Working Backwards

2022, Jan 14

Working Backwards is a narration of the processes and work culture followed in Amazon. The authors strongly believe that the success of Amazon can be attributed to its work culture. If you get past the praises for Jeff Bezos, there are a few thought-provoking high-acheivers' processes in the book. For some, it might look like a handbook for running a factory of new ideas. Amazon has simply tried many ideas. Few of them are successful and that's good enough. As the authors say, there are so many ideas that are being worked, some of them will not see the light of the market.

Personally, the most interesting part of the book is the section on the development of Prime Videos and the competition with Netflix. The nail bitingly exciting bidding process, the growth of subscription based services, and the development of technology to support digital streaming are well written and held my attention. The rest of the book seemed a bit dry for my taste.

I have made notes of the "Amazonian" process though. May be I will see value in them some other day?

1. Ban PowerPoint

Powerpoints convey too little information. The outcome of a presentation using Powerpoint depends completely on the skills of the presenter. Instead, write 6-page description of the idea being presented. The first few minutes of the meeting is devoted to reading the 6-pager. The idea needs to speak for itself rather than the presenter.

2. Establish the Bar Raiser hiring process

Beyond the multiple rounds of interview to hire someone, conduct a "Bar Raiser" round to see how close the candidate is to work at the next level.

3. Focus on controllable input metrics

Do not try to control the output metrics. They are hard to control. Instead, work on the input metrics. The output metrics will reflect your work.

4. Move to an organizational structure that accommodates autonomous teams with single-threaded leaders

A single threaded leader focuses on solving one problem at a time. There is a clear understanding of the priority for everyone.

5. Revise the compensation structure for leaders so that it encourages long-term commitment and long-term decision-making

At Amazon, it seems that the higher position you reach, you will be paid more in RSUs than in cash. This is to indirectly say that the leaders need to stay long-term to encash the benefits. It inturn results in long-term commitments by the people working at Amazon.

6. Articulate the core elements of the company’s culture, as Amazon did with long-term thinking, customer obsession, eagerness to invent, and operational excellence.

Articulating a company's motto or core elements will tell its employees and stake holders what is important for the company. An employee working at any level in the company will be able to take decision autonomously if they know what the values are.

7. Define a set of leadership principles

Everyone is a leader in their own right. Everyone is making autonomous decisions everyday. Leadership principles ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction as a company.

Do you resonate with any of these take aways?

Ban PowerPoint