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Jacopo Martolini

Working Backwards

Workshop2 min read

What do I need to do to achieve that goal? Which steps do I have to take? How long it will take?

These are some of the questions asked when starting something new. The uncertainty ahead frighten us, and risks blocking our actions. The problem as a whole is too complicated to be addressed. What I find useful in these situations is the adoption of these frameworks:

  • Working backwards
  • Futurespective

They serve different purposes but they have in common the fact of creating artifacts starting from the image of a happy customer. As human beings, we are good at creating stories and these frameworks guide us in crafting a reverse chronicle of events that have led us to success.

Working backwards

This workshop mirrors Amazon's internal process of reviewing the press release by interested stakeholders. The central point is to start with the customer, instead of starting with the idea of a product and trying to find a customer. Their "obsession" is also clearly defined in the shared leadership principles.

The first step is to draft a press release announcing the product’s availability. This exercise has the advantage that it can be done asynchronously. By creating a shared document, more people can collaborate in the drafting of the press release. Once a first version is obtained, it can be discussed and tested. To validate the document, ask yourself if these aspects are present:

  • who the customer is
  • is the problem or opportunity clear?
  • is the most important customer benefit clear?
  • does customer testimonial reinforce the value?
  • can you visualize customer experience?

If some parts are not clear enough, we must continue revising the press release until they've come up with something better. It is said that Jeff Bezos approved the one for AWS launch after 34 proposed versions.

This workshop is ideal for anyone who is developing new products and features for customers, including product managers, engineers, UX designers, and entrepreneurs.


futurspective As for the Working backwards workshop, we are set in the future and it's important to start with a clearly written definition of success. As put by Anders Laestadius in his post we should have a starting point like this: definitionOfSucceess This particular kind of retrospective is a collaborative exercise where we try to imagine all the possible events that have occurred to achieve our goal. It is important to list also things that made it difficult to reach the objective and, were applicable the mitigation events put in practice.

During one of these futurspective we have put down all the events and after some discussion, we realized that considering the necessary activities, our first idea of final date was utterly unrealistic, so we have corrected our definition of success and postponed some activities.

This activity is open to people of all backgrounds and experiences. I recommend allocating a slot of at least 2 hours.

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