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. Â The job he is interested in is for a position as a software development manager in reverse-logistics at Amazon.com. Â 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. Â Because of Amazon’s intense secrecy, most people do not know how engrained Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma are in the Amazon.com culture. Â 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. Â 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 havenâ€™t talked about, but that is super important in our culture, is the focus on defect reduction and execution.Â Itâ€™s one of the reasons that we have been successful for customers.Â That is something I had to learn about.
Thatâ€™s not your natural strength?
Well, by â€œlearnâ€ I mean I literally learned a bunch of techniques, like Six Sigma and lean manufacturing and other incredibly useful approaches. Iâ€™m very detail oriented by nature, so I have the right instincts to be an acceptable operator, but I didnâ€™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 itâ€™s not a question of designing a repeatable process. Itâ€™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 overâ€”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. Itâ€™s very obvious when, for instance, we look at the number of customer contacts per unit sold. Our customers donâ€™t contact us unless somethingâ€™s wrong, so we want that number to move downâ€”and it has gone down every year for 12 years. Thatâ€™s big-time process management. We try to implement those kinds of processes in various places. Theyâ€™re most naturally applied in our fulfillment centers and in customer service and so on, but weâ€™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 itâ€™s equivalent to bureaucracy. But effective process is not bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is senseless processingâ€”and weâ€™ve had some of that, too.
Because of Amazonâ€™s intense secrecy, people do not understand how engrained Lean and Six Sigma is in the Amazon culture â€” and, not just in Operations, Supply Chain, or Fulfillment, but in almost all areas of Amazon.Â 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.