In the world of management, whether it be the product, project, program, engineering, etc. learning how to collect and adhere to the application of feedback could drastically improve your business stance in the sense of growth and longevity. Given that we’re in the 21st century where the modern market and technology change consistently, constantly improving, you too need to make sure you’re able to keep up with the changing times. To do so, learning how to incorporate and apply the right product feedback loop quickly and accurately is key.
What Is a Product Feedback Loop?
So what are product feedback loops? You might have heard this term used in a range of contexts and have a different understanding of what it is exactly. Within management, product feedback loops are ongoing conversations where constructive criticisms are relaid back and forth between two parties for the long-term developmental benefit of either the individual, team, project, or product.
In other words, as you progress through each stage of the development lifecycle, whether it be testing, implementation, assessing opinions on MVP (minimum viable product), or even after product go-live, by consistently seeking or asking for feedback and opinions from your teams, leadership, end-users, and applying the feedback given, you’re constantly driving growth towards change and improving the product each step of the way.
The end goal here is to forever improve by constantly incorporating feedback whenever and wherever possible.
Types of Feedback Loops
As you can start to imagine, feedback loops can easily become an effective tool if utilized in the proper manner and correct form. There are many types of feedback loops given their nature. We’ll focus on the main ones, or the 4 most commonly referenced: Internal, External, Positive, and Negative.
Internal Product Feedback Loop
Just as its name implies, these are feedback collected internally from internal teams. Managers will reach out to their direct reports and corresponding teams to ask for guiding thoughts and opinions to maintain the level of quality on a given project.
With an internal feedback loop, not only is the manager getting the best results in the sense of gaining perspective and approach to adjustment with regards to improvement, but the client is receiving the best possible iteration and updated version of the product or process.
The best way to implement an internal feedback look is by making incremental changes.
External Product Feedback Loop
If an internal product feedback loop is collecting feedback from internal resources, then an external feedback loop would be collecting feedback from the opposite, respectively. The external feedback loop relies on the project’s stakeholders and clients, or end-users to help drive and improve the progress of the project.
Nothing can beat the value-add from feedback directly from the client or end-user: it’s invaluable. Continually receiving feedback from the client not only reassures and validates the progress of work done by the team but also promotes a sense of collaboration across the table.
The key here is to maintain balance. As much good as it is to receive direct feedback from the stakeholders, too much becomes micromanagement, giving too much control. At the same time, if not enough feedback is not being delivered on a consistent basis, the project could easily get derailed and getting back on track could get messy.
Positive Feedback Loop
The nature of feedback is very yin and yang, white and black, positive and negative. With the positive feedback loop, the feedback alone is capable of generating enough steam to become self-perpetuating to the point where the team is able to feed off the fuel of that one feedback and become self-driven.
This feedback usually comes from an external source like the client or end-user. The feedback is provided in such a way that it reassures the team of their capabilities and becomes self-reinforcing.
For this product feedback loop to take place, both the team and the client have to have great rapport and synergy. In essence, both the team and the client will need to be in sync and see eye to eye on the client’s vision of the project or product.
Negative Feedback Loop
As for the negative product feedback loop, the name can be misleading. This loop is not about providing negative feedback or structuring negative feedback. The “negative” in this context is speaking to the allotted work that needs to be fulfilled. In other words, the ground that needs to be covered between the current state of work and the work that needs to be completed, leading up to the desired outcome.
This loop helps drive the team to track and get closer to the end state, minimizing the “negative” space or empty ground that’s left to be covered.
Product Feedback Loop Process & Examples
Now the next step after familiarizing yourself with the different types of feedback loops is understanding how to garner the feedback needed to create the loop you desire. In this section, we’ll take a look at a few processes on how you can gather feedback that you can use to bring about the results you’re looking for.
The survey is one way to obtain feedback from a larger audience and scale your feedback process. It’s great for gathering qualitative data as you’re using questionnaires to learn how your audience feels about certain aspects of your business or product. The downside to this method is if you don’t build your survey correctly, in the sense of keeping short and concise and easy to answer, your audience could get fatigued and ignore the survey all together. Also with surveys, you’re getting a sample of data as opposed to full data like you would in an interview, which is what we’ll lead into next.
Unlike surveys, interviews are more individualized and geared toward extracting personalized data straight from the source. With interviews, you’re learning more about the individual’s wants and needs, and experiences, through which you can develop usability studies and make improvements based on their feedback collectively. Because interviews are focused on extracting personal feedback, you’re able to go in-depth to learn more about how your audience thinks and why. The downside to this method is that it’s costly. You want to strategically place this process of extraction at the right place and time to effectively make use of the feedback.
