It all starts with the customer and finally ends in one. At Amazon everything stems from the company’s mission; “To be earth’s most customer-centric company”. Start by identifying what the customer needs and innovate solutions from there. Jeff Bezos has stated in letter to shareholders that “customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied”. It is the same thing that Henry Ford said many years ago, customers do not know what they want. Amazon is not trying to build faster horse, but something that will delight customers needs. Amazon is after minimum lovable product (MLP).
Innovation needs structure and at Amazon innovation organises around four concepts that interconnect. They are culture, mechanism, architecture and organisation. Culture builds around 14 leadership principles and these are the core of innovation. Principles are guidelines to help people bring the best out of them, they challenge everyone to be curious, take responsibility, challenge status quo, move fast and think long term. Amazon uses data and makes calculated risk, but speed matters so they have some guidelines to help this. Some decision can be considered one-way door as others two-way. Decision can be seen as two-way door if it can be reversed, then risk is lower, and one should move with speed. It is also interesting to hear, that Amazon pushes leaders to make decision when they have only around 70% of needed data.
Amazon does 198 million deployments a year
Architecture of Amazon allows rapid development. Amazon architecture went from one monolith to micro services and this allowed them to move from quarterly change cycle to 198 million deployments a year. The transformation from monolith to micro service was based on idea of Conway’s law that states “organisations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organisations.” Amazon mapped the communication structured of their organisation and came up with two-pizza-teams (American pizza) that are made up of 4-8 people. These decentralised teams have freedom and responsibility and are able to fail fast. I had change to talk to many AWS employees and to my surprise they all had same feeling about working for Amazon. To them it felt like working for a startup. This is somewhat amazing when we are talking about company with 750 000 employees.
Mechanism to innovate is the backwards working process. Backwards process is a very cumbersome process that starts with identifying customer and customer need. To understand customer, there are five questions. Who is the customer, what is the problem or opportunity, what is the benefit, how to quantify this, what does the experience look like? Customer is always a person. Once the customer and the need have been clearly understood and validated with data, one can start brainstorming boundless, big and bold ideas. After this it is time to draft fictional press release, internal and external FAQ’s and finally visual of the customer experience. This press release is a way to democratise the idea, so that all people would have similar opportunity to share their idea. All meetings around the idea start by all members reading the paper and iterating over it. All this is done by the team created around the idea, before a single line of code is written. This is heavy process, but its purpose is to make sure that what you build is for customers need.
It was said that out of press release drafted by Andy Jassy, iterated 45 times, came AWS. Also, Amazon prime was built from press release. There have of course been mistakes, such as Amazon Fire phone, lessons learned, and that was base to produce Alexa. There is no magic in this, just hard work. To build something for the customer, one has to start with the customer.