To most, “closing the feedback loop” may sound like nothing more than management jargon. As a matter of fact, it is. But behind every management buzzword, there usually lies a simple truth that we could benefit from paying a little attention to. This series of articles talks about the concept of closing the loop, and how it applies to our day-to-day work as engineers and managers in the aspects of products, processes, and people.
What Is A Feedback Loop?
In engineering, a feedback loop is a system in which the output becomes an input back into the same system. Here’s a simple diagram from Wikipedia:
What I’ll be talking about though is a “feedback loop” as a paradigm as opposed to the traditional “end-to-end” mindset that many are used to taking when it comes to processes and work. The idea that work has a start and end definitely has its merit and appeal – we all want the satisfaction of an end result to our work.
But in the information age, it’s rarely enough to stop there. The end result of our work needs to become an input in itself – possibly to another cycle, but more importantly, as part of improving the same system. Information should not only flow from input to output, but rather go full cycle back to where it was originally initiated.
While the concept applies to so many things, I’d like to first address how the concept applies to product design.
Closing The Loop On Product Design
A good product is the ultimate goal to all that we do as engineers, but oftentimes, we’re inclined to settle at just releasing the product. Here are some ways I find closing the feedback loop can continuously level up the products we deliver to our users.
The Product As Input
It’s important to consider the product as an input to improving itself. When is a product ever “final” anyway? In these days of analytics and data collection (and all the privacy concerns in between), it’s vital to understand how to optimize metrics and data generated in production and how to use the same for the next product iteration.
In Web 2.0 when information was exchanged mostly peer to peer, this wasn’t much of a big deal. But in these days of agile delivery, it’s essential to be able to “ship and iterate”, and closing the loop on product metrics is necessary to make it happen. All the necessary tools are readily available, but it does take a little extra effort to figure out how you can use them to understand your users and improve their experience.
Responsive UX Design
“Responsiveness” is what they usually call it. Closing the feedback loop is as important as ever when designing user experience for software products and services. Closing the loop here means keeping the user informed at all steps of their workflow, and guiding them towards how to handle that feedback.
I’m sure you’ve felt that frustrating cluelessness when you tap a button on a poorly-designed user interface and you’re not sure if something’s actually happening. Granted, status messages are possibly the most boring part of UI design; loading screens, perhaps just a little more interesting. But every input deserves a meaningful output and we owe it to the users to shed light on what our software is currently doing.
Dealing With Feedback
It could be feedback from QA, from other departments, or directly from your customers – how it’s handled could make or break your software’s reputation. Failing to close the loop could leave customers wondering whether your company actually still exists. Automated responses don’t count for much either, unless they somehow actually solve the issue.
Closing the loop on customer feedback does not only mean resolving their problem but also making sure they’re actually happy with the solution and that it has improved their experience with your product or service. Go further and have the loop include your product design team as the user’s actual experience should be a key input to what you need to do next.
Here’s the link to the second of this series, this time in the context of processes. I’d love to hear about other ways you might be applying the concept in your work with products, so feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line.