Amazon Has a Secret Weapon Known as "Working Backwards"--and It Will Transform the Way You Work: A Product Manager’s Guide to Working with Engineers

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Sep 08, 2023

4 min read


Amazon Has a Secret Weapon Known as "Working Backwards"--and It Will Transform the Way You Work: A Product Manager’s Guide to Working with Engineers


In the world of product management, two key aspects play a crucial role in ensuring success: working backwards and collaborating effectively with engineers. These practices, when combined, can transform the way you work and lead to innovative and impactful outcomes. In this article, we will explore the concept of working backwards and how it aligns with effective collaboration with engineers.

Working Backwards: A Powerful Tool for Product Managers

At Amazon, the process of developing new initiatives begins with a task known as "working backwards." This process starts with a product manager writing an internal press release that announces a finished product. This internal press release focuses on the customer problem, the shortcomings of existing solutions, and how the new product will surpass them.

The internal press release follows a specific format, which includes a clear heading that captures the essence of the product, a subheading that describes the target market and their benefits, and a concise summary of the product and its advantages. It then delves into describing the problem the product solves and how it elegantly addresses it. Including quotes from company representatives and customer testimonials adds credibility to the press release. The document concludes with a call to action and guidance on the next steps.

By starting with this internal press release, product managers are forced to think deeply about the customer problem and the value proposition of their product. This process helps to avoid "scope creep," where unnecessary features or details are added to a product. Through working backwards, mediocre ideas can be discarded early on, allowing for greater focus on exceptional ones.

Collaborating with Engineers: A Multiplier Approach

To be an effective product manager, it is crucial to collaborate with engineers in a way that amplifies their capabilities and maximizes their impact. Liz Wiseman, an expert in leadership, describes this approach as being a "multiplier." Multipliers are leaders who use their intelligence to enhance the intelligence and capabilities of those around them.

One of the key aspects of being a multiplier is treating engineers like adults. Instead of solving problems for them, product managers should act as sounding boards, helping engineers arrive at solutions on their own. Recognizing the strengths and preferences of engineers and involving them early in the thinking process allows for better collaboration and more innovative solutions.

Additionally, giving engineers the opportunity to take the lead role in projects can be highly beneficial. Designating someone as an Epic Lead, Feature Owner, or Project Owner empowers them to take accountability for specific deliverables. This not only enhances their sense of ownership but also enables them to proactively manage risks and blockers.

The ARISE Framework: Building Constructive Relationships with Engineers

To foster constructive relationships with engineers, the ARISE framework can be a valuable tool. This framework emphasizes the following principles:

  • 1. Treat them like adults: Respect and trust are crucial in any collaborative effort. Treating engineers like adults creates an environment of mutual respect and encourages open communication.
  • 2. Recognize different types of individuals: Engineers have diverse personalities and working styles. Understanding and recognizing these differences can help product managers tailor their approach to each individual, amplifying their strengths and ensuring a more productive collaboration.
  • 3. Involve them early in the thinking process: By involving engineers from the outset, product managers can tap into their expertise and insights. This early involvement ensures that engineering constraints and feasibility are considered from the start, avoiding unnecessary rework later on.
  • 4. Give them space to progress: Providing engineers with autonomy and space to grow and make decisions fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment. This creates a more motivated and engaged engineering team, leading to better outcomes.
  • 5. Invest in good Engineering Managers: Engineering managers play a crucial role in facilitating effective collaboration between product managers and engineers. Investing in capable and supportive engineering managers can significantly enhance the overall productivity and success of the team.


Working backwards and collaborating effectively with engineers are two essential practices that can transform the way product managers work. By starting with an internal press release and focusing on the customer problem, product managers can avoid scope creep and concentrate on exceptional ideas. Collaborating with engineers as multipliers, involving them early in the process, and recognizing their strengths can amplify their impact and lead to innovative solutions. Following the ARISE framework further strengthens relationships with engineers, fostering a productive and collaborative environment. By embracing these practices, product managers can unlock their full potential and drive meaningful and impactful outcomes.

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