💡 Our CBH Working Backwards Document is to be used for substantive Feature Specs (such as Matching Algorithm) and other Major Initiatives (for example, if we began an effort to get Joint Commission Accreditation today we would write a Working Backwards Document first).
With a nod to Amazon, who popularized this working backwards methodology, we’ve adapted it for use in our own corner of the economy. This is a living document, and I expect us to add to this document as we get more repetition writing these Working Backwards Documents and get more mature as a business.
Which projects necessitate a Working Backwards Document?
Writing a working backwards document is a mechanism to force higher quality thinking, but admittedly takes time, and thus is a tradeoff. Write a Working Backwards Doc if it checks at least 1 or 2 of the following:
- Time: if the project will commit the company to more than two person-weeks of time (i.e. a feature that will take more engineering time than one engineer for two weeks) then write one.
- Quality vs Speed: if the project is better launched one week later at a higher quality than if launched immediately, write one. (The obvious example of when not to write one is a bug in our mobile app, for example, in which case getting the fix out immediately is the priority). By the same token, if it’s better to launch immediately… are you launching it today? If not why not?
- Second-order effects: if your project may impair other parts of the org, but for good reason (i.e. new credit underwriting policies that impact sales, account management, and billing) then write one. If your project may change the way our HCPs or HCFs behave in a way that’s costly to change back, write one.
- Obvious to the reader: if your project is so patently obvious that if you emailed three people to do it without much description you would be confident they would deliver three identical solutions back to you, then you don’t need to write one. Otherwise, do.
The Working Backwards Methodology & Why We Use It
Working Backwards tests the customer value of your ideas and helps you crystallize what you want to do and why in customer-centric terms that anyone can understand. Customer-Centric is one of our Company Values. Note that some Working Backwards Documents will have internal-only customers, that’s fine, and identifying the true customer of your work is a key decision worth spending time on.
Three tools comprise the Working Backwards methodology and are each encompassed in this Working Backwards Document. Each tool is used to drive clarity into what we want to build and why:
- Future Customer Quotes
As a customer-centric company, our product features and major initiatives are only successful if customers are delighted. So, we start at this end result: what will these customers say when this feature is out and they love it? We write these Future Customer Quotes before we start building anything to make sure that, as a customer-centric company, it's the right thing to work on.
- FAQs (from the perspective of each type of customer, as well as internal stakeholders)
The list of Frequently Asked Questions is where we add meat to the idea described in the Future Customer Quotes. An FAQ includes questions that came up when writing the Future Customer Quotes - both stakeholder and customer questions. Put yourself in your customer's shoes and consider all the questions you would have and make sure these are included in your FAQ. Also, put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholder to address how it will get done and why it's important to do. The Future Customer Quotes and the FAQ are the business requirements.
- Visuals (for example, mock-ups if this is for a feature in our CBH App)
Sketch out what the experience will be like for customers (or users if it's something you're building for internal users). How will customers discover it, and what will they want to be able to do with it? What will it actually look like? Visuals might be a drawing on a whiteboard, a workflow diagram, a wireframe, or several of these.
As a set, these three sections comprise the Working Backwards Document. To enforce clear concise thinking, the first two sections together should fit within a maximum of six pages (but can be shorter), and Visuals are often added as an appendix that can be as many pages as needed. This document is the currency we use to share, test, and bring our ideas to life for customers.
Section 1: Future Customer Quotes
As the first of the three sections of the Working Backwards Document, and the first of the three tools we use in Working Backwards, start here. Who is the customer?
- If it’s an HCP, what are some quotes you’d hope to hear from them when they call in after this feature is out? What are some text messages you hope to get to Support because they love this feature?
- If it’s an HCF, who inside that HCF (admins, scheduling coordinators, directors of nursing, etc) will care and what do you hope they’ll say?
- If it’s internal stakeholders (such as NAMs, CSMs, SDRs, the Director of Sales, etc) who is it exactly, and what do you hope that person(s) say after you’re done?