Project Management Tip: Feedback Best Practices

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on June 25, 2009 in: Project Management, Time Management Strategies

When working with a large business, one of the biggest challenges project managers face is the problem of feedback management. Let me give you an example of a recent project I was working on:

We were implementing a training program for customer service reps. I was the project manager in charge of the HR department’s new-hire training team and advanced training team, as well as the customer service (inbound) and the customer service (outbound) department managers. So: a lot of people with competing agendas. I was working with them and with a company that creates web-based, interactive customer service training content which my client had purchased and then hired me to implement.

The first draft was created by the outside content developers and sent around to the teams in a mock-up PowerPoint document with screenshots and text. Then we waited for the teams to provide feedback, which was due by a certain date. On that date, 6 people emailed their feedback in separate documents. A day later, 3 more people sent their feedback in separate documents. And for three days after that, even more trickled in.

This isn’t the first time I’d seen this happen. Sometimes clear instructions and due dates go out the window because everyone is busy. Unfortunately, this kind of piecemeal feedback makes the process so much more ineffective. It’s not just because the feedback comes in multiple documents. That is part of the problem, but there are two other problems, too.

Since feedback trickles in over time, no one is clear when the tap is shutting off. I’ve seen more than one project progress through the next stage only to have some critical piece of feedback come in late with apologies from a well-meaning person who was sick or on maternity leave or in meetings all week or on vacation or had thought they sent the file but didn’t or [fill in the blank].

As well, not all feedback is created equal. Some feedback takes precedence. In this example, many of the people who had given feedback were in the “middle manager” level but one person was higher on the food chain and their feedback was considered far more critical and superseded other feedback that conflicted. For outsiders, it is difficult to tell whose feedback has veto power over other feedback.

This kind of feedback management is an art-form in itself. It’s an offshoot of project management and a role I sometimes play or sometimes collaborate on. And here are some best practices to help you if you ever find yourself in that role:

  • If you have a feedback due date, set an “inside” feedback due date a couple of days early. Send out reminders 1 week, 3 days, and 1 day prior to everyone from whom you expect feedback. Remind people that late submissions will be excluded.
  • Consolidate into one document. If you’re using Microsoft Word, use the “merge documents” feature.
  • Get the project owner to sign off on the feedback before sending it out for the next round.

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