Working Backwards

We’ll be using a technique used by Amazon. The “Working Backwards” approach, this technique calls upon the product owner to literally write a future “press release” for the product — as well as fake customer quotes, frequently asked questions, and a story that describes the customer’s experience using the product.

What’s unique about this technique is that this document involves every part of our organization that’s required to make the product successful — not just product and engineering, but marketing, sales, support, and every other part of the company. In other words, it forces us to think about al of the aspects that can inform our product.

Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO describes the rationale behind the process:

The product definition process works backwards in the following way: we start by writing the documents we’ll need at launch (the press release and the FAQ) and then work towards documents that are closer to the implementation. The Working Backwards product definition process is all about fleshing out the concept and achieving clarity of thought about what we will ultimately go off and build.

There are four documents included in Working Backwards:

The press release

What the product does, and why it exists

The “frequently asked questions” document

Questions someone might have after reading the press release

A definition of the customer experience

A story of what the customer sees and feels when they use the product, as well as relevant mockups to aid the narrative

The user manual

What the customer would reference if they needed to learn how to use the product

This all might seem like a lot of frivolous upfront work, but the method presses to find a more customer-centric approach. That way we’ll be working on ideas that have their foundation in what real people need.

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