut-check about whether they’re enthusiastic enough about the product to pursue the idea further. If they find themselves uninspired by the draft, that is a good indicator the product idea lacks something or that the team has not fully thought through the problems or the solution.

The press release can become a useful guide during development.

If the team decides an idea is worth pursuing after this exercise, then they can use the press release as a strategic guide as they move into development. The press announcement can serve a similar function as the product roadmap. It can help keep the team on track and aligned around the big ideas and plans for the product.

It supports the principle of customer centrism.

One of Amazon’s guiding principles is what the company calls customer obsession. Amazon’s strategy is to start with a focus on the customer, and then figure out what products to build to delight that customer.

Using the working backward method fits perfectly with Amazon’s customer-centric approach. The product team needs to think through all of the reasons it built the hypothetical product, so it can draft a compelling news release to announce the product’s release in a way that would convince the target customer to run out and buy it.

Unless the product team has been customer-obsessed in writing the press announcement, that document won’t make a case for them actually to build the product.

Related Terms:

design thinking / customer empathy / product discovery / user research / customer advisory board


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