Feedback cycles and communication

One of the highly regarded practices of Agile development is the rapid feedback loops from the development cycles. This can be extended into all areas of an organisation including non-development activities.
The support departments can use feedback loops to determine defect fixing/creation rates and put in place a plan for improvement. The infrastructure teams can measure issues during deployments to determine corrective action, and management can look at costs and benefits of projects to fine tune processes.
There is one thing common in all of these activities, it is the corrective action as part of the feedback cycle. Without that, the loop is unclosed, and any goodness you might accumulate during the activity is lost. More importantantly any corrective action that is required can only occur with sufficiently appropriate communication.
The communication in these sorts of situations are intented to assist in the improvement of the activity. My wife is an HR expert and has great qualifications in change management regarding people. Many of the same things she talks about are equally important in software development. After all, most problems we have a people problems, not technical problems.
So, when communicating feedback, have a look at this blog entry discussing the human factors involved in feedback.
Theres another aspect of feedback that I would like to add, it’s like goal setting, the feedback should provide clear and objective evidence of both good or bad things that occurred so that the people receiving the feedback can understand the specifics. This also includes timeliness of the communication.
It’s not enough to say “CruiseControl is brilliant”. But, “In our project, CruiseControl worked well, it took 1 day to configure and required low levels of maintenance during the project. We observed that Cruise managed to save wasted effort every iteration. We intend to use Cruise, or another CI tool on the next project”. Conversely, saying things like “You suck at Java” is equally not helpful. Provide feedback so the people performing the activity can improve their performance on the activity, and provide it in a timely manner.
Remember that while feedback is normally associated with “poor” behaviour, it’s vitally important to reinforce good behaviour. It’s all about being professional. Also remember that giving feedback is an activity, so, be prepared to improve that activity as well. As is giving feedback about feedback…….

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One thought on “Feedback cycles and communication

  1. I’m not so sure about the ‘expert’ line but thanks for the compliment!
    Most people don’t wake up each day thinking – I am crap at what I am doing. They think I must be doing a good job as I haven’t heard otherwise. Often as soon as they hear that they have made a mistake they go out of their way to fix it. Which is why feedback is such a wonderful thing.

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