Feedback

The idea for this post came to me when reading this article on Harvard Business Review.

This part made me reflect on how we do software development:

A core value at The Other Side Movers is “200% Accountability.” Meaning every employee is expected to be 100% accountable for the quality of their own work, AND 100% accountable for the quality of the work of everyone else they see. The quickest way to get in trouble at The Other Side Movers is not to fail on #1, but on #2.

If we really embrace this rule as a team, there's no escaping, you'll have to give/receive feedback at some point.

As a Scrum Master it's my job to make people aware of the importance of feedback. I often see two things happening:

  • Giving feedback: some people are hesitant of pointing something out if it involves a colleague. "What if I'm wrong or my colleague doesn't like what I'm saying?" Let me turn it around: What if you're right and you didn't point it out? This moment was a chance to improve and we didn't grab it.
  • Receiving feedback: some people feel threatened because they see feedback as a bad thing. Once you see it as an opportunity to learn, you'll grow much faster as a person.

How to give feedback?

The following steps should make giving feedback an opportunity to learn for both parties:

  1. Name (not judge!) the behaviour you're seeing, the moment you see it. If you wait too long, the behaviour will be forgotten and the message is not as strong. Talking about the behaviour, not the person, is key in this step.
  2. Tell the person how you interpret this kind of behaviour and what effect it might have on the team.
  3. Propose a new way of behaving in this situation and see if you both can agree.

Don't let emotion get in the way of providing feedback. By keeping it factual, there's a bigger chance that the recipient will accept the feedback.

Failure demand

 IMAGE BY  PAVAN TRIKUTAM

Failure demand is a concept discovered by Professor John Seddon. According to Wikipedia, he describes it as "demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer".

I'll give an example of something that happened to me a while ago. We needed an electrical inspection in order to sell our previous apartment. Due to the setup of our tenant living there, we had one month to make this happen before we had to hand over the keys to the new owners. One month seemed like a good enough buffer to make this happen. I immediately thought of Company A, because they left a sticker on the electrical cabinet after a previous inspection. I submitted a form on their website and got a confirmation message along the lines of: "We'll contact you as soon as possible to arrange an inspection!".

I mentioned that we needed an inspection within the next month.

The actual timeline

  • One week after submitting the form, I called Company A to ask if they received my request and explained that it was "urgent" (3 weeks time left).
    • The answer: "Yes sir, I'll inform my colleague to get to you right away!"
  • One week after my call (2 weeks time left), I called Company A to ask if something went wrong, because I still hadn't heard from them.
    • The answer: "Sir, I'll make sure that this gets picked up before tomorrow evening."
  • 1,5 week before our deadline, I submitted a form with Company B and was presented with an option to pick a date/hour for the inspection. As expected, they showed up on the requested date/hour and our electrical inspection was ok for our handover of the keys.

So you might wonder, what happened to company A? They called me one week after handing over the keys to the new owners to set up an appointment... So five weeks after my initial request and two phonecalls where they assured me this would be picked up fast, they wanted to set up an appointment. I kindly mentioned that their competitor already took care of it.

The lessons

  • Your copy on your website is part of your customer journey, make sure it fits with the way you actually work.
  • When you promise to get back to someone, do so. Even if it's just an update to let them know that the request is being processed. I'd rather receive multiple updates, than not hear anything at all.
  • If the customer is calling you to ask for a status, you're already experiencing failure demand, because of an implied expectation from the customer's side.

Stop complaining

You know that feeling of: "This looks like an interesting article, video,... I'll save it for later!" I'm pretty picky of what I want to save, but there's still too much to process it all (FOMO, right?).

This week I found myself looking at my Youtube "Watch later" list and found a talk with Tina Roth Eisenberg (Swiss Miss) from December 2013. That sounds like ages ago, but the entire video is still a great watch.

If you don't have 33 minutes to spare, let me help you out. Of all the ideas in the video, the quote below is an important one to live by:

If I find myself complaining about something I have two options: Do something about it or let it go.
— Tina Roth Eisenberg

How to help teams complete actions effectively

As a Scrum Master my brain is hardwired to be in project delivery mode most of the time. There are deadlines on which we have to deliver (part of) a project to our customers. The only way to achieve this is by communicating often and clearly about our status, so we can respond to change as quickly as possible.

My approach to this is, that I'll gather all actions from a daily standup, meeting, discussion,... and communicate these actions accompanied with an owner and a deadline on which we want an answer. Preferably on a whiteboard in our teamroom, so you can't not see it.

So far, this sounds easy, right?

Transparency and honesty

In reality I sometimes encounter teams where it's common practice to hide slow progress or issues, creating surprises at the end of a sprint. The daily standup is the perfect setting to let your team know you're running behind, won't be able to complete an action, ask for help with something,... Failing to do so, tells your team everything's going according to plan.

When this happens, it's important to coach your team on being transparent and honest when giving a status update.

Imagine you have a date with your SO in a restaurant at 8pm:

  • If it's 7pm and you know you won't make it, you're probably going to call her and tell her you're late. At this time, it's not a big issue and plans can be rearranged.
  • If it's 10pm and you haven't called her, I wouldn't like to be in your shoes. You missed your deadline, the damage is done.

Surprisingly, the second point happens quite a lot when working in teams/with clients.

Can I help you?

So let's circle back to actions, owners and deadlines. Writing them down is the easy part. Completing them can be a lot harder. To avoid frustrating conversations when deadlines pass without completed actions, try this:

Before the deadline passes, ask if the owner of the action needs help to complete it. This serves two purposes:

  • If the answer is no: you know your colleague/client got reminded of an upcoming deadline that's important to you.
  • If the answer is yes: you'll have a better view on the status, you're able to respond to change before the deadline arrives and offer a helping hand.

This is a great step to work towards transparent and honest communication within a team. Team members will learn that taking responsibility is part of working in a team and that the team is there for you when you need help.