Feedback loops

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  • 4 min read

feedback loop
n. a circuit that feeds back some of the output to the input of a system

When I agreed to run a discussion group on feedback loops, I thought that it would be easy: everyone thinks of the same few feedback loops, right?


Firstly, if you try to get a list of feedback loops of the web, you’ll find loads of insightful writing about what feedback loops are (e.g. “Feedback loops are the driving factors in agile”, “Inspect and adapt cycles are feedback loops”, “loops are iterative and occur at each stage of the sprint throughout the release”, “Short feedback loops are one of the key benefits to the success of agile because they enable teams to learn fast and adjust.”, “Short feedback loops enable you to learn fast so that you can adjust while the costs are low”), but you’ll struggle to find a list of loops. So I was very interested to hear what the discussion group would come up with.


I didn’t provide a definition of what ‘feedback loop’ meant. The suggestions the group made were (they’re my groupings):

Team-based / organisation-based feedback loops:

  • Daily stand-ups
  • Showcases (to stakeholders, customers)
  • Retrospectives
  • Scrum of Scrums
  • Cross-team reviews
  • Operations reviews

Development-based feedback loops:

  • Pairing
  • Code reviews
  • Automated testing (including unit tests, TDD and BDD scenarios)
  • Feedback from manual testing
  • Build bot for Slack
  • Continuous integration builds
  • Continuous delivery builds
  • Delivery of product to users!
  • Feedback from colleagues on tools such as Github, Wiki documentation
  • Feedback from other teams (esp. support team)

Visualisation / reporting feedback loops:

  • Agile boards
  • RAG statuses
  • Reports (e.g. CFD, histogram, scatterplot)
  • OKRs
  • KPIs

User-based feedback loops:

  • Data analytics reports
  • A/B testing
  • Error messages to users (e.g. when users try to fill in a form but get error message)
  • Client surveys and questionnaires
  • Number of sales
  • Customer reviews (e.g. reviews left on Trip Advisor, Amazon)
  • How engaged customers are on social media

Personal feedback loops:

  • Mood calendar (aka marmite voting, niko niko calendar)
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Suggestion boxes
  • Thank you box
  • One-to-one with line manager
  • 360 degree feedback
  • Annual appraisal from HR

One participant raised the idea of Radical candor. This was unfamiliar to me. It appears to be a phrase created by Kim Scott, who uses a Steve Jobs quote to explain it: “You need to [criticize] in a way that does not call into question your confidence in [an employee’s] abilities but leaves no too much room for interpretation … and that’s a hard thing to do.” It’s the nirvana of being able to directly tell people what you honestly think, without upsetting them. Our automated feedback loops (e.g. CI systems) give us this but, once you insert a human into the mix, it gets a lot lot harder. I suppose that’s why she’s written a book about it. That’s one for the book backlog.

It was an interesting session. I hadn’t thought about some of the feedback approaches that were discussed (for example, someone brought up biometric feedback and haptic feedback). It was a great example of how different points of view generate alternative viewpoints.

Do you have other feedback loops? Have you read Kim Scott’s book? Please feel free to add any comments below regarding these or with any other relevant thoughts on the topic.


Image courtesy of Karl Horton on Flikr, although not sure who the artist is

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