What are Feedback Loops?

Phil Busch

In my previous post, I wrote about the different stages of effectiveness a software development team can be in. As one evaluates where their team is on that spectrum, a natural question to ask is: What actions can I take to move my team up on the effectiveness spectrum?

This post will be about feedback loops. This is one of many things you can tweak to help your team become more effective.

What is a feedback loop?

A feedback loop is the amount of time it takes for a member of a team to learn a new piece of important information. A feedback loop can be between individual team members, a team member, and a stakeholder or client, or even between a team member and the software they are working on.

Why are feedback loops important?

Tight feedback loops are very important for a highly functioning team. As communication of information is a limiting factor in the completion of a unit of work on a software project, it is important that the team member that is doing the work can obtain information about those ideas as quickly as possible. The faster that new information can be obtained, the quicker the team can build understanding around the problem at hand, and the faster it can be solved.

What do bad feedback loops look like?

There's no one rule for what a long feedback loop looks like. In practice, many factors and expectations affect what is an acceptable amount of time is for a reply to a query from a team member to another individual. However, as a rule of thumb, good feedback loops between two individuals are measured in minutes, not hours or days.

Think about a time where you have needed a piece of information from a coworker. Potentially you needed to know what actions needed to be supported by a new feature you're developing to meet the needs of your user, and a coworker knows the answer. How long can you work before the work you're doing might be thrown away if you don't get an answer? If you're doing work that could be wasted without an answer, the feedback loop is too long.

How can I shorten feedback loops?

Shortening feedback loops is challenging. You need to diagnose the reason they are long. Are the people you often need to interact with located in other time zones? Are they in many meetings without you? Are you communicating your needs effectively to them?

Once you have some ideas about why the feedback loops are long, it is usually worth a conversation with that person. It is best to be collaborative in that conversation. A neutral party can sometimes help brainstorm ideas or solutions to the problem. Most professionals will want to work together to solve a problem.

I feel like there's more than this to become a more effective team!

You're right! This post has just scratched the surface on feedback loops. Stay tuned to our blog, we'll have more posts on this and many topics related to team effectiveness shortly.

If you like this then sign up for exclusive content