FYSK #1: Amazon’s Working Backwards Framework

Written on Approx. 6 mins read time

Frameworks You Should Know is a new series that explores various product management related frameworks. Instead of just telling you the framework (which a Google search can tell you), I’ll be focusing on what makes the framework great and where you should use it.

At the end of the day, your choice of framework to use should depend on your organization and the culture they want to foster. YMMV.

Amazon’s Working Backwards Framework is a product development methodology used by the company to define and prioritize new initiatives. This approach starts with a clear and concise description of the end goal or customer experience and works backwards from there.

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From Product plan (link)

The Working Backwards Framework was developed by Amazon in the early 2000s as a method for product development. The concept was inspired by Jeff Bezos’ belief that starting with the customer and working backwards was the most effective way to innovate and create new products.

The framework was originally used by Amazon’s product development teams and was gradually adopted by other parts of the company. It has since become a widely recognized and adopted approach to product development in the tech industry.

The Working Backwards Framework has been credited with the development and launch of several successful Amazon products, including the Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime. It continues to be a cornerstone of Amazon’s approach to product development, and many other companies have since adopted similar methodologies in their own product development processes.

The first step of the Working Backwards Framework is to write a press release as if the product already exists. This press release should describe the end goal or customer experience that the product will provide. For example, imagine that we’re working on a new fitness tracker. The press release could read:

“Introducing the FitTrackr — The ultimate fitness tracker that helps you achieve your fitness goals. With its advanced tracking technology, the FitTrackr monitors your daily activity, tracks your workouts, and provides personalized insights to help you stay on track. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or just starting out, the FitTrackr is the perfect tool to help you reach your goals.”

Once you have written the press release, the next step is to create a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document. This document should address potential customer queries and concerns. For example:

Q: How accurate is the FitTrackr’s tracking technology?
A: The FitTrackr uses advanced sensors to track your activity and provide accurate data. Our technology has been tested and proven to be highly accurate.

Q: Does the FitTrackr work with my phone?
A: Yes, the FitTrackr is compatible with both iOS and Android devices. You can easily sync your data with our app to track your progress.

The main idea here is to demonstrate to the stakeholders and fellow team members what your product does and what common questions you anticipate. This can also be used to explore new features and functionalities you want within the app.

Define the user experience for the app. This should include creating a user journey map that outlines the steps a user would take when using the app, from downloading it to achieving their fitness goals. For example, the user journey map might show that a user downloads the app, sets a fitness goal, and then receives personalized coaching and insights to help them achieve that goal.

Asking yourself questions (What does the customer journey look like? How will the app be used? How can the customer see the recommendations? When do they see the recommendation? What are they supposed to do after seeing those recommendations? etc) helps you define the boundaries for the product you’re developing.

Identify the key features of the app that will enable users to achieve their goals. In our case, these might include features such as goal-setting, activity tracking, personalized coaching, and progress tracking.

Key features help you in knowing what your products unique selling propositions are going to be. If the team were to return with statements like, we can’t implement step tracking, then you know you’re not hitting the mark.

Create a detailed product roadmap that outlines the steps needed to achieve the vision outlined in the press release. This should include setting specific milestones and metrics to measure progress towards the end goal. For example, the roadmap might include milestones such as completing the app’s design and development, launching a beta version, and achieving a certain number of downloads within the first month of launch.

Of course, this is the easy part. The next steps for these are to rally the teams (or find support/funding for this idea) and get the stakeholders to invest. You’ll be prepared with everything you need, to start…

IMO, this framework is really good to use when you’re exploring a new idea. By conforming to the steps outlined above, you’re streamlining your thought process and giving the team something tangible to explore.

The beauty of this framework is the PR release. That is literally inception. You’re painting a picture of the future, a complete future when the product succeeds.

While I’m a big fan of the Amazons method, I believe that this does the classic mistake of ideating on a solution before understanding the problem. I’ll elaborate:

The fitness tracking app we’ve written about — that is the solution. True, when you think of the solution, you’re still thinking customer first (meaning you’re empathizing with them and understanding all the problems faced), but since it’s you — and you alone — thinking of the solution, you’re limited by the boundaries of your knowledge.

What I mean by that is simple: You are not a developer, a cutting-edge technologist or even an UX expert. You are a product manager — your role is to define problems. You can have a say in the solution, but by doing the working backwards, you’ve limited the team in identifying a solution that fits your problems parameters.

If the problem you were going to solve was of weight loss by tracking steps and calories count, and recommending small lifestyle changes, is heart rate monitoring required? For you, yes it might be… but to an expert just using step count and calorie intake would be enough to assist in gradual lifestyle changes. You would have spent considerable amount of time in building those functionalities.

On the flipside, if you were to pose the problem of how we can encourage users to make small lifestyle changes, you’ll find the range of solutions to be much wider and you can then help the team make the right choice.

Ultimately, the organization culture is a big factor in making this framework a success. If the organization believes in constant experimentation and actually listens to customer inputs, you can anticipate success.

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