Tailoring Experience for Product Management @ Amazon

I would appreciate your take on my background and any advice you have about tailoring it for Amazon product/program management roles. - K., Seattle

During my time at Amazon, I was a product manager in Kindle as well as managed a product in Retail. I also worked and interacted with dozens of other product managers at the various intersections of Amazon's heavily matrixed org structure. In my observation, the good product managers at Amazon do three things well:

  1. They focus intensely on a customer problem -- "customer focus" is all the rage these days. But what's often missing is focus on a specific, defined problem. Deep understanding of a pain point (or opportunity for invention) requires research, observation, measurement, and lots of thought, which brings us to the second thing good product managers do...
  2. They build strong cases and argue persuasively -- the most popular question at Amazon is "why?" (followed closely by "why not?") which means you need to take your deep understanding of that customer problem and translate it into a case that you can defend, in meeting, after meeting, after meeting. Nothing is going to happen unless you will it to and at Amazon, data and narrative are the tools of the trade. Amazon is tightly managed and the way that ideas turn into products is they fight their way to the top. At each rung, they're subjected to a barrage of "whys?'. Survival of the fittest. 
  3. They get *the right* shit done -- at the end of the day, Amazon cares about results. It's not enough to simply get things done. You must get the right things done, and by that I mean those things that have a significantly positive, measurable impact. 

This is what "meeting the bar" at Amazon looks like. The best of the best do these three things faster and more creatively than everyone else. 

So, in terms of tailoring your experience, a few things stand out as really important for Amazon's Product Manager / Sr. Product Manager roles. You've got to be analytical. You've got to have a lot of hustle and persistence. And you've got to own every aspect of breathing life into your idea. Obviously you can break all this down into buzzwords but my suggestion is to think of the hardest things you've ever done professionally, even if you failed, and be able to talk through everything you did or didn't do, why it was important, what ended up happening, and what you learned. 

At the end of the day, Amazon is a unique environment that's not ideal for many (probably most) people. Talk about the hardest thing you've done and why you're proud of it. If Amazon isn't impressed, than it's for the best. There are plenty of exciting, interesting places to build product besides Amazon. Hell, Perfect Loop has been built largely in coffee shops around the country. 

- Gregory Rutty

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