The Web / Mobile Feedback Loop

Backlogs for Web and mobile products don’t exclusively contain new features. One eye should always be on what has been done and how that is working out. A proper feedback loop gives valuable input that helps to determine what should be done next.

On one hand, of course, there’s high level goals and vision that define new features and the larger chunks of upcoming work (which just reminds me of this great article about how Spotify has done Prioritization in their early days). But then there’s more. For example. there’s bugs, there’s A/B testing results, there’s the Google Analytics account that somebody should actually have a look at, and there’s more. Most people know most of these, but mostly, they aren’t managed really well all together. So I thought a good start would be to all those sources of input on the feedback loop that may (or may not) affect our priorities:

  1. The product vision (this is what your management and product managers want to do, the longer term goals, this isn’t actually on the feedback loop, I just wanted to have it on the list)
  2. Business figures (e.g. your sales numbers; I dare say this input is usually indistinguishable from #1 (because it comes from the same people?), but I’d argue that it’s “feedback”, unlike #1)
  3. Analytics (the likes of Google Analytics)
  4. Feedback that is built into your product (without being explicit feedback, it’s basically extracted from normal usage of the app)
  5. A/B Testing (e.g. Optimizely or a variety of other ways to do them)
  6. Explicit customer feedback (lots of sources here incl. all the feedback your customer support and sales teams gather, but there’s also tools you can use that allow your customers to give feedback online, e.g. (for specific feedback on your existing features) or tools a la Uservoice and ZenDesk)
  7. Crash reporting tools (Crashlytics, Crittercism, …)
  8. Dogfooding (your own company using your product, often this is a much smaller feedback loop since it allows you to get feedback on unfinished work that wasn’t even released yet)
  9. External ratings (e.g. what your users say about your app on Google Play and iTunes)
  10. Customer opinions out on the web (blogs, social media, very similar to the point before but wide-spread on the Internet)
  11. Beta testers and special user groups (there’s a bunch of tools that help you, e.g. Testflight)

This was just a first shot and I’m merely thinking out loud.

It’d also be interesting to see how all of these can be managed more effectively than having different people “keep an eye on it” or having 13 different tools at our disposal to log in and check regularly. I’d greatly welcome less overhead to collect them, a better way to manage and follow up and make them a part of the development process, and create a lot more transparency for teams and stakeholders around them.

I’d be interested to hear what others think or whether there’s anything missing on the list above.

The Last Responsible Moment

We’re often tempted to plan as much as possible in advance and make decisions way before they are actually due. It gives us a sense of security and risk mitigation and preparedness. I urge you to stop doing that.

To understand why, follow this chain of reasoning:

  1. When making decisions, more uncertainty leads to higher risk.
  2. The more knowledge we have, the less uncertainty remains.
  3. (No matter how much you know today, it’s safe to say that) Tomorrow you will know more than today.
  4. Hence every decision you will make tomorrow (next week, next month), will be more informed than the ones you make today.
  5. That’s why making decisions as late as possible lowers risk.

The knowledge you’re accumulating can be pretty much everything, e.g. about:

  • Yourself
  • Your team
  • Your project
  • Your product
  • Your business
  • Your competition
  • The market you’re in
  • The legislative environment you’re dealing with
  • And so on…

Agile software development and Scrum have this way of making late decisions built into the process. What matters most is at the top of the backlog or is worked on during a sprint. Everything else isn’t important for now and most decisions related to everything else don’t need to be made yet.

Keep this in mind. Keep questioning yourself whether decisions need to be made already. And if not, don’t make them now. And maybe don’t even bother to think about them yet.