The Promise of Feedback

One of the promises of all the agile methods is frequent feedback about the state of the project and the product. With frequent feedback, we can adjust our actions and goals based on the current reality and manage empirically. Sounds good, but the practice isn’t always so easy.

A few weeks ago at the Scrum Gathering in Vienna, Tom Ayerst and I had a conversation about this very topic.

Here’s what I’ve observed:

A person can hear and act on feedback when

  • He feels he can do something about the feedback, he has other options and actions at his disposal. People who only know one way to do things or have a limited repertoire or actions may hear the feedback, but they don’t know what else to do.
  • He can deal with his own feelings when things don’t go perfectly. Paradoxically, many people who are very bright don’t have much experience handling feelings of failure… so they avoid or block out information that might point up problems to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Other people have such low self-esteem that they can’t tolerate feelings of failure and block out useful, but not happy information about the current state.
  • He doesn’t believe he’s 100% responsible. This is too big a weight to carry, and can sink people to the point that they cannot bring their intellect to bear on the problem
  • He doesn’t believe he’s 0% responsible. People who feel that they aren’t in any way responsible for the situation see themselves as victims or blame others. When it’s all someone else’s fault, it’s easy to blame, but hard to take constructive action.

    Feedback is information… sometimes it’s not what we want to hear, but it’s crucial if we want to adjust and choose actions that are more effective.

    Also see Facing Up to the Truth, a little story about two managers and how they responded to project feedback.