The Feedback Door

If there’s one thing I am still learning to cope with, it’s criticism. But I figured out that constructive criticism truly improves what I do, like nothing else. It’s, after all, one of the first principles of Agile: keep the feedback loop as short as possible.

These days I use ongoing feedback to improve my courses while giving them. This is how it works: there’s one door in the course room, preferably the one leading to the coffee corner, that I name the “feedback door” and you should not go through the door without giving some feedback on the last topic. No matter if it’s a fundamental issue or only a smiley, you put something on the door.

I started implementing ongoing feedback with sticky notes in my courses for a very simple reason: when participants have the topic fresh in mind, I assumed the feedback they would give me would be more accurate. And that could help me improve my courses when, after the course, I went through all the sticky notes I received. The reason I checked the feedback afterwards was that I didn’t like confronting myself with those bloody sticky notes directly during the course. Because what to do when they didn’t like my sweater? What if they didn’t like the word ‘ehm’ as the start of every other sentence? Or even worse, what if they thought my courseware was ridiculous?

But, contrary to my fears, the feedback notes never turned out to be problematic, and many were even compliments! And, more important, I came to realize that it was important to read them immediately during the course. Because, though most feedback doesn’t require immediate action, there are some others I can act upon straight away. Like “maybe you could slow down the laser pointer a bit”. Or “we have trouble hearing you in the back of the room, could you make sure you face us while talking”. Immediate feedback makes those two days more effective, and more fun.

During last week’s course in Gouda I made another improvement: I added a happiness index to the feedback door. Students place their sticky note on a scale of one to five, indicating how they feel. 1 = very negative. 5 = very positive. Now the feedback door is not only about qualitative feedback, but also about people’s mood during the course. Which, if necessary, I can try to manipulate with strawberries dipped in chocolate…

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  • Realrobertallen

    What a great idea. I think this would be useful outside of classroom settings. I want to try it at my next off-site.

  • Walterarielrisi

    HI Jurgen,
    Interesting post! I like the idea.
    I always had some sort of problem with feedback too 🙂 I’ve recently found that a good way to handle feedback is to adopt a “hoping for the best and expenting the best” frame of mind. Most people that give you feedback have a positive feeling about the feedback they give … at least, people that go and/or stay in your class.
    Have you tried reading sorted feedback post-its aloud after the break, for example? You may ask the author to voluntarily show himself and friendly explain his suggestion. That would also help a lot in accepting feedback and making it much, much more fun.
    Best regards and keep the good posts!

  • Berndschiffer

    I saw this tool live in action at Jurgen’s Management 3.0 course in Hamburg a few weeks ago. I liked it on the spot.
    I already tried it on one of my own courses (three day CSD class), and it worked like a charme. I got immediate feedback, especially those little pieces of improvement suggestions which would otherwise be lost during the course. I almost exactly knew what worked (and did not work) in the last 1,5 hours of my course and what doesn’t (at least I had an idea who I had to talk to in the next coffee break).
    I highly recommend this tool! Thanks, Jurgen, for sharing it.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Yes, if there’s anything of interest among the sticky notes that I want to point out after the break, I read the note out loud to the class. And I tell them how I’ll try to do better in the next part. Works like a charm!

  • Walterarielrisi

    Great! Hope we have you sometime soon in Argentina teaching your Management 3.0 course!

  • Jurgen Appelo

    I would love to come to Argentina. Let me know if you know someone who could invite me! 🙂

  • Walterarielrisi

    It would be great to have you here: … maybe next year? I know the organizers, I can ask them to invite you! 🙂

  • Jurgen Appelo

    That would be awesome! 🙂

  • Willem Larsen

    I used this at my Boston WAYK workshop with participants from agile games. It worked fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing this.
    The workshop debrief (with a picture of the door!):

  • Bart Bouwers

    Jurgen thanks for sharing this in our Agile Management training. I now use a virtual version of it on Google Docs to collect feedback in our virtual Agile knowledge group. We discuss it in our retrospective meeting.

  • Paul Klipp

    I use that idea at all of my conferences and I learned if from Alexey Krivitsky. It not only lets you act quickly on ideas and criticisms, but by giving people a constructive means of expressing themselves it prevents the occasional frustrated person from venting on Twitter.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Actually the idea is similar but not the same. 🙂
    What I saw at the Agile CE conference was one general board with feedback in a sequential fashion.
    The feedback door is made separately for each presentation. And it (optionally) includes a happiness index so that people immediately get a sense of the average rating.

  • Fabrice Aimetti

    Hello Jurgen,
    It’s very nice to read… and translate you in french :

  • J. B. Rainsberger

    I’ve tried this twice now. So far, I get very little feedback, but what I get, I find useful. Aleksejs Truhans suggested to me that people could put a blank sticky note on the door to vote for happiness level without leaving a comment. That seems to help.
    Also, I only have two categories: ! (good) and ? (bad). I’ll try this some more and adjust when I need something more.
    The best feedback I received so far is “I can’t read the code on the projector”, so I hope for more useful feedback in later engagements.

  • Vasuda

    Nice idea!
    I normally do a feedback in the form of retrospective at the end of my session. What did you like, what can be improved, what are you confused about still. It helps me improve in the next sessions and gives good insight.
    But this is on the spot and quick. Can be used when we cant spend time on retrospectives. Also during small sessions 🙂
    Thanks Jurgen

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