Working Backwards Press Release : A Product Development Framework

Amazon are by far one of the strongest leaders in product development, which is why any advice or frameworks they speak about are worth paying attention to. I really liked the following model outlined by General Manager Ian McAllister on how they achieve success in their own product development efforts.

"Working Backwards" is a product management approach designed to aid in the process of making new products, features or product decisions, but can basically be applied to any sort of plan to introduce new functionality into  project.

At it's heart, "Working Backwards" does just what it sounds like; it requires you to work backwards from the customer, as opposed to releasing a feature and trying to bolt on new customers to it. This is expressed through creating a fake internal press release announcing the finished product.

From Ian:

"For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release is the new/updated product's customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.
If the benefits listed don't sound very interesting or exciting to customers, then perhaps they're not (and shouldn't be built). Instead, the product manager should keep iterating on the press release until they've come up with benefits that actually sound like benefits. Iterating on a press release is a lot less expensive than iterating on the product itself (and quicker!)."

Press Release Outline

 The following is a simple guideline for these press releases. They should feature:

  1. Heading - A simple name the customer will understand.
  2. Sub-Heading - In one sentence, who the market for the product is and what they get.
  3. Summary - A summary of the product and benefits (3-4 sentences). Cut the fat and don't make it seem like a spec. Assume this is the only thing they will read.
  4. Problem - Describe the problem the product solves.
  5. Solution - Describe how the product elegantly solves the problem.
  6. Quote - A quote from a spokesperson from your company.
  7. How to Get Started - Describe how easy it is to get started.
  8. Customer Quote - A hypothetical quote that describes how a customer experienced the benefit.
  9. Closing and Call to Action - Wrap it up and give pointers on where to go next.

Final tips - it shouldn't be longer than a page and a half, and it should use "Oprah speak" language. Pretend your sitting on Oprah's couch, explained it to her, and now she is explaining it to her audience (so avoid geeky or tech terms).

Post Approval

Once created and the project moves into development, the "Working Backwards" PR document becomes a touchstone for the product team through the rest of the process. This can help to ensure development stays focused on achieving the customer benefits and not extraneous features that blow out timeframes and resource and don't provide any real customer benefit (and therefore not get talked about in a PR release!).

This post continues my series on Mental Models.