A situation that everyone knows: You are asking a colleague to give feedback on the current project status. Easy, but a simple question like “What do you think?” can get out of control and lead to a meeting of many hours in which everybody is talking about personal preferences and likes. In the end, you are more uncertain than before.
Last year at the UX London conference, I attended a workshop hosted by Adam Conner that described how it is possible to prevent such problems. The half-day workshop included methods to give and get feedback from colleagues and clients in a structured and constructive way. In the workshop, we tried the various methods in small groups.
Providing Better Feedback by Using Appropriate Methods
Asking for feedback for the current solution design, or giving feedback, is one of the most important aspects when working together as a team. However, people tend to provide solutions instead of naming the problems they encounter. This behavior can be observed during interviews with users or during usability tests. The test persons report what they would do different or how they would do it better. But interviews are the perfect situation to ask the Why-Questions rather than getting subjective or result-oriented feedback. Consequently, we should behave in the same way when we get subjective or result-oriented feedback from colleagues or clients.
Subjective or reaction-based feedback is defined by an initial reaction to a result. This instinct-driven emotional reaction happens in a few seconds and is influenced by personal expectations, values and needs.
In contrast, solution-based or guiding feedback includes an instruction or a proposal for another approach. The feedback provider tries to adjust the result to his own idea for the perfect solution.
Both types are problematic as they:Represent the subconscious reaction of the observer. But this reaction is not representative of the target group.
- Represent the subconscious reaction of the observer. But this reaction is not representative of the target group.
- Do not include information on how successfully the current solution meets the goals of the product.
In principle, it is difficult for people to not think in solutions. Our brain is not able to analyze and provide solutions at the same time. It is like a switch that toggles continuously between analyzing and creating. Some people switch faster, others less commonly or more slowly. If a participant presents a new idea in a feedback meeting, each of the other participants reacts in a different way:
- One tries to visualize the new idea.
- The next continues to analyze the presented solution.
- Another one tries to understand why someone is presenting a new idea.
- And the next develops a new solution by himself for a completely different problem than the one currently being discussed.
Consequently, the great challenge in a feedback meeting is coordinating the switch between analyzing and creating for all participants.
Good Feedback Results from Mutual Unterstanding
When asking for feedback, we expect mostly an evaluation: to what extent are the project goals fulfilled by the current solution. Therefore, it is most important to ask yourself before giving feedback:
- Did you understand everything that your colleague presented?
- What did your colleague want to achieve with the solution and how did they try to achieve it?
- How effective are the solutions and why, or why not, are they effective?
These four guiding principles provide a good pattern for giving feedback:
- Don’t make assumptions: Ask for the rationale behind the approach.
- Don’t invite yourself: Ask your colleague if you can talk about the current status of the project.
- Guide the conversation by questions: Show interest in the process and learn the intention.
- Talk about strengths: When giving feedback, not everything is about things that don’t work.
To get purposeful feedback, it is important to ensure that all participants have the same basic knowledge of the objectives of the project itself. Additionally, ensure that everyone talks about the same aspects. The following information is helpful:
- Goals: Expected and measurable success of the product, user or business-oriented.
- Principles: Statements, often phrased as rules, which describe the quality and characteristics of the ultimate solution.
- Personas: User archetypes that describe their average behavior.
- Scenarios: Short description of the expected user behavior during the task.
This information summarized on one piece of paper, together with the problem statement, is a great handout for all participants in a feedback meeting with clients and makes for a level playing field for everyone.
Everything Has to be Learned First
Constructive feedback is, like Visual or Conceptual Design, an ability that needs to be learned. Accordingly, it is good to start small and to think about a person to whom you can give feedback for the first time, or who you would ask to give you feedback for the first time. The following rules can help:
- Everyone is equal: Independent of title or hierarchy, everyone can give feedback equally as everyone can have a good idea or contribute insights.
- Everyone is a participant: Even if you do not work in the same area, you can contribute. If someone is taking part in a meeting without being actively involved, you should ask them for their opinion. Otherwise, you could lose valuable thoughts.
- Don’t try to solve problems: This can be very difficult, as people always tend to present a solution to a problem. In contrast, giving feedback has the intention to analyze the problem!
- The designer is responsible: The person who developed the solution collects the feedback and findings. Then, the designer should take time to evaluate them and make decisions. This approach helps to identify shortsighted ideas and to estimate their consequences for the overall product.
Methods that Help with Gathering Feedback
My colleagues Maxi and Anja illustrated in a nice way, in their last post, how creative methods can help to develop solutions or to evaluate ideas on a project. Some of those methods are suitable to manage and structure a feedback meeting.
To get things going, the “Flashlight” method enables each participant to give a short feedback statement, one after the other. It is also helpful to start the round yourself with one or two positive statements and one concern. This helps others to provide feedback as they now have a structure. Another possibility is the “Six Thinking Hats” method, which helps to analyze different perspectives.
Throughout the entire meeting, it is important to lead the discussion as the moderator, to keep the goal of the meeting in mind, and to note all findings and problems so that each participant can see them. Active listening and rephrasing are essential methods that help the moderator to establish a common understanding and to clear up uncertainties. Direct inquiry is the only solution to difficult participants who do not contribute. The “5 Why” method helps to get things back on track when participants give subjective feedback or start to think in solutions. At the end of the meeting, it is important to provide the next steps and to thank the participants. Thus, the participants know that their ideas are worthwhile and they will be willing to take part in such a meeting again.
At long last, get things rolling with constructive feedback meetings!