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How an Amazon Technical Program Manager (TPM) is thriving under a micromanager

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A year ago I helped John to land a TPM offer at Amazon. We were both really excited about his new role. He was joining a very high profile team in the AWS organization.
I got a call from John about one month after he joined Amazon. Things were not as rosy as he expected. He is learning a lot. He had been working diligently to carry out the first-90-day plan that we had put together. But, he soon realized that he was reporting to a micromanager who asked for an excruciating amount of details, frequently changed his request, and was very reactive to what the big VP was asking for.
John had spent hours to draft and revise documents and later got the feedback that he needed to re-write the whole thing as his boss changed his mind. His boss got into an excruciating amount of details to critique John’s writing but provided very little guidance on the strategic aspect of what they’re doing. The frequently changed direction because he was constantly reacting to what he heard from the VP.
It became a very stressful situation for John. As I’ve told many of my clients, Amazon has a very detailed and specific culture. It demands a lot of details from its employees, which is good. The devil is in the details! However, a good number of Amazon managers including some very senior ones are too deep in the weeds and lack the strategic thinking to lean back and think about the bigger picture. They can make life very difficult for their employees.
I advised John to focus on three things:
1) Apply first principle thinking to truly understand and define the problems they are trying to solve and determine what must be done to accomplish the goals regardless of what the boss told him to do.
2) tactically be flexible and pragmatic. It is likely that he would waste some of his time to simply react to his boss’s demand and address his ever changing concerns. At the same time, he needed to find time to work on what he thinks must be done, and methodically show progress to his boss and convince him that there is a better path.
Having a back bone alone will not solve the problem. John needed to apply every ounce his Emotional Intelligence to help his boss to get out of the weeds and see the bigger picture.
3) make progress every single day. John should avoid overwhelm himself by trying to do too much in a very short amount of time. Instead, he should focus on making small progress everyday. It will add up quickly and result in meaningful progress.
We agree on a daily update mechanism. By the end of each day, John will email me his top three accomplishments, his blockers, and what he learned.
By focusing on one day a time, breaking things down, and having me as an accountability partner, John was able to quickly take control of the situation, delivered a solution that solved the problem and made his boss look successful in front of his boss, and earned John the credibility and early win that is crucial for his long term success at amazon.

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