The Agile Manifesto & Feedback Loops

Feedback should be captured and aggregated so that qualified data can be quantified and weighted.

Feedback is the key to any kind of organizational agility providing measurable value. And yet it’s not implicitly a part of either the original Agile Manifesto or the more recent Agile Marketing Manifesto. Here’s what I’d add to both manifestos and why I think it’s potentially a game-changer for the many frameworks and flavors of ‘Agile’ in the market today: you can’t have agility if you’re not making changes based on the feedback of those creating and receiving value from your effort.

3 WAYS FEEDBACK DRIVES ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY

  1. Measure the consistency of feedback as a KPI for meaningful change

2. Aggregate team learnings by quantifying qualified feedback in order to scale learnings across the organization

3. Eat feedback for breakfast to change the culture since culture eats strategy for breakfast

Each of these builds upon the others. Feedback is central to organizational agility.

Measure the consistency of feedback as a KPI for meaningful change

Organizations tend to measure numbers because counting activity and things are easier to calculate than trying to understand the overall value of effort and outcomes. And while numbers/metrics are useful as indicators of something else, they’re rarely useful enough to make meaningful decisions from without a larger contextual viewpoint.

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are a collection of metrics that show the impact (or lack thereof) from measuring progress over time. Most metrics focus on a quantity of actions or activities as a proxy for progress or success. However, these usually explain only what, not why something is trending in a particular direction. A useful KPI, therefore, would be one that helps contrast the what with the why.

Feedback in the form of verbatim text responses from those doing the work often reveals exactly why the metrics are what they are. Feedback should be the validation of a number/metric with a sentiment and rationale. When feedback is captured once in a while instead of consistently, the ability to understand and validate quantified metrics is missing and can lead to assumptive thinking or, worse, assumptive decision-making.

Aggregate team learnings by quantifying the qualified feedback (captured verbatim) in order to scale learnings across the organization

All feedback can be counted, much like a thermometer will dutifully report the temperature at any given moment in time. Some types of feedback are simply easier to quantify than other types of feedback. NPS (Net Promoter Scores), for example, offer a numeric value to provide context for the percentage of fans/advocates/users who not only like what you do but will actively promote you to their circle of influence. As such, NPS has a number (scoring) system that many organizations use to help provide context to their branding efforts and customer satisfaction reputation.

But some types of feedback are more nuanced, much like a barometer has values (numbers) that are tracked over time to determine two important characteristics: the direction of change and the rate of change. These numbers matter only in relation to each other, not as a stand-alone value, as they help provide a reasonable expectation for weather changes. Similarly, some types of feedback are also nuanced and can be captured and understood over time to provide a reasonable explanation based on patterns and anti-pattern observation.

For example, capturing the verbatim statements from employee feedback can be useful when you have a small enough group to read through them all. But in any organization of a certain size, once you get past the ability to parse their text responses manually, a scalable approach is required, which is also where it turns out the most organizations fail to consider how to quantify something as qualitative as text verbatim feedback.

And yet, quantifying qualified data is precisely what ends up providing the kind of insight that shifts feedback from a complaint-and-suggestion exercise to a measurable and understandable map for organizational growth and health.

But capturing a large volume of verbatim feedback is challenging. That’s why I recommend using Natural Language Processing as a way to analyze huge amounts of text through automation and machine learning in order to parse this unstructured data in meaningful and understandable ways.

Eat feedback for breakfast to change the culture since culture eats strategy for breakfast

Peter Drucker, the noted Father of Modern Management, famously said “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I’ve added to this because Agile is really about culture change.

If you change the culture, the transformation will stick. If you only modify the behaviors, the culture will keep lasting change from sticking.

Therefore, to change the culture, listen to the culture. Feedback is the gift of insight into why things are the way they are. Those closest to the problems are closest to having the answers. Similarly, those same people doing the work are also closest to the opportunities they’re seeing that KPIs and Metrics rarely show because those measurements look backward, not forward.

Feedback is a gift. Aggregated feedback at scale is actionable intelligence.

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Anthony Coppedge

Anthony Coppedge

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I lead the vision for how business agility is infused in Digital Sales at IBM. I relish the chance to sabotage mediocrity.