Working Backwards

What is Amazon’s Working Backwards?

Working backwards is an approach that defines how the world’s leading online retailer Amazon does business. It entails starting from the customer or their needs and problems when doing any work. In other words, your focus should be less on the technology but on how it benefits the customer.

This method might seem similar to what all product teams already use or do. But you may be surprised that this is not true in all cases. When working backwards, you begin by figuring where you want to be and then work out how to get there. The process involves the drafting of an internal, mock press release to announce the availability of a product.

How Does it Work?

With Working Backwards, you start with the outcome in mind, and then work into the details in order to fit the outcome. For example, Amazon Product Managers start by crafting a press release of what they hope to see when the product is released. Then they figure out a compelling solution to the problem and seek approvals, And only after that is done, do they build a roadmap, define themes, and write the user stories.

Amazon isn’t the only company using this approach. Many other companies now employ the same. Apple is another notable name that is known to work backwards.

Why Do Teams Use this Approach?

There are several reasons product teams may decide to work backwards. Let’s consider a few of them.

Customer focus

Amazon prides itself as the “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” This is no doubt connected to its working backwards method.

The use of this approach helps teams to be more focused on the customer. It makes them start by considering the customer, developing empathy for them, and then building something to please them. Companies that work backwards are not only customer-centric but more empathetic and so more successful.

Removal of Confusion

Working backwards helps to clearly convey the product. Since you begin by defining what the end result will be and then working your way towards it, there will be little or no confusion about what is expected.

There will be no question or doubt about the product’s benefits. Developers, QA, and other relevant teams will already have an idea of the ideal. Everyone can easily tell whether the final product measures up to expectations.


You can be in a good position to get your priorities right when you work backwards. With a well-defined product in mind, you can more easily tell what is more important to achieve your aim. Items that contribute less to reaching your goal quickly get a lower priority.

Development efficiency

The Working Backwards method can help the development process to run more efficiently. It keeps everyone laser-focused on the ultimate result, reducing distractions along the way. The press release provides a useful guide for the development process and can be referred to from time to time.

Customer loyalty

Finally, you have better chances of having loyal customers when you work backwards. This is because you sort of put yourself in the customer’s shoes from the very beginning to solve their problems. You work backwards from the quality of experience users would love to have. It is natural for loyalty to develop when people perceive that your company develops its products with them fully in mind.

How to Work Backwards

As we have already discussed, the use of this approach begins with a mock press release. This is written in plain language without any technical terms that are capable of causing confusion. The document revolves around a specific problem that your customers are having.

Bear in mind that this release isn’t just to announce the availability of the product but to display the idea behind it or what informed the product. Apart from the product’s name, former Amazon executive Ian McAllister says your press release should contain the following, among others:

  • The problem you are solving
  • Targeted users
  • Product benefits to customers
  • A moving quote from a person in your organization explaining the reason(s) for creating the product and what you expect it to do for customers
  • A call to action

You also need to carry out a reverse post-mortem – better still, a premortem. Normally, teams conduct a post-mortem at the end of a project to see what lessons can be learnt and used for future projects.

With a premortem, you’re trying to do the same thing as in post-mortem before you’ve built anything. It is an attempt to predict what could go wrong down the line. The hope is that doing this would make it possible to take necessary preventive steps or measures.

Your attention should be more on your customers and less on the competition when working backwards. Take a deep dive into customer data to figure out their pain points. This improves your chances of building a reputable brand.

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