Earlier this year, I got introduced to a simple business process tool that I find myself using every day, for every task, no matter how mundane. It’s called “Working Backwards” and it is a central feature of innovation at Amazon, the second or third most valuable company in the world
With “Working Backwards”, you start by listening to the customers before thinking you can innovate. As a manager or a champion of a company, you begin by writing a press release for a product or service. What it will do, and the problem it will solve. The release is written in the voice of the customer. not the company.
Then you write the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s), the typical questions a customer or partner will ask, about how a product or service works.
Then you build a visual of the concept, from the perspective of the customer – a rough drawing showing how the customer will use the product or service. Human beings are very visual and understand things better when they see how it works.
They do all this before they start designing a product. One fundamental aspect of the process is that the manager or champion becomes an investor in the process. He /she pledges a percentage of their annual bonus to go towards the development cost of the process. There is a gain if it succeeds, and a loss if it does not. This aligns the manager with the process he/she is steering the company towards. In this way, one may not be a CEO with executive options, but with “Working Backwards,” they are a venture capitalist invested in a successful outcome.
The “Working Backwards” process enables a company to invent on behalf of the customer. It has led Amazon to give customers enhanced home shopping experiences with Amazon Prime, deliver a book to a customer within 60 seconds through Amazon Kindle and enable busy workers to quickly shop and walk out of a store without having to queue to pay for items with Amazon Go.
The process allows companies to spot customer problems and opportunities and to better validate innovation concepts. Can we see more examples of “Working Backwards” used? At more companies? How would that change decision-making? Would it mean less loss of corporate resources or product flops because the customer was not considered in the first place? Fewer white elephants? Try it out.