When is Amazon done?

Posted on August 30, 2021.
amazon distribution center at night with big amazon logo lit up on the side of the building
Amazon works to continuously improve their services, always making their systems better.

We’ve spent our entire lives working towards being done with our tasks. Eat all your veggies. Finish your homework. Is the yard work done? There has always been a definitive end to the work we do.

The same idea is pervasive in product development. WIth management roots in manufacturing, most companies still widely hold the belief that each effort should reach a defined state of “done.”

We’re regularly tasked to achieve:

  • Launching a new product
  • Finishing a backlog of work
  • Deploying a new policy or program

In a continuous world we are never done.

At the core of every successful business today is software. Software is no longer static. It doesn’t come in a box. It’s deployed continuously and rapidly with the goal of ongoing improvements as new data comes in from the market, competitors and customers.

Amazon ships code to production every second. This means some Amazon customer, somewhere in the world experiences a change to the product or service 60 times a minute. While this may seem extreme it’s well within the capabilities of every company today. In a world where you are “done” every second, that word ceases to have meaning. Finishing a product or a feature becomes a non-event.

Leaders at many companies struggle with this. Here’s how to shift the conversation:

Focus on continuous improvement of systems.

Change the goal of each team and every effort away from getting to “done” and instead focusing on learning as fast as they can whether they’ve delivered something that made their customers more successful.

By shifting to a model based on continuous system improvement we build “enthusiastic skepticism” into our culture. Teams work not to be “done” but rather to make customers increasingly more successful. It forces a closer focus on your customers and ensures that evidence figures heavily in the product decisions your teams make.

Fixed definitions of done are the hallmark of dying companies.

If you’re still not convinced, ask yourself this question, “When is Amazon done?”

When is online shopping, logistics, streaming entertainment, gaming, etc as good as it will ever be? When should they just shut the lights off and go home? Sounds ridiculous, right? We live in a continuous world. Getting our ideas to market is the beginning of our conversation with our users. In this customer-obsessed world, we’re never done.