Giving feedback is one of the things I like most about agile methods. There’s this thing about it though. It’s not that easy to give effective feedback. Lately, I’ve been hearing agile team members start their feedback with the following statements:
- I don’t want to rain on your parade, but...
- I don’t mean to be negative, but...
- I don’t mean to criticize, but...
- I don’t mean for you to take this the wrong way, but...
And then there’s the Ricky Bobby quote from the movie Talladega Nights regarding – “With all due respect…”
The first time we hear it is right after Ricky Bobby has cost his racing team 100 points for flipping the bird on TV. His team owner confronts him about it after the race and the following exchange is priceless.
Ricky: “With all due respect, Mr. Dennit, I had no idea you’d gotten experimental surgery to have your balls removed.”
Dennit: “What did you just say to me?”
Ricky: “What? I said with all due respect!”
Dennit: “Just because you say that doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want to say to me!”
Ricky: “It sure as hell does!”
Dennit: “No, it doesn’t–”
Ricky: “It’s in the Geneva Conventions, look it up!”
Clearly none of these prefaces are honest or effectively mask the intent of the person to give very critical feedback. But often they allow the giver to do it poorly under the banner of – well, I said with all due respect…or I warned you.
Consider the outcome
I would encourage everyone in agile instances to be more thoughtful with their feedback. Remember, your job isn’t simply to “say it”. It’s to say it in such a way that it is effectively received and drives the changes you are trying to influence.
What I’m trying to say is that effective feedback should be measured by the outcomes that it inspires and not by the simple fact of saying it.
Here are a few other key considerations to think about before you give someone feedback in your next sprint review/demo, retrospective, or other agile ceremony.
- Have you prepared to give the feedback or are you just reacting? Often reacting in the heat of the moment is a bad idea. Give yourself some time to be thoughtful about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. In other words, prepare!
- Timing is everything. We’ve all heard that giving feedback in the moment is always best – so not waiting too long. But as I mentioned above, you can deliver feedback too quickly as well. I often find that waiting a little bit helps me to be more thoughtful and effective in my delivery.
- Consider your context. Do you know the team or the person you’ll be giving feedback to? What is their history related to receiving harsh or constructive feedback? Do they do well or struggle with it. Have they received it in a while? And have the received similar feedback to what you’re about to give them?
- The environment is important – public, private, or something in between? Where you give the feedback is almost as important as when you give it. I like to lean towards more private situations – limiting the exposure to just those that need to receive the feedback. This is particularly important in today's "highly social" environment.
- Ask permission first. I don’t know where I learned this, but along my career someone told me to always ask first. And, if the answer is no, now isn’t the time, then respect that. This connects to the timing is everything earlier point. The feedback should be timed conveniently for the giver AND the receiver.
- Face-to-face is best. I find some many situations in agile teams where feedback is given by email, text, or some other documentation-based mechanism. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a firm believer that feedback should be best served face-to-face. So that you can see the body language of the receiver and adjust your message according to how it’s being received. That’s so much harder to do (impossible) via email.
I’d argue that this theme applies to all sorts of feedback. For example, have you ever received an email reply that was clearly sent too soon? One where you could tell the sender had reacted to something in the email and said things that (you imagine) they now regret?
I’ll bet you have. I have too. In fact, I’ve been on the sending side of many of those messages. But I’ve learned. Learned to “hold onto” my messages and not simply react too quickly. I often wait for a day to send them. And what a difference a day makes in the crafting of my feedback!
So with all due respect, I want to encourage all of us to be careful and thoughtful in giving our feedback within our agile teams. But indeed, please GIVE it!
And if you’re interested in learning to be more effective, then look at the “outbound side” of your feedback. In other words, did it inspire the action, change, or adjustments you were hoping for? If not, then we need to continue to improve in our delivery skills.
Stay agile my friends,
BTW: this blog post was inspired by a recent bit of feedback I received to a tweet. The person began their reply with: I don’t want to rain on your parade, but… Now perhaps their intentions were good, but with all due respect, their comment basically sucked. Seriously though, it inspired this article and I do appreciate that inspiration towards the importance of effective feedback in all of it’s various forms.