Feedback Loops in Tech: How to Harness the Power of Stakeholder Comments

Oct 6, 2023 | by EastBanc Technologies and Brandis O'Neal

Tech is enamored with agile - we iterate constantly, we change things, and we have to communicate it and do it seamlessly. But how do Tech pros make feedback beneficial and aligned with the organization’s goals? The answer is feedback loops - specifically those that involve key stakeholders.

A feedback loop in Tech is where information flows back and forth between developers, managers, and stakeholders. The intention is to gather, share, and re-implement knowledge continuously, ensuring that systems and solutions evolve smoothly in the right direction. In this context, stakeholders may be internal team members, external partners, or even end-users.

For this article, we collaborated with our own feedback loop champion, Brandis O’Neal, Project Manager here at EastBanc Technologies. We asked for her expertise to better understand real-world feedback collection and communication. We started by looking at how many roles should be included in communication on a tech project and why.

Brandis O’Neal: Stakeholders input starts when a project is defined and continues through the project lifecycle. A few roles are considered key stakeholders: the project sponsor, end customers, product owners, and design and development team. The product sponsor is the most important stakeholder as the final decision maker and budget approver. The product sponsor creates the vision, sets the direction and expectations and confirms that the work aligns as features are built. The customer should involved at the early stages of design to ensure the product is useful and adopted. The product owners, which include internal business users and tech support, know the pain points and possibilities of the work and have expertise from experience. The design and development team must have an understanding of the project’s goals and type of solution that will work for the business. Their job is to not only build the system but also make sure it’s done so that it can easily be maintained, modified, and scaled given the business constraints (i.e. technical expertise, technical support, physical resources, etc.)

Ongoing Communication Benefits

Gathering the people mentioned above and managing the communication between them is complex, and it’s imperative to the success of any Tech project. So why is it so important?

  1. Informed Decision-Making: With continuous feedback, Tech teams receive real-time insights into how well a system or solution is performing. This data-driven approach guides adjustments, helping to avoid costly mistakes or misdirections.
  2. Building Trust: When stakeholders see that their feedback is sought after and acted upon, it cultivates a sense of ownership, trust, and collaboration. The entire project keeps moving forward.
  3. Enhanced User Experience: The end-user experience is a significant factor in a product’s success, so their feedback is crucial at each stage: research, prototyping, and support channels - neglecting any of these will lead to more expenses.
  4. Resource Efficiency: Adjusting based on feedback saves time and money. Small iterations help the team to make changes with minimum time, money, and people. Feedback makes agile possible.
  5. Risk Mitigation: Stakeholders often offer a different perspective and might spot issues or challenges the Tech team still needs to consider. Addressing these issues early prevents future complications.

*Brandis O’Neal: The unexpected happen. Moving forward with as little disruption to the progress and team morale is critical. Therefore, communication of possible risks beforehand and a mitigation plan is critical components for stakeholders.

Aiding Efficient Feedback

For feedback loops to be effective, there should be a process for collecting it in the first place.

Brandis O’Neal: A communication plan (formally written or informally discussed) about how often stakeholders should meet and provide feedback is crucial.

Stakeholder input from core teams must happen constantly. Core teams should include the development team and the client’s internal product owners. These teams should communicate on a daily or weekly basis. Concise and purposeful feedback helps the team remain focused, mitigate issues, and address changing priorities more efficiently.

Here’s how Tech teams ensure their communication plan is efficient:

  1. Structured Feedback Channels: Whether through regular meetings, surveys, or digital communication tools, establish clear channels for stakeholders to share their insights.
  2. Feedback Prioritization: Not all feedback has the same weight. Tech teams must categorize feedback based on urgency, importance, and feasibility. This helps address the most critical issues first and is also based on the importance to the business. Does it impact the safety or security of its customers? How much a financial loss may occur?
  3. Active Listening: Tech professionals must give the speaker their full attention - “listening on purpose” helps them ensure they understand what the stakeholders are communicating.
  4. Encourage Specificity: General feedback like “it’s not working well” isn’t as actionable as “the system often lags during peak hours.” Encourage stakeholders to include details.
  5. Iterative Prototyping: Especially for new solutions or significant changes, consider developing prototypes. They allow stakeholders to interact with a preliminary version, offering feedback that can guides the final product.`
  6. Feedback Recognition: Acknowledge and appreciate the effort stakeholders put into providing feedback. This recognition can motivates continuous involvement.

Brandis O’Neal: Many times, clients think that after they’ve stated the requirements their input is done or unnecessary. This feeling may be the case because the development is not constantly acknowledging the client’s input and how it matters. The flip side to this is when a key stakeholder such as the product sponsor constantly wants to change direction and voice their opinion, becoming a barrier to progress. Tech teams should keep acknowledging the feedback on every stage of the project.

In conclusion, the Tech landscape is one of perpetual evolution, and to navigate it efficiently, feedback loops are indispensable. By emphasizing ongoing communication and making consistent adjustments based on stakeholder feedback, Tech teams foster innovation that is both purposeful and impactful. Ultimately, it’s a win-win: Tech teams deliver better solutions, stakeholders are empowered, and the organization benefits from a more aligned and efficient IT infrastructure that keeps customers happy and returning.