Amazon’s Leadership Principles

Still haven’t found a better list than Amazon’s Leadership Principles. Concise, clear, ambitious. A benchmark.

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Bookmarked this in 2017, now printed it (on paper!) for a weekly read and review.

Here are my favorites.

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Ownership
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”

A Product Lead is a Quality Driver

As my product lead role evolves I’ve started to see patterns emerge in my work across WordPress.com teams at Automattic. Two that keep coming up for me are focus on people, not technology and be a quality driver. I’d like to dig into the Quality Driver aspect in this post.

A Quality Driver navigates all the levels, end-to-end

Here’s a recipe for success as a product lead that I’ve now written down on a paper card near, and placed on my desk. I’m working on internalizing it as I put it into practice.

+ Obsess over customers.
+ Know how we want to communicate our message.
+ Understand our business goals and core mission.
+ Keep in touch with where the technology is headed.

Driving quality as a product lead takes place at many levels, from strategy to operations to tactics. At the highest level we write stories — sometimes framed as bets — to set the vision. Then working with teams on projects, schedules, organization — all the way through to the details of design, engineering, marketing, and support.

The key for me as I grow into this role is to synthesize everything as I navigate through the various levels. (For more, see my previous post on Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively.)

Another way I’ve to frame this Quality Driver  is in the form of a job description. A bit aspirational and ambitious to motivate me to grow and scale my product leadership. It’s my new mindset.

Quality Driver as a job description

Strategic — Raise awareness for the top issues facing our customers, and coordinate with teams to make the needed product changes. Pay attention to the end-to-end experience of our products, acting as the chief quality officer. Hold a holistic view across the business and own every aspect of the customer journey.

Operational — Act as an effective facilitator between developers, team leads, and company leadership. Align team resources to company goals and product initiatives. Engage with product teams for effectiveness, motivation, and project management. Build a culture of trust, quality, and high performance.

Strategic — Communicate a strategic vision and turn it into action. As a compassionate and effective product steward, use the ability to succinctly communicate our CEO’s vision to teams, as well as communicate everyone’s aspirations to the CEO. Find the gems, bring them to light, and move the needle. Work on the right things, avoid crashes, and be a few steps ahead of everything — knowing how every change fits in with our plans. Help everyone understand the context of their work and the broader vision for our products.

Knowing my success

Following the recipe I started with above, I can measure my impact as a product leader by watching for:

  1. Business growth for a sustainable and profitable future.
  2. Better customer engagement and satisfaction.
  3. A natural and healthy flow of communication.
  4. The happiness and effectiveness of teams.

On Self-Management and Energy

My word of the year for 2017 seems to be energy — some days I have, some days I have not. With clear results depending on the day and my energy level.

The following thought comes to my mind each day as I face the first decision of the morning: get out of bed and exercise, meditate, and read — or sleep in and feel more rested?

Use energy to get energy. George Leonard in Mastery

In the past my decision hinged on whether I thought one choice or the other would lead to a better Lance-at-work or Lance-at-home. Of course the right answer is both (chuckle).

Here’s the full quote.

The long road of always learning trumps a quick-fix mentality. To avoid burnout use energy to get energy, maintain physical fitness, tell the truth, set priorities, and stay on the daily path. Find joy in goalless practice itself. The plateau isn’t something to avoid; in fact, it’s one of the most important parts of the journey, and where you’ll be the happiest.

 

energyLike skipping meals, missing key rituals I’ve set up to start each day — habits that provide me with energy — means that I don’t perform at my highest level. High as measured by my presence and output at work. Not to mention the negative effect on my relationships and mood and self-esteem resulting from a lack of energy.

I’ve deepened my understanding of what this “energy” means. Leonard’s Mastery taught me about giving energy to get energy. How to Think About Exercise by Damon Young reminded me that fitness can bring much more than just bodily pride: it leads to intellectual and spiritual results: “We shouldn’t exercise only for health.”

This year another thoughtful deep-dive on energy came my way in The Making of a Corporate Athlete (2001) via Matt and Cate.

Extensive research in sports science has confirmed that the capacity to mobilize energy on demand is the foundation of IPS [ideal performance state].

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Screenshot of an oldie-but-goodie HBR article. (And ,where would be without this treasure trove?).

