What About the Non-Feedback?

Agile software development is all about shortening feedback cycles. That’s why I started blogging before I wrote a book. And that’s how I came up with the Feedback Door in my courses.

Feedback is crucial. It enables you to adapt and survive. But what about the non-feedback?

Peter F. Drucker once wrote: even more important than your customers are your non-customers. Why are they not your customers?

Likewise, even more important than feedback might be the non-feedback.

Why are there only 10 feedback notes on the door, when there are 20 students in the course? Why are there only 11 Amazon reviews, while there are many more readers of the book? Why are there so few bugs being reported for our product?

There is a big number of non-communicating users out there. Are these silent people happy? Are they willing to speak their minds? Do they care?

Apart from focusing on the feedback from those who talk, you might want to take time to find out about those who don’t.

Feel free to reply to this post if you like. And if you don’t feel like replying, why not?

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  • http://blog.vicompany.nl Ivo van Halen

    What is your strategy to get the “non-feeback” people to give feedback?

  • http://blog.scrumphony.com Marc Löffler

    Hi Jurgen
    I totally agree with your post. I think there is a lot of feedback out there but it is shared with friends, family or colleagues instead of the affected person. But how should someone improve if nobody gives him feedback? I just recently wrote an article about “uncalled feedback” on my blog. You can find it here: Food For Thought #3 – Uncalled feedback
    – marc

  • http://scrumplus.blogspot.com James O’Sullivan

    For me its all about timing. If its something that I have to come back to do then I’m unlikely to do it. Out of site out of mind.
    For example, if I was to do an Amazon book review I’d do it after finishing the book. By then I’m not thinking about writing a review. Though if the author is on Twitter I might send a quick note to them, even part way through.
    If I’ve enjoyed a blog post then I’m likely to comment immediately if I know what I’d like to say, but I’m unlikely to come back to comment.

  • http://www.financialagile.com/ Jamie

    People who are v. critical won’t leave honest harsh feedback out of politeness. The police man of the mind won’t allow that.
    Didn’t you say in the opening of your book that ‘If you like it, please tell me, if not, please don’t’.
    Concious and non-conscious hints like this will stop people telling you what they really think, to get to the juicy stuff you need trust in the reviewer and yourself. You won’t get that over a blog or via amazon, but you might over beer and a long relationship. I.e. one has to seek out non-feedback, that’s the difference between the best of us and the rest of us.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/olaflewitz OlafLewitz

    Jurgen, Marc,
    I think most people don’t have the guts to speak up, don’t take the time to do it or think their feedback won’t matter anyway…
    So it’s important to tell them you want feedback, to boldly ask for it… And then I would fairly assume that those 10 notes on the door (instead of 20) give you a fairly good picture for the whole group… 🙂

  • http://lisacrispin.com Lisa Crispin

    I typed in a comment once & it vanished, which I think is ironic given the topic. So I’m trying again.
    People learn in different ways – some are visual, some auditory, some learn by doing, etc. I wonder if providing feedback might work the same way? Do we need to give people different avenues for feedback – writing, one-on-one discussion, drawing, …?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/catia1 Catia Oliveira

    It also may happen that “average” people just feel their opinion is not that important for you (you as being anyone asking for feedback).
    Why those people do that?
    Maybe because deep down inside you actually don’t care about their opinion and they know it.
    So, is not only about if they care. Maybe it’s also about if you really care. Will you actually find it meaningful? Will it change you?
    Either way, as I’m reading in “confessions of a public speaker” .. sometimes silence (or non-feedback) actually tells you more than you think.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/olaflewitz OlafLewitz

    The comparison with learning styles definitely has merits–people are different in how they want to give feedback. It makes sense to open multiple channels at multiple times: the timing aspect James mentioned is just as important.
    So, is this what it burns down to: ask often and in multiple ways?
    — Olaf

  • http://agilebooknote.blogspot.com Federico Zuppa

    I read a lot in the Agile literature about how important is feedback from everyone, even the most shy or uninterested people. A good facilitator is able to get the non-feedback. A lot of the facilitators techniques described in books such as Sam Kaner’s “Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision making” have the objective that everyone participates (at least anonymously). Also, in Esther Derby’s book about retrospectives it says that you need to make everyone talk in the first few minutes, otherwise they will be allowed not to talk. Getting the non feedback improves motivation, accountability, etc and makes the process more fair, right?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/paulboos Paul_boos

