What Is a Feedback Loop?Almost everybody has heard the phrase feedback loop, but not everyone shares the same understanding because it is used in a range of fields. In project management, a feedback loop is an ongoing conversation where feedback and opinions on a project are used to shape new changes and improvements. This creates a loop. The goal is to constantly incorporate feedback to achieve perennial improvement. The world’s largest companies use feedback loops. Amazon engages in constant dialogue with users, for example, to effectively refine its platform. You can use the same dynamic to power up your projects and improve results.
What Are the Main Types of Feedback Loops?Feedback loops are powerful tools, capable of shining a light on issues to take projects to the next level. These loops come in a range of configurations, so here is a closer look at the main types you can use on your projects.
1. Negative Feedback LoopsA negative feedback loop is used to refer to the actions that are systematically performed to bring about the desired outcome. The name can perhaps be a little confusing: the word “negative” is used because it refers to the empty ground that needs to be covered by performing actions to reach the desired outcome based on the current state. The (negative) difference between the current state and the desired outcome is reduced until the desired outcome is reached as close as possible. This means that the size and type of action will be proportional to the distance from the goal. As a project manager, you will constantly balance tasks and effort to move the team toward your project goal at a reasonable and sustainable pace.
2. Positive Feedback LoopsA positive feedback loop is used to refer to a self-reinforcing process of receiving feedback, for example from a client. Whereas a negative feedback loop describes how the empty ground needs to be covered by performing specific actions to achieve the desired outcome, positive feedback loops refer to the acquisition of significant feedback that can propel a project forward and creates self-enhancing dynamics. If this still sounds to abstract, have a look at the example below. In project management, this kind of positive feedback has the potential to transform a project. But it is critical that project managers are able to use positive feedback loops in a constructive way. The transformative feedback can inspire action but it can also cause poorly-managed teams to change the project in an unintended way. Positive feedback loops are driving projects to their extremes (in a positive or negative way).
3. Internal Feedback LoopsAn internal feedback loop is employed when a project manager collects the feedback from the internal team to maintain a consistent level of quality on a given project. This loop is essential because it ensures that clients are always presented with the strongest possible iteration of a project. If the internal feedback loop is structured appropriately, it also ensures that the entire team can efficiently deliver their feedback. The internal feedback loop needs to organized in such a way that the entire team is kept updated and only incremental changes are ever made. This helps to avoid large sweeping changes which affect the work of other team members. Review and approval tools such as Filestage can help streamline these internal feedback loops.
4. External Feedback LoopsAn external feedback loop is employed when a team collects feedback from a client and uses that to correct and improve a project. This direct feedback is absolutely invaluable: not only can a client’s insight keep the project moving according to their needs, but it also fosters a sense of collaboration and cohesion. The concept of a consistent loop is particularly key here: if feedback is delivered too infrequently, the project could quickly veer off course and this will mean more significant changes are needed as opposed to smaller incremental ones.
What Are Some Feedback Loop Examples?Here is a look at some examples of project management feedback loops to help you better understand the concept.
1. Negative Feedback Loop ExampleIn this example, our project manager receives a brief from a client working in the oil and gas industry. This client is planning on launching a totally overhauled website given that its existing website contains outdated messaging and is not at all performant. This is an ambitious project. The project manager sets about establishing the resources and personnel that will be required before breaking down the large project into bite-sized tasks that will be shared between the developers, copywriters, graphic designers, and SEO professionals. The goal is in sight, and these tasks will be executed in a sustained negative feedback loop in order to move the team closer to that goal. Every single task edges the project closer to completion, and the project manager has to make sure the project continues at the correct pace.
2. Positive Feedback Loop ExampleContinuing with the scenario that we created above, let’s imagine that the wireframes and first mock-ups of the new website have been delivered. The client takes a while to respond, but eventually returns by saying that some of the critical design choices are not aligned with the initial brief. This big comment kicks the positive feedback loop into motion, providing energy to push the project along in the right direction. It is important, though, that the project manager is able to harness and guide that energy to keep the project on track and achieve the desired outcome. If the spark created by the feedback is mismanaged, the project could quickly spiral out of control and changes made abruptly would move the project beyond the desired outcome.
3. Internal Feedback Loop ExampleIn this example, a retailer working in the apparel space requires a series of landing pages created to showcase its range of products and boost online sales. Again, the project manager sets about selecting the appropriate team members according to their abilities and uses their managerial vision to outline the project. Given the volume of landing pages that are required, it is important that a positive feedback loop is clearly structured and helps the team to keep the pages polished and on track. This also acts as a form of quality control, ensuring that only quality pages are sent to the client. To achieve this, the project manager decides to create the opportunity for copywriters, designers, and developers to share feedback in a way that is uniform and simple to track. By using the correct range of tools, the project manager is able to collect detailed and accurate feedback. The nature of the selected tools also means that it is simple for that feedback to be implemented to boost the quality of the pages. Now, the project is ready to be shared externally with the client. The team can rest assured that the pages are in good shape before the client sees them.
