Keep Your Ears Open

Iterative design and development does not mean jamming work into a time-bound sprint of 2 or 3 weeks. It means you put something out there, you receive feedback, examine what worked and what didn’t, and you improve it. All too often, companies seem to think that they've suddenly mastered the concept of iterative development simply by working through a planned backlog in sprints. Unless you use what you learn to influence future planning, you're essentially just chopping up a waterfall project into chunks. In order to truly lead to higher quality results for the people that use our products, you need to place a strong focus on feedback. Here are a few pointers for how to embrace a more feedback-focused approach to product development.

"Out there" means out there

Put what you're building in the hands of actual users. Teams should release early and often, and get a usable product (even if not full-featured) into the hands of actual end users to begin collecting feedback. Having a product owner review and sign off on a feature should be the first step, not the last. When teams collect feedback from a select few who are "representing" the end users, there are often disconnects. A controlled set of users will behave in a predictable way and get used to quirks that have been explained to them which, in reality, can end up creating major roadblocks for most users.

Keep your backlog fluid

A product backlog should be constantly in motion, responding to the feedback that comes in response to previous releases. Product owners should feel empowered to make the right decisions for the product and shape the backlog accordingly. Companies who rigorously monitor backlog progress and story points to track the health of their projects may be doing a disservice to themselves. Doing for the sake of doing is not always a good thing. Teams should feel empowered to take time to pause and reflect on what needs to be addressed next and make changes to the backlog accordingly.

Give your users a voice

There are plenty of services available that allow you to easily incorporate feedback into your apps. Most are freemium, allowing you to use their core features for free. Here are some of my favorites:

Hotjar

Hotjar is great for quickly setting up a way to capture feedback from users. It also lets you see exactly what the user experience is like for end users, by capturing screen recordings that show user interaction. Our team recently used Hotjar to resolve a bug with a custom form control that only occurs when users paste information into the form field. This would have been much more difficult to triage without the ability to directly see what was happening.

Sentry

Sentry allows teams to proactively monitor and respond to bugs that occur behind the scenes. Sentry can associate errors with a specific release so you’ll know exactly when errors are introduced. Once a problem has been fixed, your team can suppress duplicate errors and receive notifications if things regress in a future release. While Sentry isn't a feedback tool that users directly interact with, it provides feedback based on their actions and lets your team proactively address issues with quality.

UserVoice

UserVoice is a product feedback management solution that collects and organizes feedback from multiple sources to provide a clear, actionable view of user feedback for product teams. The UserVoice platform allows users to manage feedback in a single view, analyze data to make product decisions based on customer demographics, sales data or customer satisfaction and close the loop with both internal stakeholders and customers.

Conduct user testing

Low-fidelity prototypes are a cost-effective way to observe user interactions and collect feedback to influence the end design. One of my favorite platforms to use for this is UserTesting, because it allows you to solicit feedback from users on an ad-hoc basis. Your team can also leverage feature flag services like Split to conduct experiments with subsets of users in production.

John is a technology consultant based in Dallas, Texas. He rides mountain bikes and tries new recipes when he's not focused on tech.