    To take Catia’s comment a different direction; the average person may not leave a comment because they think you don’t care. The fact that you do is irrelvant. Why would they not bother?
    Many have had their opinions disregarded, particularly by those that are ahead of them in the subject matter. Knowing that it takes effort on their part and having the expectation that it will be ignored, then it becomes apparent why most won’t leave impact.
    In your head, you may be thinking didn’t do that… You didn’t have to… Other speakers have, their bosses have, colleagues have, and that sets it up…

  • http://profile.typepad.com/walterarielrisi Walterarielrisi

    Hi Jurgen,
    Interesting sequel to the “feedback door” … the last phrase is almost an irresistible bait to give feedback to this post, and not becoming part of “non feedbackers” 🙂
    To me, non-feedback typically means one of three things,
    * Just shyness. The potential feedbacker feels that he may have to stand for his feedback! If you read feedback among sessions, a shy assistant may be terrified at the possibility of being detected! It happens!
    * Indifference. The potential feedbacker just does not care about you improving or not … maybe he was forced into the course! A variation of indifference may occur when the potential feedbacker thinks you don’t care about feedback, as many other readers pointed out!
    * A form of punishment for dissatisfaction. Feedback, whether good or bad, is always useful. If someone is heavily dissatisfied at the course, may not want you to improve!
    In any case, I think there is no way to heavily encourage people to give feedback without affecting the feedback itself!
    Keep the good posts!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Ask again?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Good point, thanks!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Maybe people shouldn’t take me so seriously 😉

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Thank you all for the feedback.
    Much appreciated! 🙂

  • http://profile.typepad.com/leanlooney Patrick Verheij

    You do not “earn” feedback by default. People have to care enough first to opt-in and provide feedback. True feedback is a gift rather than an obligation.
    True, there’s also the fact that not everybody is able to give feedback in a decent way and some people may actually be held back. But still, if they care enough, even these people will give feedback automatically.
    You Amazon example is flawed because when I buy your book I may have bought it elsewhere and review it elsewhere, like on vergelijk.nl or goodreads.com.
    When an Agile software development team consist of members who do not provide feedback, it is an impediment to learning. We have people assigned to deal with such impediments. It is in such cases only that some form of authority might be required: people who do not care enough might be removed.
    I am a trainer myself and I always ask explicitly for feedback, even multiple times. I explain the perfection game and give examples. Still there are always people that give a rating below 10 without any additional comments.
    In the words of Seth Godin, one needs to be “remarkable” to earn feedback. For me, that’s a life mission. I hope to earn some feedback along the way.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/galleman Glen B. Alleman

    Having spoken for many years now at formal meeting in the government and professional organizations, where surveys are collected at the door on the way out – you’re lucky to get 25% back.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/hkivioja Hkivioja

    What I have seen in our organization is that the extremes are usually giving feedback. Loud voices from the constructive side and then the people who want to really share their good findings and feelings. The big mass in between is very often silent. I think in my country (Finland) this is part of the culture, if you are somewhere in the middle then you tend to think that your opinion does not matter anyway. And that leads to the fact that most of the people stay silent…

  • http://www.imobisoft.co.uk SEO Birmingham

    What do you do if someone doesn’t give you feedback?

  • http://agileanarchy.wordpress.com Tobias Mayer

    Good topic. Personally, I give feedback when two conditions align, i) I feel I have something to say, ii) I feel the person I want to give feedback to is receptive to hearing it. This is not a common scenario.
    Also, I believe many people need reflection time before offering feedback. I know I do. I no longer give out feedback forms on my training courses, as I feel they can be seen as manipulative, and the responses generally don’t offer value to either trainer or participants. Likewise, I usually don’t complete feedback forms on training classes I take. I prefer to enter into a dialog, either face-to-face or over email at some later time. Feedback needs to be a two-way conversation.

  • http://agileanarchy.wordpress.com Tobias Mayer

    > you need to make everyone talk in the first few minutes, otherwise they will be allowed not to talk.
    Eek! That seems like a horrible directive. Sometimes people need thinking time. And sometimes the unsaid can be valuable to.

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