People Need Immediate Feedback

We're getting ready for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, and my sister decided a scrapbook of family pictures would be a great present. She's right, it will be wonderful.

Mark and I were looking for pictures of us and our children, so we pulled out all of the pictures from the last 20 years. We have great pictures of us before we had children. We have great pictures of the girls with me. We have terrible pictures of Mark and the girls. Why? Because I took them.

Some pictures are fuzzy. Some have heads, arms, feet cut off. My favorite is the one of Mark with one child—both people are so fuzzy I can't tell which child it is and we can only see Mark from his glasses on down.

I laughed so hard I cried. We found some pictures of Mark and the girls we can use, so we finished the necessary picture-finding task. But that got me thinking about my picture-taking ability.

With film cameras, the feedback I receive on my picture-taking is significantly delayed, so I don't yet know how to take good pictures. I'm better with an instant-film camera, but I'm hoping a digital camera will teach me to take better pictures. (When I told Mark this, he chortled and told me I was just competing with him for toys. 🙂

So what does this amusing anecdote have to do with product development? Everything.

The further delayed your feedback is from performing the work, the less you can change about the way you perform your work. If you're a developer, and you discover problems in your code only once the product is in system test, you don't have feedback on the design or the implementation early enough to change how you design or code. If you're a project manager, your decisions at the beginning of the project have a tremendous impact on the end of the project, but unless you set up systems to obtain feedback, you can't know which decisions had what kind of impact.

No matter what your role is on your project, think about ways you can obtain feedback on your work as quickly as possible.

  • Ask for peer review.
  • Offer walkthroughs.
  • Use the rule of three: what three things can go wrong with this design/test/project plan/whatever it is that you're working on.
  • Look for unanticipated side effects of decisions. (Especially if you've started some new measurement to go along with the decisions.)

I'm sure there are more possibilities than these, but the key is to be open to feedback from other people about your work product. The more immediate the feedback, the more likely you are to improve your work product. The more delayed the feedback, the fewer alternatives you see and the more costly the changes are.

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