Improvement

Power of Feedback Loops and Retrospectives in Software Delivery Acceleration

Fast feedback loops and effective retrospectives can improve software delivery and make life easier for developers, project managers, and organizational leaders. On the other hand, bad feedback loops and retros can lead to frustration and lack of motivation.

John Samuelson

May 3, 2022
6 mins

Software development is no longer a one-person job. Today developing software requires team collaboration. People from different departments have to work together, understand each other, help with roadblocks and celebrate the wins to stay motivated. Good feedback loops and effective sprint retros play a vital role in keeping software projects on track, while bad ones destroy morale and create chaos. 

For effective work environments, engineering organizations should pay attention to how they set up their feedback loops and sprint retrospective meetings. Organizations with great work environments attract more collaborative, creative, and productive developers.

Moreover, it's more important now than ever to track common topics by keyword or by theme, see trends about team improvement over time and analyze sentiment of the feedback collected.



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  • Why Feedback Loops Matter

    Software projects are becoming more complex. A simple project might only have a handful of people, but large projects can have hundreds of developers working in multiple teams. Building software is not only about the code; it involves marketing, finance, sales, IT, DevOps, etc. So, effective feedback loops have become essential to creating high-quality software. Feed loops help in the following ways:

    Predictability

    Regular feedback means team members understand when they are straying from the right path. Feedback helps with course correction.

    Evaluate ROI

    Every action a team member takes has an associated cost. Feedback loops help leaders and managers understand what steps add value. It helps evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of an action.

    Improve Processes

    Feedback loops provide the necessary insights to see faults in a plan. If you are on the wrong path or heading towards the wrong destination, feedback can help you see the problem and change your processes.

    Quality

    Feedback loops are a great way to evaluate your processes and products and improve quality. For example, you can use agile retrospective to enhance software quality.

    Lower Costs

    Good feedback loops help companies find out their product or services effectiveness quickly and cheaply. Good feedback loops are time and money savers.

    Types of Feedback Loops in Today's Software Development

    Software companies use various software development life cycle (SDLC) methodologies. Different teams in the same organization might end up with varying methods of SDLC like Waterfall, Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean, or a hybrid method. 

    Here are some popular feedback loops in today's software development life cycles:

    - Daily Scrum: Daily scrum or daily standup is a great way for development teams to get feedback every day.

    - Sprint Retrospectives and Reviews: A sprint review focuses on the product, while a sprint retrospective focuses on improving the team's processes. Both are valuable feedback mechanisms.

    - Code Reviews and Analysis: Developers check each other's code and provide feedback for improvements. Teams can also use automated tools to analyze code to detect problems.

    - Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD): CI/CD feedback ensures that code is always in a buildable and deployable state. 

    - Quality Assurance (QA) and Test Automation: QA teams manually test applications and provide feedback. Software teams also use automated testing like unit testing, smoke testing, integration testing, and regression testing.

    - User Feedback: User feedback is valuable throughout the life-cycle of a software. Of course, the objective of agile methods is to get working software as soon as possible to the user and iterate based on feedback.

    The feedback loops described above do not exist in silos. They flow into each other. A daily scrum meeting or a sprint retrospective meeting might discuss CI/CD, QA, and code review issues. When all the feedback loops work together in harmony, you have an environment where developers can thrive.



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  • What Can Go Wrong With Feedback Loops?

    Looking at the different kinds of feedback a developer has to deal with daily, it is not hard to imagine that things can get complicated. Feedback loops become a problem when too many processes, tools, and technologies create unnecessary bureaucracy. Everything slows down, and developers spend more time dealing with feedback loops than solving problems and writing code. It can be frustrating and demotivating for the developers.

    When engineering organizations design their software development pipeline, they should consider making it as frictionless as possible.

    Organizations should automate repetitive manual tasks, eliminate unnecessary feedback loops and simplify complex ones.

    Here are some principles to remember:

    - Shorter feedback loops lead to more developer engagement

    - Early feedbacks and frequent feedbacks are more valuable

    - Simple feedback loops have a higher rate of adoption

    You can evaluate your feedback loops to figure out problem areas. If your CI/CD build process takes too long, your developers might get frustrated. If automated test suite results are unreliable, that might be another problem area. Your QA team might be sending bug reports after a few weeks instead of a few days and causing slowdowns in the whole development pipeline.

    Every organization, every project, and every team is different. Organization leaders should carefully evaluate their processes and determine how to optimize feedback loops for their particular situation.



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  • Unique Place of Retrospectives in Feedback Loops

    A scrum retrospective meeting or a sprint retrospective meeting is a unique event where the various feedback loops collide. So, it is a great place to start your feedback loop optimization journey.

    In a retrospective meeting, your team can evaluate code review and analysis, QA, CI/CD, user feedback, test automation, and other feedback loops. A retro meeting is a perfect venue to pinpoint the problem areas and find ways to improve your work environment. Teams can further benefit from sharing sprint retrospective examples with other groups. The cross-pollination of ideas between teams can help leaders identify patterns and insights that can benefit the whole organization.

    In summary, retrospective meetings can work as the operations center of all feedback loops in an organization. Companies can use agile retro meetings to shorten the feedback loops, improve the speed of software development and create a frictionless, satisfying work environment for developers.

    Research:

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