Narrative Memo for Product Managers

If you see all of Amazon products it would be always about “execution” over “glossy finish”, “function” over “form” not to undermine their aesthetics but Amazon’s culture has always been about “Working backwards & putting customer on Centre” over all these fancy processes.

The famous mail by Amazon founder which he sent in 2004 went rounds in the recent PM groups for all the right & wrong reasons.

Bezos mail to managers & Executives on the decision

I see the email talk about 4 important points
1 He certainly seems to hate powerpoint slides
2 Yes there is a process change of how he conducts meeting
3 He seems to emphasis the importance“Narrative”
I have seen 100’s of the discussion & articles relating to this mail (even from ex-employees) talking only about process & how effective his meetings were, how right questions are asked during the meeting.

But for me the last point about narrative made more importance to PMs than meetings & process. I do believe the whole crux of the email was more “narrative” than process, even in the 2018 letter to stakeholders Jeffrey P. Bezos talks about the same narrative & it’s already a successful process.

Bezos wanted to solve the problems of structured thinking & decision making over presenting, he had his executives think from backwards and asked them to present in the form of narratives ignoring all the other distractions towards decision making.
We traditionally want our PMs to present solutions over understating their thinking process. In our product product discovery session we had PM come and present us a slide about problem next on solution, this approach seems nothing wrong until you have 4 main things missing things

1 Why you have to do it ( A strong why)
2 What is the experience the end user would be facing(outcomes)
3 Give me feedback on the outcome not the solution
Outcome is the desired experience the user would be facing and solution is how do you do it, there is a huge leap of difference to it.

To the reader: He wanted all the decision makers to read the 6-page during the meeting in the first 25 minutes, most of them write down questions and return the document set back to you and the firing of questions began. The document beautifully narrates the readers why we are doing it , what is going on , what are the forces which are going to take part and what other players are going to do, gives the reader the entire context not just the solution, so it forces them to think before the meeting.
Another advantage of a narrative is it connects all the dots joining all the missing puzzles so people who are making decisions can predict what happens next and choose a course of action.

Full sentences are harder to write, says. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.
Jeff Bezos

To the creator :6 page memo forces the PM to think within the plain simple english, and it is very difficult, since the goal of the document is to craft in the from of narratives & not as bullet point, no Images or illustrations, basically pure written document It is damn hard to put right word form the mind and thoughts but when perfected, one gets a Pacific like “clarity”, that’s when you get all the unnecessary clouds removed you know what exactly are going to do. Memo Gets one thinking more structured , as good thinking is also about articulating things, it forces one to articulate in the right manner. So writing is the process through which you achieve your thinking right way or you basically think right and then start writing what ever suits you up, writing it down is necessary.

It gets more clearing with the meeting process supplementing it

  1. PM brings printout copies, everyone takes a copy as they enter.
  2. 1st 15 minutes: All the key stakeholder sit down and start reading,
  3. 20 minutes: PM starts walking through the document, here he would ask for comment and reviews
  4. Next 20 minutes: Discussion to take the final decision
  5. Last 5 minutes: Bring the meeting to clear closure in terms of outcome.

Not more than 10 key stakeholders should be invited & give their comments as too many chefs spoil a dish and also it will take more than 60 minutes. All the views are discussed, decisions & conflict areas should be captured in the meeting noted and carried over for the next.

Conclusion The 6 page memo is a internal thinking kit more than a process tool which also helps in PM finding key stakeholder alignment & acceptance.It is also a great tool to handle tough stakeholders having different views and direction getting them moving towards the same direction, we have tried and tested it and we see if this suits your organisational culture.

Do share it with PM whom you think this will be relevant

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