Franz Wolfeneck
From Zero to Beyond


From Zero to Beyond

Writing Working Backwards Documents

Photo by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash

Writing Working Backwards Documents

Franz Wolfeneck's photo
Franz Wolfeneck
·Sep 18, 2022·

3 min read

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First popularized by Amazon, Working Backwards documents test the customer value of ideas and help to frame them in solution-centric terms that anyone can understand. They are a suitable means by which teams can share, test, and bring to life ideas. These documents are especially valuable for coordination in asynchronous, remote work environments.

When to write one?

Working Backwards documents constitute considerable time investments. The reason for that investment is similar to the message Lincoln shared in his famous quote: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” That does not mean that every project should require a Working Backwards document to start. Here are some guidelines when to write one:

  • Clarity: The project lacks inherent clarity and requires description.
  • Time: The project requires a considerable time investment.
  • Quality: The project is better launched one week later at higher quality than launched immediately.
  • Impact: The project introduces broad or costly to reverse changes.


Working Backwards documents break down into three components. Future Customer Quotes capture what we want customers to say when the solution is out. Frequently Asked Questions capture potential customer questions regarding the usage of the solution. The FAQ also mentions internal question regarding implementation. Visuals complement the previous two components, e.g., sketches, workflow diagrams, wire-frames.

Future Customer Quotes

The individual components of Working Backwards documents are to highlight and answer essential questions. The purpose of these questions is to guide discovery and testing. In phrasing your future customer quotes, here are some sample questions to guide you:

  • Who is the customer?
  • What is the problem (the opportunity)?
  • Is the benefit of the solution clear?
  • Can the customer easily and succinctly explain and share the solution?

Tip: Standardized language aids shared understanding. In writing problem statements (or user stories), try this format: Toward [customer objective], when [process step], [customers] need to [customer need].


The FAQ is the crux of a Working Backward document. Solid FAQs describe value, appetite (the effort you want to invest), and scope. They uncover risks and help to assess the complexity and feasibility of proposed solutions. Moreover, they highlight success metrics and provide contingency plans. Thereby, FAQs help decide if a project is the right investment.

Working Backwards documents are living documents. FAQs include questions that arise when writing the Future Customer Quotes. They include questions others ask throughout versions of the document. Thereby, FAQs capture the decisions made for a project along the way and streamline team meetings.

Good FAQs list those questions you want to answer the least, or that are the toughest to answer. Include those. It is ok to not have all the answers right away. Add a placeholder instead: “Still figuring this out.” Include comments as to how and when you will answer each question.

Here are some sample questions:

  • Why should this problem be important to us?
  • How much effort should we invest?
  • What are the boundaries of the proposed solution (scope)?
  • What skillsets are required to implement this solution?
  • How will we define and measure success?
  • Is this the best customer experience we can think of? If not, why not? What constraints (internal, external) prevent us from the ideal customer experience?
  • What risks and rabbit holes are involved throughout implementation?
  • What is the most likely cause for failure?
  • What mechanisms do we have in place in case this goes badly? What will we do as a result?
  • How will we educate customers (including sample content)?

To keep things organized, you can break down the FAQ further into Customer FAQ and Internal FAQ.


One purpose of Working Backward documents is to facilitate shared understanding. Shared means everyone (internal and external). Include visuals to complement the future customer quotes and the FAQ. Those might be sketches, workflow diagrams, wire-frames, even prototypes. Your Working Backward document is nearing completion once there remain no unanswered questions.

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