Category Archives: Amazon Way

Find the Crux by Debating Excellence

No, don’t debate excellence; become excellent at debating. “It is better to debate a decision without settling it than settling a decision without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert Vigorous debate is critical to clear thinking in an organization. Debates garner the full intelligence of an organization. For decisions of great import, rigorous debate depersonalizes the decision. People are predisposed to focus on symptoms or minutia. Arguing over extraneous details is inefficient and is often the …Continue reading

How to be a Secret Agent (of Change)

This post documents some essential tools I’ve collected in my “change toolkit”. By sharing them, I hope more leaders will become even better change agents, or at least be better at dealing with change.Continue reading

Mechanisms

Mechanisms are complete processes built around a tool, owned by a leader that gets adopted broadly and regularly inspected and improved to ensure things get done, not because everyone has good intentions, but because the mechanism’s elements structurally force the desired behavior. “Good intentions never work, you need good mechanisms to make anything happen.” — Jeff Bezos I’ve written previously about how Good Intentions are Never Enough and why mechanisms are needed, but I didn’t go deep into how to make mechanisms actually work. …Continue reading

Tenets

This post was inspired by a LinkedIn post by Dave Glick who was apparently the “Godfather of Tenets” at Amazon. Much of the content of this post is from notes I took in a class on Tenets at Amazon. I’ve subsequently used it to teach others how to be excellent at writing and using Tenets. Tenets are a few, carefully articulated guiding principles for a program or business area. They act as a guide for the team, …Continue reading

Work Backwards From The Customer

At the 1996 Microsoft Professional Developer Conference (PDC) I stood up in front of 8,000 customers and announced what I’d been working on for the previous two years: the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM). On stage, in front of all those people, we wrote and demoed code running on one Windows 95 PC talking over the network to code on other PCs. This was back in the day when being able to write programs that worked across a …Continue reading

One-Way and Two-Way Doors

Effective decision making starts with understanding; in the long-term, very, very few things actually matter. The vast majority of the decisions made day-to-day are either minutia or easily reversible and can be made quickly. However, a small number of things (about 1 in 10) matter a lot (in the long term) and are worthy of serious pondering, discussion, investigation, investment, and decision making. Back when I was at Microsoft, a mentor introduced me to the pithy phrase 90% of …Continue reading

Lead Without Authority

There are two forms of influence in the world: Influence by authority Influence without authority When a ‘boss’ (a manager or someone with a big title) attempts to influence change or drive action using only their authority, it is rarely successful in the short term, and never in the long term. “Because, I told you so” may work a few times on a kindergartner, but doesn’t inspire confidence or long-term results in the business world. …Continue reading

Focusing on users is not Customer Obsession

Let’s talk Customer Obsession and how it is different than user obsession. My definitions: Customer: An individual (or entity) that pays you, directly or indirectly, for value you provide. User: An individual that is forced to use something you provide. Users fall into three buckets 1) people unhealthily addicted to something (heroin), 2) employees forced to use something in order to do their job (IT systems), or 3) people who are products of services that sell them …Continue reading

The Tension is Intentional

It is no accident many of the Amazon Leadership Principles seemingly contradict each other: they were carefully selected and crafted to encourage leaders to be thoughtful about the gray area. Bias for Action vs. Think Big represent favorite example of this tension. Bias for Action – Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking. Think Big – Thinking small is a self-fulfilling …Continue reading

Good Intentions are Never Enough

Everyone has good intentions… Everyone WANTS to do the right thing (e.g., read the doc sent out by email the night before). But good intentions are never enough. Stuff doesn’t get done based solely on people’s good intentions. Change can’t happen based only on good intentions. What you need is a way to mechanize people’s good intentions. “Mechanisms” are the way. A Mechanism is a complete process that ensures things get done. A complete process is a ‘virtuous cycle’ that reinforces …Continue reading

Have Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

The Are right, A Lot Amazon Leadership Principle reads: Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs. A great mnemonic for remembering how to get better living the Are right, a lot LP is: Have strong opinions, weakly held. Stanford University professor Paul Saffo coined this term. “Allow your intuition to guide you to a conclusion, no matter how imperfect — this …Continue reading

Everyone’s a Leader

The word leader is defined as: leader noun a person or thing that leads. The word leader is not a synonym of manager. Everyone is a leader. It’s entirely possible for a people manager to be a poor leader (which would be bad). Likewise, an individual contributor who’s a great leader might be a horrible people manager (which would be good as long as he/she stays an individual contributor). The only question is how well …Continue reading

How Meeting/Not-Meeting Goals relates to Earn Trust and Insist on Highest Standards

This week’s Leadership Principle tip is about how setting goals, and holding yourself accountable, relates to Earn Trust and Insist on Highest Standards.Continue reading

Dive Deep != Micromanaging

You’ve said it. You’ve heard others say it. You are not quite sure how you feel about it. “So-and-so is a micro-manager. He/she’s always in my shorts and doesn’t let me just do my job.” This week’s Amazon Leadership Principle tip may help you navigate this common meme more effectively. The following has been my pinned tweet for the past year: “The more details you know, the better questions you can ask. The better questions …Continue reading

Just Right Porridge and Leadership Principles

Last week I wrote about Have Backbone, Disagree and Commit. This week the topic is about how to get the balance right when living Leadership Principles. Just as it is possible to not live a leadership principle (under-index), it is possible to over-do them. The key is to find the balance and be like mama bear’s porridge: Just Right. “Moderation in all things” ― Aristotle Yes, it is possible to over-do even Customer Obsession. A …Continue reading

Have Backbone, Disagree and Commit

Have Backbone, Disagree and Commit Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly. – Amazon’s Leadership Principles This Leadership Principle actually combines two principles that go hand-in-hand. First, there’s the “Have Backbone” part and then the part about disagreeing but committing …Continue reading

A FAQ About Frequently Asked Questions

A list of questions with answers written in English are a great way to drive clear thinking on all the stuff that surround the central idea presented in a narrative. This ‘stuff’ includes things like strategy, execution, technology, business, and resources.Continue reading

Tools to Achieve Clarity of Thought

This post inventories the tools I use from my toolbox to drive clear thinking in product development. I was inspired to write this based on a Twitter conversation: The more details you know, the better questions you can ask. The better questions you ask, the more everyone gets clarity of thought. Better clarity of thought leads to better decisions. By everyone. Essentially. — Charlie Kindel (@ckindel) March 30, 2018 Charlie’s Clarity of Thought Toolbox Write …Continue reading

Let Word Work For You

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I have to edit a document someone else has written and they’ve manually messed with the formatting. Microsoft Word has an incredibly flexible style system that makes creating docs that look great easy. It also makes easy for others editing the doc can keep things consistent. This isn’t to say Word’s style system is perfect. Far from it. Many of the same styling bugs that existed in …Continue reading

Ownership

A strong bias towards ownership is important in org culture. The problem is, folks often over-index on ‘I own this area, so I’m going to nail it!’ vs. ‘I am an owner on behalf of the entire company and need to do the right thing for our customers!’. The key is to balance these. Amazon’s definition tries to make this tension apparent by explicitly stating ownership is broader than themselves or their team: Ownership Leaders …Continue reading