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

MCE Controller V2 Released

I spent some time the last few weekends hacking on a product I first developed in 2004: MCE Controller. MCE Controller lets you control a Windows Home Theater PC (or any PC) over the network. It runs in the background listening on the network (or serial port) for commands. It then translates those commands into actions such as keystrokes, text input, and the starting of programs. Any remote control, home control system, or application that can …Continue reading

Have Specific Conversations, not General Conversations

If you are discussing a topic with colleagues, it’s almost always better to have a specific conversation instead of a general conversation. General Conversation Specific Conversation “We need to figure out how to scrub all open bugs.” Followed by a lot of non-specific debate… “There are 42 open bugs. 42 bugs fit on one screen in Excel. Lets look at them all right now and see if there’s a pattern.” “Customers are angry. We need …Continue reading

Kindel’s 2nd Law

Kindel’s 2nd Law – Companies with a subscriptions-based business model eventually behave in ways hostile to that company’s customers. Charlie Kindel – July 2019 Woot! I now have two laws named after me. This law was originally coined in a tweet: This law is a law due to companies’ getting focused on a made-up LTV (lifetime value of a customer), CAC (cost to acquire a customer), and churn rate. Especially churn. Once a subscription business …Continue reading

Taxonomy and Lexicon

How many times have you been in a heated discussion only to find out that the two sides were talking past each other because they were reading from two different dictionaries? I bet you can also remember situations where just a little more structure got everyone aligned quicker. Creating, explaining, and re-enforcing a strong Taxonomy and Lexicon is a critical skill for all leaders (reminder: everyone in our business is a leader, not just managers). Taxonomy …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

Mental Models

You’ve probably noticed people you work with who are effective at leading can frame complex ideas simply. They’ll lead conversations like this: “Well, I think there are three things we should focus on, not 15, and they are…” “Folks, I think there’s another way of looking at this problem. What if we viewed the problem through these four lenses…” A key to doing this effectively is to be conscious of the concept of Mental Models. …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

Debate Tenets

I’ve long thought having a set of guiding principles for any project is important (see my blog post “the 5Ps”; Purpose, Principles, Priorities, People, Plan). At Amazon I learned there was a synonym to the word principle: Tenet. I’ve heard Jeff Bezos say repeatedly “A team can never spend too much time debating their tenets.” Why is debating tenets so important? First, debating (and writing down) tenets ensures everyone is in agreement about critical questions that can’t …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

Have a Plan (With Dates)

I’ve written a lot on the importance of having a plan. This week’s Leadership Principle tip doubles-down on that. Consider a status update: Bad: “The team will investigate the issue.” Good: “The team will complete the investigation of the issue by Tuesday afternoon and will share a plan for how to fix it by Thursday.” The Good version of this does a few things: It enables accountability on the next steps. It conveys the appropriate …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

Kindel’s Law

Kindel’s Law – Every payment system eventually becomes an anti-fraud system. -Charlie Kindel, 2013 I’m not sure how this law thing works. But I’m jealous of folks like Moore, Atwood, and Shannon. I think everyone should have a law named after them. In 2013, when I was tasked with build Amazon’s equivalent of ApplePay I had an epiphany. After studying all of the payment systems going back to the invention of currency up to credit …Continue reading