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What Really Is Feedback in Agile?

20 August 2015

Vinayak Kumbhakern
Tata Consultancy Services

"How risks are managed in Agile?" is a common question I hear when I hold sessions on Agile/Scrum in my organization. I answer, "One of the pillars of Agile is constant, fast feedback. And well-designed feedback would mitigate any risk associated with innovation by allowing a quick course correction onto a productive path."

Then there are questions about best practices/models for providing and receiving feedback. What strikes me in that question is not the phrase best practices (I think by now everyone has heard agilists saying, "There are no best practices in Agile") but the phrase providing feedback.

Still, let me first say a few words about "best practices." Any practice will be the "best" as long as we want it to be the best and make the best use of it. All Agile frameworks and methods are full of suggested practices. Many of those practices are there to create those feedback loops on which Agile -- or, for that matter, any continuous learning-and-improving way of working -- depends. All we need is to understand the "why" behind those practices and then implement that in its true spirit.

Now, returning to the question of "providing feedback." I think that if feedback is to be "provided," then that has to be after the fact. And such feedback provided after the fact either would be judgmental or could be taken as a judgment by the receiver. Because most of the time the term feedback is used by a provider to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation; and by a receiver to gather opinions about an act she or he has undertaken. But, as Grant Wiggins said, "Feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal." Or, as Peter Senge explains in Fifth Discipline, "Feedback is a broader concept. It means any reciprocal flow of influence."

That means that, instead of being an event, feedback is a kind of continuous flow of valuable information in both directions. So I believe that what matters most in the case of feedback is receiving, rather than providing. And to make the best use of feedback, we need receptive and reflective practitioners who are capable of constantly receiving and acting on the feedback available from interactions, information radiators, unit testing, continuous builds, and so on.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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