3 things I learned at AWS last week

Amazon’s AWS is a pretty amazing set of services. Every time I visit and they tell me about what they are doing, I want to code again — I want to create things built on the shoulders of giants (in the Cloud, had to put that in there).

The people I get to meet when I visit are some of the smartest and engaged product managers, technologists, marketers (yes, even Marketing), and sales professionals (them too, inorite?). What is astounding is that when they introduce themselves, they all seem to have worked at Amazon for no less than 8 years, some 17 years. These are dedicated, creative and successful individuals who must know something about Amazon that the rest of us should pay attention to. (Disclaimer: Amazon Prime is my favorite value in a service offering ever. Not only does it just keep getting better, I actually smiled and felt really smart last month when my annual subscription fee showed up on my credit card bill).

So, to the 3 things I learned at AWS last week.

1: Customer Obsession

In Our Leadership Principles, customer obsession is #1 — and it shows.

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

The entire reason for my being at AWS was so they could listen to a small group of enterprise professionals to understand our needs, dreams, frustrations, and opinions. They are very serious about developing a product roadmap that meets customer needs, but even more important than that, they ruthlessly re-prioritize based on our feedback. Not quite Just In Time, but getting closer.

2: The Press Release

They say that anyone at Amazon can present a product or major feature idea. I don’t know if they really mean “anyone”, but I get the sense that any of their leaders or long timers can and do. The one requirement is that you write “the press release” of your idea going live. This simple requirement means you have to be able to state your idea in easy to understand language AND you have to be able to state it in language that clearly represents the customer facing value proposition (remember #1 above?).

Now this isn’t a breakthrough idea, but on the plane flight home the next day, I gave it a try for a major project I am working on that will take quite some time. I have to tell you, the experience was invigorating, inspiring, and gave me a clarity of purpose I had been struggling to achieve for the last 6 weeks or more. I started with a bold, futuristic claim, something measurable and attention getting. Then I put together a few paragraphs talking about what amazing things we were just announcing, why they made things better for our customers and a little bit of the journey that got us to that point. In so doing, I got really excited about the product, the benefits and found a path to make it true.

3. COE — Cause of Error

This one is more about sticking with the obvious and following through (2 things that challenge me from time to time). When something goes wrong in AWS, they follow the 5 Why’s of root cause analysis. It’s really simple, you describe what went wrong and ask, “Why did that happen?” You take that answer and ask, “Well, why did that happen?” You keep going, maybe 5 times, maybe a few more, until you get to a core, systemic issue that can be solved via a mechanism. This last point is really important. You don’t fix the issue by putting someone on it or telling someone to follow protocol, you get the human out of the equation with a mechanism (Note: I like the use of the word “mechanism” as it sounds more like machinery. Many people might use the word “process”, but that comes with so much baggage and, unfortunately, often is performed by human beings).

How are these 3 things I learned at AWS related?

I hadn’t thought of this until I started writing this article. Initially the only thing they had in common was that they made me think in a different way and gave me some new inspiration. However, I now see how Customer Obsession is all about listening to People, the Press Release is all about exciting People, and COE is all about getting the People out of the way.

People matter. Mechanisms make things better for People.

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