The benefits of the working backwards process for product teams

Phil Mora
3 min readDec 29, 2020

Press releases are necessary because they help companies get their message straight and get consensus around that message. They mark a point in time for a company and cast a vision for what a product, program, or initiative can become.

I have discussed in previous posts (here and here) about the “press release backwards” product development process famously invented and used at Amazon where the most important parts of that process is the mock press release that product managers are required to write to help think through the potential impact of their ideas.

But what do you do when the product vision is a bit fuzzy? Here are a few pointers that might be helpful for teams inventing the future.

  • Immerse and ideate: Get close to customers through a discovery process — spend time with potential customers, especially the ‘super users’, and understanding the jobs they want a product to do for them, and the unique value that product could bring to their lives: immersing yourself in the problem space and in the shoes of the superuser you’re trying to serve can push the product or service to the extreme in ways an average user might not.
  • Host an initial “hardcore” brainstorming session: Start with creating conditions that allow people to think and speak freely. In the past, I used to define this with “what happens in this room stays in this room” instead of the lame disclaimer of “no bad ideas” — most people don’t want to put themselves out there, but this aligns to Google’s research around productive teams, working to create team psychological safety during brainstorming. Then focus the team on curiosity — learning and asking questions — rather than what it will take to execute on the vision. The outputs are key components of the working-backwards documents: a press release that helps to cast a vision for the product impact, as well as a series of FAQs.
  • Create the Working Backwards Documents: First a press release meant to capture the idea as customers might see it, using language they’d understand, visuals they’d get excited about, and questions they might ask, then a six-page narrative memo. Product teams brainstorm the headline they’d like to see atop the eventual announcement, the details that make this product unique from the competition, and a dream customer quote about the value of the new product or service.​
  • Perfect Your Idea Through Document Review: relevant stakeholders then attend a document review, where they spend the first 20–30 minutes reading the document silently as a group. This ensures everyone has time to read it and starts on the same page for discussion.

Then they address key three questions to ensure the product vision is sound:

  • Do we all understand the product vision?
  • Can we improve on it?
  • Are we excited by it?

The answers to these questions help to inform updates to the document. The team then presents a final version to Bezos and other executives, after which work can begin.

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​My name’s phil mora and I blog about the things I love: fitness, hacking work, tech and anything holistic.

Head of Digital Product
thinker, doer, designer, coder, leader

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Phil Mora

Thinker, Doer, Designer, Coder, Leader. Head of Product @ Nutrien