A friend of mine recently contacted me, seeking my advice on how to get a job at Amazon.com; my friend is a top-notch software engineer, manager, and an all-around good person and leader. The job he is interested in is for a position as a software development manager in reverse-logistics at Amazon.com. My friend qualifies on most items, except for the last bullet below, requiring experience in Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma — for a software engineering job!:
- Substantive experience building innovative, complex software, ideally but not necessarily web based systems
- Strong technical credentials, with at least 3 years leading or managing software development teams, ideally with some hands-on architectural or distributed systems experience
- Business analysis acumen, with experience measuring the success of a complex business and proposing new business opportunities
- A record of great hiring of technical team members and leaders
- Operational support and passion, with experience in establishing, measuring, and meeting service level agreements, improving the availability, performance, and quality of systems
- A track record of communicating well with executives and non-technical leaders
- Experience in account management and vendor management preferred
- Bachelors Degree in Computer Science or the equivalent strongly preferred
- MBA preferred
- Experience in Six Sigma and Lean is a HUGE plus
The last point gave me an enormous smile, from ear-to-ear. Because of Amazon’s intense secrecy, most people do not know how engrained Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma are in the Amazon.com culture. For me, when Lean and Six Sigma show-up on job requisitions for software development jobs — that, to me, is a huge success indicator that Lean and Six Sigma is becoming more and more a thread throughout the company.
Jeff Bezos is sharing more and more on this topic. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, he said this about Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma:
As the business grew and moved into new areas, you must have felt challenged to keep up on a personal level. What have you had to learn along the way?
Something we haven’t talked about, but that is super important in our culture, is the focus on defect reduction and execution. It’s one of the reasons that we have been successful for customers. That is something I had to learn about.
That’s not your natural strength?
Well, by “learn” I mean I literally learned a bunch of techniques, like Six Sigma and lean manufacturing and other incredibly useful approaches. I’m very detail oriented by nature, so I have the right instincts to be an acceptable operator, but I didn’t have the tools to create repeatable processes and to know where those processes made sense.
Before I started Amazon, I was with a quantitative hedge fund. That work is very disciplined and very analytical, but it’s not a question of designing a repeatable process. It’s not like a car-manufacturing plant, where the work has to be done in a defect-free way, in the same way over and over and over—or anyway, that piece of it is not as important.
But here, that execution focus is a big factor, and you can see it in our financial metrics over the past ten years. It’s very obvious when, for instance, we look at the number of customer contacts per unit sold. Our customers don’t contact us unless something’s wrong, so we want that number to move down—and it has gone down every year for 12 years. That’s big-time process management. We try to implement those kinds of processes in various places. They’re most naturally applied in our fulfillment centers and in customer service and so on, but we’ve actually found that they can be useful in a bunch of different things.
When you are inexperienced with disciplined process management, you initially think that it’s equivalent to bureaucracy. But effective process is not bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is senseless processing—and we’ve had some of that, too.
Because of Amazon’s intense secrecy, people do not understand how engrained Lean and Six Sigma is in the Amazon culture — and, not just in Operations, Supply Chain, or Fulfillment, but in almost all areas of Amazon. While they are far from perfect, I sure learned a lot while I was there and I continue to be an admirer of Jeff Bezos.