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4 game-changing feedback loops every organization should incorporate

29 March, 2021

Cathy Polinsky

Cathy Polinsky

CTO at Stitch Fix

Cathy Polinsky

Battle-tested advice from Cathy Polinsky - VP of Engineering at Shopify

Constructive feedback should be an integral part of every organization, as it

  • Gives people a direction and purpose
  • Improves work relationships
  • Keeps employees highly engaged

But feedback doesn't always come naturally; hence, it is vital to construct suitable feedback loops across organizations.

Cathy Polinsky seamlessly combines feedback with the flywheel effect inspired from the book “Good to Great - by Jim Collins.”

In common understanding, a flywheel happens when good things you do lead to more good things “just happening.” Adopting these 4 techniques to create a flywheel effect of feedback will ensure high productivity and excellent health across all your teams.

The Product Feedback Loop

As product leaders, a great way to begin the flywheel is by asking your users to give feedback on your product and improving your product based on this feedback.

Top 3 ricky situations that may break your feedback loop:

  • Not having enough customers - You can't get the flywheel moving
  • Not listening to customers - Your flywheel will slip because they will stop giving feedback
  • Not acting on feedback fast enough - Your flywheel won't build momentum

The key steps are "Quickly ship your product → Have your customers use it → Take feedback → Make your product better," and this will become a cycle that keeps spinning.

Top 3 questions to ask yourself (as tech leaders) to build and maintain your feedback flywheel loop:

  • How can I ship a basic MVP and get early feedback from my customers?
  • How many customers are using our products?
  • How can I ship faster?

The Customer Feedback Loop

Most successful companies we know today are customer-focused, so customer feedback is important to building a successful company. Consider asking your customers for direct feedback on your company, e.g., sending them emails and asking them about their:

  • Biggest pain-points from the company?
  • What can your company fix to make customers’ life better?

These questions should be focused on understanding how to make your company or brand better and how to make your customers happier. Getting your tech-team to interact directly with your customer is the best way to direct the customer feedback into your product. This will build that flywheel of feedback that keeps spinning.

The Tech-Team Feedback Loop

High-performing teams thrive on feedback!

They always want to know what is going well and what can be improved. These 2 techniques can help create a feedback loop in teach-team

  1. Retrospectives: These are the set-aside times to reflect on previous initiatives (to think about what's working and what can be done better). Great teams don't wait until everything falls apart; they continuously check-in and, ask questions and tweak strategies. A great example of a format for these retros is: Start, stop, and continue and it can be conducted by asking these questions systematically:
  • Start: What's the one thing that we want to start trying?
  • Stop: What should we stop doing? or What's not working?
  • Continue: What should we continue doing? What is working and we want to double down on?
  1. Blameless Postmortems:

When you deploy software, you will ship bugs. While hopefully they are small, quickly identifiable, and easily fixable, you may still experience times when such disruptions are not minor and significantly impact your customers or business. After the issue is resolved, give your team some time to look into the issue and evaluate all the data. There are two pieces of blameless postmortems:

  • The forensics: Here, you want a timeline of all the activities that happened leading up to the issue
  • The analysis: Here, you get your team together for a meeting and discuss what happened. A key rule for this meeting is not to point fingers but deep-dive into the problem and look for solutions.

The Individual Feedback Loop

One of the best ways to reinforce the feedback flywheel across your organization is to teach people how to give and receive individual feedback. We all need feedback to grow, but many people are taught to give feedback in a “Shit Sandwich” way - you start with positive feedback, then layer it up with brutal and honest feedback, and finally end it with nice feedback.

By doing this, you lose the value of important points you wanted to convey. To build a culture and loop of individual feedback, consider training your new hires on their first few days, to give and receive feedback .

Good feedback should be:

  • Clear
  • Personable
  • Actionable

You can give people a good framework on feedback in these 3 steps:

  1. Lay out the problem that you saw
  2. Explain how that personally made you feel
  3. Give suggestions on how this can be improved

Remember that feedback is a gift and should be given in service of the receiver. These feedback loops hold individual importance, but if you have all of them working together, they will reinforce each other and become an even larger flywheel. This will help you make your teams and company better.

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