The Working Backwards innovation methodology

According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, there are over 30,000 new products introduced every year, and 95% fail. Innovation is hard but essential and so companies have created methodologies to try and give them the best chance of success.

I was recently introduced to Amazon’s innovation methodology – Working Backwards – and would like to share it with you.

The Working Backwards process is based on understanding the customer and their needs and then building a product or solution to meet this customer need. This is opposed to a company coming up with products or a process that suits their needs and then getting marketing to sell it to customers.

The 5 questions

The basis of the Working Backwards methodology is to answer the following 5 questions:

  1. Who is your customer?

  2. What is the most important problem or opportunity?

  3. What is the most important customer benefit?

  4. How do you know what your customer needs or wants?

  5. What does the experience look like?

The Working Backwards process

I found the picture below that clearly lays out the Working Backwards process.

The Identify phase includes brainstorming and ideation, which is an important step between identifying the customer and their needs and then answering the 5 questions.

The Innovate phase’s main step is a surprising one to me. Amazon employees then take their innovation, idea, new product, etc., and write a 1-page press release and an internal and customer focused FAQ. The press release is then presented at a meeting for evaluation where the group first read it thoroughly and then ask questions to help refine the solution.

Refining of the idea, press release and FAQs are done until the Implementation phase where the product is developed and sold.

Real life example

I had a recent thought that perhaps I should use the skills learnt on my employment journey to not only provide for my family but to see if my faith could benefit from them. I have learnt a great deal around Design Thinking and believe it could be very helpful for those making decisions within the church? I will take this idea and use it as an example to work through the Working Backwords process.

Big Idea: Free Design Thinking workshops for churches.

Could churches use Design Thinking as a tool to come up with innovative and creative ways of engaging with the people in their churches and communities?

The 5 questions:

1. Who is your customer?

Church leaders who are battling to come up with ways of meeting the needs of their church and communities.

2. What is the most important problem or opportunity?

Church leaders don’t have a structured way they can think through creative ways of meeting the needs of the people attending their church and their communities.

3. What is the most important customer benefit?

They can set aside 4 hours and have a facilitator guide them through a design thinking process.This will result in the best chance that a creative solution can be found.

4. How do you know what your customer needs or wants?

I have been part of the church my entire life and know that the way they approach today’s world needs to change.Design Thinking offers church leaders a way to do this.

5. What does the experience look like?

The Design Thinking workshop will be done at the facility of the church and will give them a professional guided approach.

The press release and FAQs:

When writing a press release there are some guidelines to follow:

  • No more than 1 page.

  • Language understandable to a 12-year-old.

  • Testimonial expressing the ‘Wow!’ factor.

  • Assume customers will only read the first paragraph.

  • Leave more complex aspects for the FAQ.

Below is an example of the press release I have put together for the idea I am working on. The content isn't important - this is just an illustration.

Amazon suggests that not more than 2-3 hours be spent putting the press release together.

Here is my effort at putting a press release together for my idea.

The FAQs:

The last preparation steps before the evaluation is putting together the internal and customer facing FAQs.

Here again is the example that I have put together. Once again the actual content of the FAQs below isn't important.

Evaluation meetings:

The way Amazon does their evaluation is the press release and FAQs is printed and given to each person attending the meeting. They spend the first 10 minutes in silence reading the documents in full. They then re-read the documents, evaluate if there is a customer and need and identify questions they have. Discussion then takes place going through the document in detail.

This idea of mine is very new and I haven’t had any review sessions yet. Wish me luck as I go through this 😊.


I hope you have enjoyed reading, and possibly being introduced, to the Working Backwards process. Like all Design Thinking methods, you can take the parts that appeal to you and add them to your existing processes. I personally see value in the Working Backwards process and will be using it in the future.

This blog contains my views and doesn't represent the views of the company I work for.

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