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The Legendary Amazon 6-Pager: Is It Really the Product Manager's Bible or Just Ancient Lore?

Every product manager has looked toward Amazon with respect and maybe a little envy. After all, we’re talking about the company that turned online shopping into a household term. 

At the core of their success in creating new products is an infamous “6-pager”, and it’s become somewhat of a Holy Grail benchmark for people in product management.

We won’t just heap praise on it here. Instead, let’s get into what this document really is all about:

  • What is this 6-pager exactly, and why do people care so much?
  • How does this document guide big decisions at Amazon?
  • And honestly speaking, how useful is this tool outside of Amazon?

So, is the Amazon 6-pager worthy of the PM praise? Let’s jump in and see.

The Myth of the 6-Pager (Demystified) 

In the product development world, there’s a buzz around Amazon’s 6-pager as if it were some closely guarded trade secret. It’s credited with helping turn a simple online bookstore into an industry titan. But how did it all start?

The Origin Story

The 6-pager at Amazon isn’t your typical corporate briefing. It’s something of a milestone. 

Created to avoid mind-numbing presentations (particularly of the PowerPoint variety), this six-page memo is written like a story—covering everything from what customers need to how they’ll solve those needs. Jeff Bezos started this approach because he preferred well-thought-out analysis over bullet points on slides.

Cult Status Among PMs

In tech circles and among product managers, the 6-pager holds almost legendary status. While no concrete usage statistics exist, you would be hard-pressed to find a PM who hasn’t heard the name whispered once or twice in the lunchroom.

It’s seen as the epitome of clear communication that many aim to replicate. 

But, questions linger: Can any company adopt it effectively or does its power lie solely within Amazon? 

This debate adds to its mystique and invites skepticism about whether one size truly fits all in strategy documentation.

The Anatomy of a 6-Pager

When you delve into a 6-pager, it’s more than words on paper. Think of it as the DNA of an idea made tangible. It’s designed to make sense of complex information and guide decision-making. 

Let’s unpack its components:

  • Introduction: This part sets the scene. It prepares readers by clearly stating what challenge or opportunity lies ahead and why it matters.
  • Goals: The vision. What does hitting the mark look like? This section paints a picture of achievement that’s both inspiring and realistic.
  • Tenets: These are the core values steering your strategy. They shed light on why certain paths are chosen over others, like a compass for decision-making.
  • State of the Business: Consider this an honest inventory check. Where things currently stand, including hard numbers, market standing, or any other pertinent details.
  • Lessons Learned: Looking back can offer valuable wisdom for moving forward. Here, we assess previous efforts, identify effective strategies, learn from missteps, and understand their causes.
  • Strategic Priorities: Here comes action planning. The priorities spell out specific tactics to tackle identified challenges head-on in pursuit of stated goals.
  • Appendix (optional): Sometimes, additional data backs up your story without needing center stage. An appendix holds all those extras needed for anyone looking deeper without overcrowding the main narrative flow.

Focus on Clear, Concise, and Thorough Information

When we assemble the sections of a 6-pager, we keep three key principles front and center: making it clear, concise, and thorough. It’s about finding just the right balance. 

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Take a look at our Fibery example above. We start with an introduction that hooks you without dragging on. Our goals are set high but spelled out simply. The guiding principles must make you think but also spur you to action.

We dive into the current state of affairs with enough detail so everything makes sense at a glance while still leaving room for contemplation and forward momentum in our lessons learned section. As for strategic priorities, they’re laid out precisely without losing sight of the big picture.

And lastly comes an appendix, it’s an extra dose of info for those who want to delve deeper.

The Silent Ritual – Reading and Reviewing

You may be aware that Amazon has a distinctive approach to starting meetings: everyone silently reads a detailed document. 

Believe it or not, it’s an actual practice and quite effective. And that document is, of course, the six-pager.

Imagine walking into a meeting where, instead of instant chatter, you find colleagues intently reading documents. It’s unusual but purposeful. This quiet beginning is all about efficiency. Digesting the material before discussing it ensures every conversation is on point and meaningful. 

The results are that meetings become powerhouses of productivity with discussions that truly dig into the issues at hand and lead to well-informed decisions. It reflects a shared dedication to deep understanding and decisive action.

Why Product Managers Should Care (or Not)

For product managers immersed in the trenches of innovation and execution, Amazon’s 6-pager serves both as a guiding principle and a detailed roadmap. But does it hold water in all territories?

  • Methodical Analysis: The structure of a 6-pager encourages a systematic approach to problem-solving, challenging PMs to engage with their products thoughtfully.
  • Clear Communication: The format requires succinctness and precision, essential tools for any effective PM.
  • Consensus Building: It promotes shared understanding among all stakeholders, from team contributors up to leadership levels.

Nevertheless, the practical application can vary. In smaller startups or within organizations less inclined towards heavy documentation, the comprehensive nature of a 6-pager might seem excessive. 

While the core tenets supporting the 6-pager are advantageous, it may be prudent to tailor its use to suitably align with an organization’s unique environment and ethos.

Adopting and Adapting the 6-Pager

Adopting the 6-pager approach outside of Amazon’s ecosystem means respecting what it stands for while adjusting how you use it. Product managers looking to tap into its benefits should think about:

  • Making It Your Own: Shape the document so that it works well with your team’s capacity and fits in with your company’s style. You might find a shorter, 4-page version is just right.
  • Keeping It Clear: Keep your focus on straightforward, direct communication and organized thought—no matter how long the document ends up being.
  • Learning as You Go: Begin with a modest attempt, seek feedback from others, and polish your method as you move forward.

Watch out for becoming too strict or creating overly detailed documents. The aim here is to improve discussions and make better decisions without making things more complicated than they need to be.

The PM’s Verdict

I’ve watched plenty of trends rise and fade away. The Amazon 6-pager stands out because it combines thoroughness with straightforwardness, which has its advantages. 

But it doesn’t work for every situation. Being flexible and thinking critically are essential. It’s the ideas behind this method that count more than sticking strictly to its structure.

The Amazon 6-Pager – Your Roadmap or Relic?

At its core, the 6-pager champions clear thinking and precise communication within an organization. 

The real question however is whether this document serves as your modern-day roadmap to success or simply archival insight into corporate wisdom. 

It all hinges on how you tailor these practices to your company’s specific needs.

Interested in seeing how a tool tailored for project managers can easily tackle the 6-pager? Look no further than Fibery, where structured thought processes meet crystal-clear communication directives in an environment crafted for PMs’ operational demands. 

Start a free trial with us today, and if you’re interested in more insights written for PMs, by PMs, check out the Fibery blog.

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Infinitely flexible product discovery & development platform.