4. External Feedback Loop ExampleLet’s imagine that a marketing project manager is coordinating the creation of an annual report for a client in the shipping industry. As well as a print document, the client also needs a microsite to be developed. The project manager creates a detailed project schedule (complete with a Gantt chart and other tools) that will keep the multidisciplinary team on track. Using the best project management tools the project manager assigns all of the tasks. For this project, the project manager also decides to schedule regular meetings with the client to update them on the progress that is being made and acquire general feedback. The project manager is essentially creating a negative feedback loop, facilitating for the client’s feedback to regularly be incorporated into the project to keep everything on track. This can be a complex process, though, and the project manager runs the risk of complicating the project. The project manager cannot receive and distribute all of the feedback related to both the print document and the microsite. The project manager needs to call upon a range of quality tools to successfully establish an effective and sustainable feedback loop (more on the best tools later).
How to Set Up Proper Feedback Loops in Digital ProjectsIn the digital age, it is easier than ever before to leverage tools to create a predictable and well-structured feedback loop. These loops can have a positive impact on the smoothness and overall quality of your project. Here is a look at how that process may generally look.
1. Interpretation of the client briefThe first step in a project is the receipt and interpretation of the client’s brief. This critical document will outline the client’s expectations and desires, so it’s important that the client and the team shares a common understanding. Project managers may even use feedback loops at this stage of the project in order to collect initial thoughts from the team and collate questions. The project manager will then return to the client to get the appropriate responses and harmonize the understanding of the project.
2. Creation of the first draftOnce the needs have been established, it is time for the project managers to establish the project workflow using quality workflow tools and assigning tasks. This will give shape to the project and the team can get to work on creating the first deliverable draft.
3. Collection of internal feedbackA positive feedback loop can be used here to collect thoughts and input from the team. It can be placed at regular intervals to ensure that every team member is able to contribute feedback on the draft. The project manager may decide to use a platform like Filestage to share the deliverable with the team. This means the team is able to easily share comments and thoughts directly on the deliverable itself, whatever the format.
4. Response to internal feedbackA series of adjustments can be made before the deliverable is sent to the client for their initial round of feedback. A tool like Filestage ensures that no feedback is ever missed. This ensures that by the time the client sees the first iteration, it has already passed through a round of internal changes. This is sure to impress the client and foster a sense of collaboration among the team.
5. Collection of external feedbackA negative feedback loop is then established, used to gather the thoughts and insights of the client. The project manager may once again choose to rely upon a review and approval tool to collect that feedback. This makes it simple for the client to leave their thoughts and for that feedback to be acted upon.
6. Response to external feedbackThe team can interpret that feedback from the client and incorporate it into the deliverable. This process can be repeated as many times as necessary. Eventually, the deliverable will be in the perfect state that appeases both the team and the client.
7. Delivery of the deliverableOnce the deliverable satisfies the client, the feedback loops are closed and no additional changes need to be fed back into the project.
Digital Feedback Loop SoftwareHere is a closer look at the feedback tools and platforms that you can use to create effective feedback loops.
1. FilestageFilestage makes it simple to streamline a creative workflow and establish effective feedback loops. The platform helps project managers to review videos, designs and documents with both clients and co-workers up to 10x faster. The online collaboration process is simple, allowing clients to leave feedback directly in the browser without registration. These annotations and change requests are easy to see at a glance, making it simple for valuable feedback to be fed back into a project. Version control and an agile approval workflow ensure that the feedback loop runs according to plan and keeps the project moving in the right direction at all times.
2. WipsterWipster is a rapid review and approval platform for video content. The platform aims to be a one-stop-shop for the video activity of creative teams. The platform is focused solely around the review of video content, helping teams to leave comments and project managers to track the version history of a particular file. It is also possible to publish videos from the platform to a range of channels. This sole focus on video can be restrictive, though, when teams want to work on alternative media. These instances would require the use of an alternative platform and the feedback loop can quickly become ineffective.
3. Frame.ioFrame.io is a video review and collaboration tool. This platform helps project managers to share video projects with internal and external stakeholders for fast feedback and implementation. While the platform does offer the option to collaborate on alternative file formats, it was built primarily for the review and approval of videos. This means that offering powerful feedback loops is not its core business, and that some key features are lacking. Many project managers will benefit from having a one-stop-shop for all of their feedback and review needs, making the feedback loop simple to maintain.
4. GoVisuallyGoVisually is an online proofing software that is designed for the use of marketing teams. The platform offers teams the ability to annotate and comment on a range of file types (excluding video). While the platform is smooth and simple to use, it lacks advanced project management and workflow features. This makes the tool a good option for some teams looking to collect quick feedback, but it lacks many of the features to make it a powerful all-in-one solution.
5. TrelloTrello is a flexible platform that helps its users to keep track of their projects. The simplicity and flexibility of the platform makes it an effective option in terms of planning and organizing feedback loops. This does require a lot of manual work, however, and unfortunately, the tool does lack easy file collaboration features. This lack of collaboration features means that users have to download and re-upload a series of files. This reintroduces the old inefficiencies of the feedback process: poor version control, missed comments, and a lot of lost time.
Endless Email Feedback Loops Are a Thing of the PastWe hope that this article has inspired you to explore the potential of feedback loops to make your project a success. There are many efficient and feature-rich tools available to you. Used strategically, these can stop to the endless strings of emails, missed feedback, unclear documents, and lost time.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.