A practical application of Amazon Leadership Principles

Photo by Ian Schneider from Unsplash.

Since we started scaling up Neosperience from a single company to a group, while onboarding people with different stories and experiences, making everyone feel comfortable has been one of our top priorities.
We know this posed several challenges we had to consider to reach the ambitious goal of having everyone “feel like being at home” within Neosperience.
We know that the three keys driving people’s motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Such principles are good at keeping a single person engaged with a company or a team. Unfortunately, they do not provide sufficient enough guidelines about the strategies to help employees participate in a shared vision. Moreover, they do not explain an inclusive and supportive behavior between different teams. Furthermore, onboarding teams with different cultures and history but excellent at providing value to customers means being able to match strategies that effectively works and the principles behind them.

Be inspired by great stories, make them real.

We decided to deep dive into Amazon Leadership Principles to understand how to apply them in practical situations and how far this takes us. At first naive reading, they could sound abstract and not concrete, but such distilled knowledge needs to be meditated and elaborated before becoming actionable. Leadership Principles are not prescriptions nor legal articles, and instead, they can be intended as guidelines to strive for to inspire and be inspired in everything every employee does at Amazon. Customer Obsession means, for example, to avoid developing features just for technical pleasure or “why we can” principles, but validate early your ideas with customers. At the same time, Learn and Be Curious is an input to invest in R&D and explore new paths, avoiding to fall on the status quo.

One of our primary goals is to develop products that raise the bar of performance of our customers. We applied these principles through our product strategy, contextualizing them to product development to shed light on what is in our future and how every employee at Neosperience can help to make our dream of a more empathic world become a reality:

  • Customer Obsession: our solutions have and must have a direct connection to customers’ needs to provide them the best value. We should engineer our product’s features from the feedback provided by customers. One great idea is to start from the end of the process, with an internal press release about new features or products, and understand how it works moving backward. It is a powerful tool in product development, called “working backwards.” Every team within Neosperience has to understand what is happening in a continuously evolving market. One customer request does not make a feature, but it’s an idea that deserves to be explored to understand the impact it can produce on a similar business. Monitoring competition could be useful, but it is not our prime focus because we’re here to fill a need and serve customers, not do better than others.
  • Ownership: we’ve been lucky enough to onboard teams with strong domain expertise. They trusted our vision of empathic technology. Now it’s our turn to support them in acquiring ownership in their application domain within the group and make the difference. We prefer technologies such as Infrastructure as Code that put in the hands of builders all the tools they need to own a solution. Ownership is balanced by the availability of shared tools that ease repetitive tasks and ensure interoperability.
  • Invent and Simplify: remove the complexity. As Calvino explains much in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium book, “lightness” is what remains when we remove everything not necessary. It means the effectiveness, exceptional value we want to deliver. We have to engineer our releases to make things easier for our customers. It starts with the integration of our products to provide a seamless experience to customers within our products portfolio.
  • Are Right, A Lot: we value instinct and ideas, especially when they come from a different history or culture. They enrich us all, forcing us to change our point of view. We look forward to onboarding people and companies with keen judgment and knowledge.
  • Learn and Be Curious: an excellent complement to avoid doing things in the same inefficient way is being curious about new ideas, markets, and technologies. Our growth opens up the road to sharing ideas and having the possibility to learn new skills both within and outside Neosperience. This passionate work has a direct impact on the quality and innovation level of our products. Passion and curiosity drive the best of us into exploring new paths, technologies, and ideas, then share them with the team. We have launched the Neosperience Academy webinar series (open to everyone) to encourage this sharing within our organization and the community.
  • Hire and Develop the Best: every company and team who join our forces makes us a step closer to our goal of making the difference. Every release of our products must be better than the previous one. A new version of our products could improve stability or reliability, but it must also raise the bar of performance for our customers.
  • Insist on the Highest Standards: every software has bugs and can be improved, but our products must consistently progress the quality curve. We do not accept poor quality releases as well as temporary solutions or “workarounds.” We ask everyone to focus on what makes the product excellent. Teams should continuously ask themselves, “what is best for the customer?”
  • Think Big: our products must solve problems for good. Customers expect us not to be the cheapest alternative to market leaders but to work with and integrate their products to provide a differentiating value. Our products are not an all-or-nothing solution, but we design them to work at their best when integrated into an ecosystem. It means providing connectors, APIs, and interoperability by design.
  • Bias for Action: we prefer writing code in favor of complex analysis because it is only building things that you can figure out the strengths and weaknesses of an idea. Moreover, requirements tend to be vague, especially for product features, when you work on cutting edge technologies in an uncertain market. People are free to make mistakes, but we, as managers and architects, have to reduce the impact of failure when things go wrong.
  • Frugality: there are no extra points for wasting people’s time in endless meetings. Time is a constrained resource for everyone and must be dedicated as much as possible to our customers instead of discussing resource allocation or administrative tasks. Efficiency is always a bonus point every time it does not compromise quality. Frugality does not mean to be cheap or stingy, but to make the best use of the resource you have. They could be a team of 2, 10, or a hundred people and a multi-millionaire budget or just a few thousand dollars; it does not matter regarding frugality. The outcome will be different, but efficiency still applies to the bill. Time is the most precious resource because it’s scarce.
  • Earn Trust: prefer listening rather than speaking. Respect every point of view. Integrate into our products the best ideas even if they are not your own. Confront and discuss with teammates and colleagues. Be supportive and, if not possible, explain the big picture to earn people’s Trust.
  • Dive Deep: products win and fail through data. Measure as much as possible a product strategy or implementation. Provide data and discuss interpretation. Have a deep understanding of the technology you’re using, explore and anticipate your customers’ questions, to have answers, and frankly admit when you don’t.
  • Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit: one of the best aspects of being part of a growing group of excellent professionals is you have plenty of confrontation opportunities. Every domain owner must listen to challenges to their ideas because it is only discussing the status quo we can improve. When an owner makes a decision, however, everyone must commit to that, stop debating, regretting, and work hard to realize it. Owners should have checkpoints, named retrospective in agile, to consider whether a decision was right or not, sharing the knowledge with the team but carrying the responsibility of everyone’s commitment to that choice. Everyone accountable for a decision must also be in charge of making it.
  • Deliver Results: bad things happen, especially when building compelling and innovative products that strive to challenge the status quo and evolve customers providing them unprecedented value. Setbacks occur in the form of requirement pitfalls or immature technology adoption in a production release or wrong choices when storing a massive amount of data on purpose-built storage or database, then having to migrate it. Failure means knowledge, and this is a value we have to share with teammates and the community. We are not upset when a product or a solution misses its goal, nor we do not persist in a wrong path. Teams know and understand very well many factors can impact the success of a product, and that some of them are outside of their control, and accept it. Nonetheless, they are always engaged in finding the way through obstacles to deliver outstanding solutions at market speed.

The road ahead

Stay tuned and build great stuff!

My name is Luca Bianchi. I am Chief Technology Officer at Neosperience and, the author of Serverless Design Patterns and Best Practices. I have built software architectures for production workload at scale on AWS for nearly a decade.

Neosperience Cloud is the one-stop SaaS solution for brands aiming to bring Empathy in Technology, leveraging innovation in machine learning to provide support for 1:1 customer experiences.

You can contact me via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Chief Technology Officer at Neosperience. Loves speaking about Serverless, ML, and Blockchain. ServerlessDays Milano co-organizer. Opinions are my own.