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The Amazon Management System – a book review

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 5, 2020  |  Comments Off on The Amazon Management System – a book review

This is a review of The Amazon Management System by Ram Charan and Julia Yang.  Ram Charan is one of a few top-level business thought leaders which sets a high standard for his books. Those prior books concentrated on advancing a thought provoking. This book is not like those prior books.

The book is largely a summary of materials that others have used to describe Amazon’s systems including Jeff Bezos’s prior shareholder letters. The book contains only publicly available information and interviews from people who have worked at Amazon in the past. Charan and Yang do not dig or analyze the company or its management system and that lack of critical analysis shows.

Amazon is an amazing company and one with an amazing track record of innovation, success, failure, learning and reinvention. It is a company worthy of study and this book provides a great summary of the general ideas around Amazon’s management system.

The result is a book that is informative but panders a bit to Amazon. The lack of analysis in general and insight into how these rules might apply to your business is a major gap in this book. It’s a gap that Charan should have filled beyond providing a page at the end of each chapter for recording your observations about the practice.

He distills these different materials into the following building blocks:

Block 1 – Customer-obsessed business model
Block 2 – Continuous bar-raising talent pool
Block 3 – AI-powered data and metric systems
Block 4 – Ground-breaking invention machine
Block 5 – High-velocity and high-quality decision-making
Block 6 – Forever Day-1 culture

Students of Amazon and those paying attention to the company know many of these parts and each block provides an inventory of its related practices. The tone of each chapter is a little fawning on the company, which colors both its content and the lead author


Recommended if you are looking for a one stop shop accounting for the essential elements of the Amazon system. Charan and Yang create a good compendium of these points. The book is recommended particularly for someone who has not studied the company, read articles or other analysis about them etc.

But this is a two-star book, in the sense that there is little to no analysis, critique or insight for applying Amazon’s ideas in established companies. Some would say that transplanting these practices is more than difficult as so much of this revolves around amazon’s unique history and leadership. That may be true, but we do not all work for Amazon, but we can all learn from them and that is the book’s big miss.

This book would have been a five star and seminal book if the authors had viewed themselves more as thought leaders and produced analysis and insight rather than being journalists providing lists and summaries.

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Category: book-review  personal-observation  

Mark McDonald
VP Analyst
12 years at Gartner
33 years IT Industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program. Read Full Bio

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