The sports metaphor is appropriate. As knowledge workers we also train, exercise, and grow. Here are my takeaways from the research:

  • Energy is defined most simply as “the capacity to do work.” Training starts with the physical level because the body is the primary source of energy and “the foundation of the performance pyramid.”
  • The enemy is not stress but linearity: the failure to oscillate between energy expenditure and recover. And stress can be a motivator and positive thing. I recommend looking up eustress if you want to learn more. “The problem is not so much that their lives are increasingly stressful as that they are so relentlessly linear.”
  • Physical stress can be a source of greater endurance as well as emotional and mental recovery: work fewer hours and get more done. In one case a manager saw success by increasing the good kind of stress in her life. “Because [Clark] no longer feels chronically overburdened, she believes that she has become a better boss.”

View the full article for the visual description of the “High Performance Pyramid” — for now, here’s how I understand it:

The performance pyramid is a mental model of energy, starting at physical and moving to cognitive, and finally to spiritual. Connecting everything with a higher purpose.

Is Your Product The Hero?

Craig Menear, CEO of The Home Depot, used a phrase I’d never heard before in business or marketing, “The product is the hero.”

Via NPR’s Marketplace “Corner Office” podcast, How The Home Depot became an e-commerce giant (December 20, 2017).

Update: Mike Davidson made a great point via Twitter about improving this to frame the customer as the hero:

https://twitter.com/mikeindustries/status/945756824573132800

The tools are not heroes to be used by you, the hero. You use them to win. Great point.

Trust Is Built By Genuine Human Connections

Trust can only be built by genuine human connections. Rich Sheridan

Rich Sheridan’s closing keynote at PNSQC 2017 hit home in many ways. I loved hearing examples of his time-tested ideas for creating joyful workplaces at Menlo Innovations. You can learn much more is his book Joy, Inc. – How We Built A Workplace People Love.

Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively

One of my favorite takeaways from Principles by Ray Dalio is the notion of above-the-line and below-the-line (hat tip: Matt). Dalio describes how to navigate both levels effectively in both work and life.

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To synthesize well, you must 1) synthesize the situation at hand, 2) synthesize the situation through time, and 3) navigate levels effectively.

Synthesis, in my own words, means the ability to identify, understand, and combine bits and pieces into a whole. A coherent end point. As my colleague Ian Stewart says, “Keep your eye on the prize. Or, on the next step.”

You could apply this principle in many areas of work and life:

  • Keeping meetings on topic with clear decisions at the end.
  • Converging on a minimum viable product launch.
  • Coaching and feedback conversations with peers, mentors, employees.
  • Business strategy and decision-making.
  • Presenting important information to a group: telling a story that sticks.

In addition to navigating the levels effectively, there’s an added benefit of shared language:

Use the terms “above the line” and “below the line” to establish which level a conversation is on.

This makes clear when a divergent or convergent conversation is needed.

Navigating the levels well means you are an effective communicator and decision maker. Able to balance inputs such as thinking, planning, and research with a clear and purposeful decision to move things forward.

Sensible Ideas

To engage you need sensible ideas.

It’s not enough to be the squeaky wheel. Barack Obama said that politicians and governments respond to people making noise and demands. But the biggest mistake made by activists “is once you’ve gotten the attention of people in power then you have to engage them and have sensible ideas.” Obama added that you have to do you homework, have your facts straight, and be willing to compromise. He is addressing this issue head on with the Obama Presidential Center, which is designed to help the next generation of activist leadership.

Via Fortune: Barack Obama: Lessons on Leadership, Power, and Effecting Change (May 2017).

Rare and Valuable Skills

The goal of my career philosophy is to craft a remarkable working life. The definition of “remarkable,” however, differs for different people.

On one extreme, it might capture a life of power and respect, where you’re at the center of important matters. While on another, it might capture a life of exotic travel with a minimum of work and a maximum of adventure.

Something most such visions have in common is that they contain traits that are rare and valuable. If you want them, therefore, you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return. This requires that you stop daydreaming about a perfect job that will make you instantly happy, and instead focus on becoming so good they can’t ignore you.

Cal Newport in 2012

What are your rare and valuable skills? (Emphasis mine.)

Extract Your Own Insights

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Don’t ask for advice. Ask for experiences. Then extract the insights yourself.

Via the “Top Performer” class notes from Cal Newport and Scott Young.

Penny Allen on Key Traits of Technologists

 

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Penny Allen, quality lead for Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) inspired me with her keynote at PNSQC as she described six key traits of a technologist.

  • Curiosity beyond “what does it do?”
  • Inventive problem solver
  • Self-driven learner
  • Coherent communicator
  • Open-minded but practical
  • Adept at finding the signal in the noise

View the full video of her talk: Quality Engineering 2017: Trends, Tricks, and Traps. This slide appears at 32:42.