October 27, 2009 CollabNet VersionOne

Over at InfoQ Vikas Hazrati initiated a discussion about “feedback,” which he rightly identifies as a key element to agile software development.  Because Scrum and other agile methods operate in short, repeatable work cadences, they are structured to facilitate frequent points of inspection and adaptation. Opportunities to exchange information and provide feedback are built into this process on a daily basis—through the daily Scrum—and at the end of each iteration, during the sprint planning, review, and retrospective meetings. Agile techniques typically shorten work cycles to ensure that feedback is exchanged frequently. When a team stops what it’s doing to evaluate its product repeatedly, it’s harder for it to get off track and waste valuable time building the wrong product.

But, in Hazrati’s article, he highlights a slightly tweaked notion of “feedback” called “feedforward,” which was coined by Marshall Goldsmith. Ferguson suggests that feedback is too preoccupied with the past and looking backward, risking a negative fixation on what has already occurred. In my mind, this is just a semantic quibble, since it’s necessary to evaluate what has come before to improve going forward. Certainly, phrasing criticism in a way that looks forward to improvement and encourages the recipient is more productive than simply lambasting an individual’s performance. Regardless of what it’s called, there is profound value in looking back to shape the future.

What strategies do you use to make sure that the feedback you provide to teammates is positive and inspiring?

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