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Demystifying Amazon “Doc” Reviews

Demystifying Amazon “Doc” Reviews
Image shows empty meeting room with chairs around the central table

Writing is a huge part of the Amazon culture. It is how all major decisions are made. There are many types of documents or “docs” written at Amazon; from 1 pagers for socialising early ideas to six page narratives for business (operational) planning, retrospectives, roadmaps, vision documents, monthly or quarterly business reviews and more. Plus there are PRFAQs — or Press Release, Frequently Asked Questions for those ‘think big’ ideas. We will be writing many more blogs exploring each of these written forms in the future.

But first, I wanted to talk about the doc reviews, as these hold almost magical status for me. When I describe the scene to people most of them stare in disbelief, thinking about how this works in real life. So let me explain.

Writing is the great equaliser. Amazon has been described as a culture catered for introverts, but it is so much more than that. Writing puts the thinking on the writer, not the reader. The writer draws key data together to form an easy to comprehend story. It is a discussion starter.

Once the narrative or document is ready to share, a group of people gather, these are usually key decision makers and affected stakeholders. Jeff Bezos also insisted on having an empty chair in the room to represent the customer, as they are the most important person to consider for all Amazon decisions (but often not present). The readers may have little to no knowledge of what is going to be presented until they have read the document, but that’s fine, as Amazon narratives should tell them everything they need to know. The narrative’s author, who has probably spent hours (if not weeks) working on the paper, sends it round/hands out paper copies if meeting in person.

Everyone now reads in silence.

Once everyone has finished reading, the discussion starts. This usually follows the rule of general comments first, then the author of the paper will guide the room page by page, asking for questions and listening to what others have to say. The discussion is usually lively and challenging, yet respectful. The purpose of this review is to build on the initial idea, to shape a future vision that will excite the customer.

Everyone in the room is encouraged to participate and add value. No voice should be louder than the other, and discussion isn’t about the quality of writing, it is about the idea or vision that is being shared. Write poorly they notice the style, write well they notice the idea. For retrospectives and business reviews the purpose is to review, learn and improve, but never to judge.

At the end, with usually about 5–10 minutes of the hour remaining, the discussion will be drawn to a close, and next steps decided and actions allocated. This is the part that people who haven’t been in a doc review struggle to understand — that a decision can be made so quickly. But when a good doc is presented, the hard work is almost done. The writer of the narrative is bringing together everything the decision maker(s) need to be able to make a clear decision. (Plus, the worst thing someone can say at the end of a doc review is…“I think we need another doc”!!)

It’s pretty incredible to think that without these docs we might not have the Kindle, Alexa, or even AWS!

Over the next few articles I will explore different types of documents, their purpose, and how to write them effectively. I will share my own tips, and those taught me by my writing mentors. Click follow to stay informed, and share with others who might find these useful.