3. Social Media
There are your traditional methods of collecting feedback through interviews and surveys, but we’re now living in the future where we can instantaneously get feedback from the tip of your fingertips. With the help of the internet and social media platforms; ie – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Yelp, Snapchat, blogs, reviews, we now live in an age where we can instantly post our feedback immediately after our experience. The only issue with this process and the types of feedback that you’ll receive is the “polarized effect”. What I mean by this, is that you’ll either get feedback from your biggest fans and supporters or you’ll get it from your haters. However, even with that said, it’s a good channel for you to stay engaged with your users and learn what they like and don’t like.
4. Employee Feedback
When focusing on collecting feedback internally, be careful of the fact that the feedback that you’ll obtain will be very biased in some sense, depending on who your internal audience is. In some cases, you’ll be receiving feedback from experiences that are collected from power users as opposed to inexperienced, first-time users. The manager will usually hold retrospective team meetings to collect internal feedback. Depending on your audience, surveys are the most common form to collect employee feedback.
5. Customer Support
One of the oldest yet most effective ways of collecting feedback is from your customer support teams. Your customer support teams are usually your front-line soldiers that can obtain a wealth of feedback if operated in the right fashion. Given that the support teams are usually the first to come in contact with your users, they speak directly and are engaging with the customer to learn about their issues and pain points. This is a great source to drastically learn how to improve processes and functionality. However, be careful as this could have some lash back given customer support teams usually act like super users and could become fatigued when dealing with first-time end users.
6. Sales Team
Another great internal source to garner feedback from would-be your sales team. Similar to your customer support team, your sales team is also at the front lines, but instead of handling issues and pain points, they’re gathering first-hand intel on your customer’s requirements. This feedback will help you understand how to better serve your consumers in learning what specifically they’re looking for in your product or service. Just like your customer support team, this function needs to be operated in the right fashion to get the most out of the feedback collected. If your sales teams are not asking the right questions and approaching the consumer with empathy, the process could backfire and become ineffective.
Now that you have a better understanding of how to collect feedback through various processes, you’ll need to learn how to use them to your benefit and get the most out of them. To implement your feedback or create the loop needed, you need to create an outlet or open channel to feed your feedback through. There are a couple of ways:
The first is by email. By obtaining the company mailing list and selecting those you wish for or those that are interested in receiving direct access to primary feedback, you are able to directly communicate and provide the first record loop of feedback. I would usually recommend asking and adding all product, design, and engineering leads to be on this mailing list as they are the ones that you collaborate with daily. I would also include leadership so that there’s transparency and visibility.
The second is through online message boards and forums, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc. Through boards and forums, you’re able to share an aggregated form of feedback from all the various feedback sources that you’ve collected. Whether it be sharing interview recordings, videos, links to surveys results, team members can share their insight and work in a cohesive and collaborative environment, creating an ongoing feedback dialogue.
Feedback Loop System Of Record
Once you’ve squeezed the juice and got the flow going, you now have to somehow manage the feedback that’s being received. To manage this flow you need to have a system of record in place. I recommend the following framework and structure:
1. Use a Project Management Tool
By utilizing an out-of-the-box application, everything will be set up for an easy-to-use experience. Teams will be able to familiarize themselves with the tool and create a process that will allow everyone to track and report the feedback collected. In essence, everyone will be in sync and in alignment. By using a management tool, you will be able to operate from a centralized repository and be able to share visibility across the board and communicate effectively.
- Microsoft Excel
- Google Sheets
A bit old-fashioned, but still effective when it comes to keeping track. It’s the simplest form and least costly. It’s quick and it gets the job done. The downside to this approach is that it’s an additional tool that the team will have to use. Not the biggest issue, but could hinder convenience.
3. Retro Tools/Meetings
Planning retrospective meetings isn’t necessarily a system of record, but more so acting as a sacred junction where teams can share their thoughts on past actions and performances on past sprints they’ve completed. It acts as a reflection point on analyzing what went well, what didn’t go well, and what could have been done better. It’s also a great place to create an internal positive feedback loop amongst working teams. Usually, the Scrum Master, Product Owner, or Product Manager would lead this meeting depending on how the company structures the team. Regardless, the lead would keep track of all those reflection points of what went well, what didn’t get well, and what could have been done better and apply those points into the next working sprint. Ideaboardz is a good tool to host brainstorming, retrospective, and collaborative working sessions.
Master Product Feedback Loops
Hopefully, that gave you a detailed look into understanding how to create continuous feedback loops within your function. Remember, understanding who your audience is and the goal that you’re trying to achieve from obtaining the feedback will help you define and choose which feedback loop is best. You’re not limited to just any single loop. Different stages of development will require different approaches. Be aware of your environment and plan ahead!
If you’d like to learn more about product feedback loops or any of the topics discussed in this blog, get in touch with us! We’re offering free career coaching sessions with our in-house team, and we’d love to answer any questions you have about product management, Product Gym, or your career in general. That’s kind of our area of expertise.