You probably know me from my articles or as a
consultant / coach / trainer / facilitator, but I always have
some development on the go: workshops, webinars, events,
a book. My knowledgeable and patient friend Ted in
California often has insightful feedback for me. Before
opening registration for Individuals and Interactions in April, I asked Ted for his feedback about the signup
You should have heard me groan when I saw his response.
It was longer than any feedback he'd ever given me, and
it meant hours of extra work I desperately hoped not to
have to do. I was conflicted between “Surely what I did
isn't so bad” and “His feedback about my book was so
useful, why should this be different? Listen to him!”
So I buckled down and did the work (in a slightly foul
mood). I actually loved the result. Ted, not as much...
So we went through another cycle. Do you know the feeling
of working on something for longer than it “should” take,
and you just can't look at it anymore? That's what I
Everything you know about Agile is grounded in a simple
concept: short, actionable feedback loops. Every trainer,
coach, and book will tell you: Don't wait till it's too
late to discover that the fruit of your labour misses the
mark. How can you argue with that? It's obviously true.
What they don't tell you, however, is that feedback is
like going to the doctor. You have to do it, and it's
good for you. But it involves considerable teeth-gnashing
(especially during the wait), and you might not like what
you hear. What the doctor tells you is not always
helpful, practical, or correct. And another doctor might
diagnose and recommend differently...
What they also don't tell you is that you have to do
something with that feedback. And that's where fatigue,
procrastination, doubting yourself, anger, and a host of
cognitive biases kick in. And once you do the work, you
probably need to get it reviewed again...
Feedback isn't a new concept. In traditional development
life-cycles like Waterfall you also get feedback on your
work, usually from testing, whether by internal people or
by field users. That feedback often comes late, which
isn't great for effective product development, but — and
here's the kicker — it's emotionally easier. You had
your sense of accomplishment, and your mind has rested
from that piece of work. You can now deal with needed
Cue Agile, and that sense of accomplishment is elusive
(or merely delayed). Presumably, it should kick in when
the Definition of Done says it should, not just when
you're done coding or your specialized activity. But most
of us are not that rational. We should know when we've
done well, so we like to apply ourselves, do our bit and
If your Agile implementation feels less than effective,
see if you can trace it back to missing or ineffective
feedback loops. Check what's going on, and perhaps you'll
find echoes of my story there. You might discover that
some people are just not motivated to seek feedback or
act on it.
What can you do then?
• Work in smaller batches, i.e. move smaller pieces from
idea to production. That immediately translates into
shorter feedback loops and fewer comments. And if the
feedback amounts to “do it over,” your sunk costs are
• Have the team establish and process those feedback
loops. When people pool their energy toward a shared
vision, it can overcome individual reluctance and
• Ask “why” and “what” more often than you ask “how”.
Rather than be trapped by task lists, keep clear on the
purpose of your work and its success criteria.
Well-crafted user stories, and acceptance-test driven
development (ATDD) are very helpful here.
And on a personal, human level, when you seek feedback
frequently enough, it becomes a habit. When your mind
accumulates enough evidence of the value of feedback, it
starts wanting more. And if sometimes that translates
into “aargh” and a disheartening pile of work, here's an
easy tip: rely on other people's energy. Seek their
encouragement; chat about fun stuff; even complain on
Twitter. You're not alone.
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