Brandon Watson has been at Amazon for all of three months, and he admits he’s still in his honeymoon phase.
But he has a unique perspective on life at the Seattle company in part because of his history at Microsoft, where he was one of the leaders of the Windows Phone team. In a post on his personal blog today, Watson shares his thoughts on life at Amazon. It’s a detailed glimpse into a side of Amazon that isn’t generally visible to the outside world.
He’s careful not to explicitly compare it to his experience at Microsoft, but it will be hard for knowledgeable readers not to see the contrast — including the way Amazon conducts meetings (no PowerPoint!?); the management style Watson describes (low-key “teachable moments” vs. public confrontations); and the vending machines with credit-card readers (Microsoft is legendary for its free sodas).
A good chunk of the post is focused on the culture of meetings. Here’s one section that caught our attention …
The written word matters a lot more at Amazon than any place at which I have ever worked. In any meeting where a decision is to be made, or a review of any kind, there is a set document type which is to be used to drive the meeting. The topic is set ahead of time, and the meeting owner brings the document to the meeting.
What makes this process so interesting is that there is little to no preselling/politicking of decisions. By beginning meetings with a set time period to read the document (anywhere from 15 to 30 mins), the team can process the doc and an informed discussion can be had. The docs are limited to 2 pages for a shorter discussion, and to 6 pages for longer reviews. Appendices can be attached, most notably containing a FAQ. This structure forces clarity of thought, refined thinking, and organization of ideas. It’s easy to hide that you don’t know what you are talking about in a PowerPoint deck. Not so much in a 2 page Word doc.
I have to admit, when I was first being recruited and someone tried explaining this concept to me, I had a very strong adverse reaction. Not sure why. Maybe because it was different. Having now lived through a few doc creation exercises, I much prefer this as a device for driving decisions in a company where projects have many stakeholders.
Watson, who previously oversaw Windows Phone’s work with third-party app developers, oversees Kindle software for Amazon, focusing on product management for Kindle readers on third-party devices and the Kindle Fire table.