- Amazon uses a "working backwards" system, where engineers and other employees have to write a press release on a final product before beginning development. The goal is to force tech workers to think about the end customer's needs.
- It's a process that Prakash Kota employs at Autodesk, and it helps determine which potential projects to prioritize.
- Kota told the "Modern CTO" podcast that it has helped dramatically cut-down on development time.
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Amazon is looked to as a model for many things, and it's production philosophy is no different.
The technique — known as "working backwards" — requires engineers and others to first write a one-page press release outlining the capabilities of a specific product. The goal is to get employees thinking beyond the technical aspects of the project and more into the minds of the end consumer.
The exercise solves an increasingly common problem that often stymies many advanced tech projects: bridging the gap between the desires of the tech team and the needs of the business. And it's a key reason why Prakash Kota, chief information officer at Autodesk uses it. The $32 billion software provider reported revenue of $796.80 million in the most recent earnings quarter, a 30 percent year-over-year increase.
"You only talk about business value, what will be the minimum business value that users will excited about to consume it," he told the "Modern CTO" podcast recently. "Then we look at is this what customers are looking for, whether it's internal or external, and then we prioritize."
The practice helps guide the initiatives through development. When issues or questions arise, Kota and his team will reference back to the press release to make decisions like whether to expand the scope of the project. The ultimate goal, however, is speed.
"We used to have releases every three-to-four months," Kota said. "Now we have releases all the time."
Many companies are now trying to find ways to break down the silos between teams, specifically the tech team and the business-side of the organization.
Some firms form actual cohorts with representatives from various sectors, like IT and sales, and have them physically sit together. Others try to install tech chiefs within each department to help implement the overarching digital strategy or find advocates within units like supply chain operations to push the projects internally.
At Autodesk — a software company that sells design and production programs for industries like engineering, entertainment, and construction — the "working backwards" philosophy helps answer questions like: Is the product going to replace a different tool? Is it going to add new capabilities? What does the consumer base look like?
The process forces engineers to begin thinking like the business side. If you have to craft that press release in the language of supply chain operators, you're going to have to think like them — or reach out to them.
"Rather than talking about technology, you're talking about customer value and business problems, which is like music to my ears when I start hearing engineers talk in that language," said Kota. "You really get super crisp on what you need to deliver and that becomes super impactful."