Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Writing Documents at Amazon (medium.com)
79 points by sib 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 9 comments

This is almost not at all about writing documents, but more about how to not suck at meetings with Jeff Bezos (a manual).

Author here.

I think that's a fair comment, but, what I would say is:

The goal of a meeting with Jeff (or other senior leader at Amazon) is to make a high-quality decision on something that is generally non-obvious and involves complicated issues and significant risks. (If the answer to the decision at hand were obvious, the issues were simple, and the risks were limited, you'd just make the decision as a working team and move on (potentially with a email to your boss and other people who care, to let them know).

And, since (virtually) all meetings at Amazon use documents to accomplish the above goals, "not sucking at meetings with Jeff Bezos [and other senior execs]" is almost isomorphic to "writing a good Amazon document."

Your title is definitely catchier, though (sincerely!), so thanks for making me connect the above dots.


I'm currently reading a lot about technical writing and documentation, as we're started hiring into this direction. In this context I was curious about the article from a very narrow angle when clicking the link.

I still read it all and I do think you're reaching the goal of your article as outlined in the comment, so all good.

I just wanted to make a tldr kinda disclaimer to people that might be coming from my angle and being interested in stuff like documentation best practices and alike.

That's my take away as well, but I don't think it's a bad read. It shows something about leadership I think. In my experience – in organizations big and small – most meetings have no agenda beyond a subject line in an email. Invitees come in with little idea of what the meeting is about or how to prepare for it, so the first part of the meeting is just pleasentries and trying to figure out why you're even meeting in the first place. Once you start picking up steam, more often than not I find the meeting is cut short by people having to run into another meeting, or find some other (valid or not) excuse to duck out. Follow up meetings are usually scheduled, with an agenda that tries (and often fails) to tl;dr the previous meeting and if you're lucky that meeting actually leads to actionable points.

Having a consistent structure to meetings – with clear requirements such as a two page document in clear no-frills language detailing the reason for the meeting, background, questions and potential solutions etc. – may well seem draconian to many people these days, but I find it helps with focus and clarity. Combined with a clear vision (my number one ask from leadership) I think it really helps boost productivity even if it does take time to prepare. At least that cost is fairly easy to account for, whereas the follow-up cost to bad meetings often isn't. Crucially though, people must read the document prior to the meeting – no excuses – or you'll end up with the first half or third spent on just reading the document or having to recite it to those that haven't read it. It's perhaps still better than the subject line agenda style meetings, but possibly not by much.

This is very much a cultural thing. It's extremely difficult to apply to just your meetings. I've tried.

> Crucially though, people must read the document prior to the meeting

Amazon accounted for this:

"Each meeting requires a well-crafted, six-page memo that the whole room sits and reads at the start."


Thanks for the thoughtful comments; Amazon's methods are certainly not the way to do things, but they are a way that works for them and I think it's worthwhile to understand how and why, in depth.

> This is very much a cultural thing. It's extremely difficult to apply to just your meetings.

This is so, so true. But keep trying, if you believe in it.

Yes, got that same vibe but still I think the post was useful. Meeting culture in fast moving companies can either be a great force and accelerator or a dreadful showstopper.

I think the points made in the post can be applied to much smaller setups. At least, if you are doing the opposite of what is proposed here (no prep, no data, wrong people, no honesty etc.) you’re guaranteed to never have effective meetings.

Thanks, yes, agree that the "opposites" (as you've listed them) are likely to lead to ineffective meetings. I think that most organizations can learn from how Amazon runs meetings and makes decisions, but those tools and techniques should definitely not be "cargo-culted" in wholesale without thinking through how the organization and its broader context are different from Amazon.

Agreed! This post totally reminds me of the meeting with my professor in college.

Applications are open for YC Winter 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact