The Collaboration Hierarchy: Accelerating Feedback Loops
The fifth installment in a 5-part series
  Dezember 10, 2018

This is our final installment of our series on the Collaboration Hierarchy. Last week, we looked at Conscious Communication Channels. This week, we will be discussing how to accelerate feedback loops and knowledge sharing to get the most out of your collaborative culture.

Fast Feedback

While open communication is critical to a collaborative culture, targeted feedback is also essential. When an artifact or code file is ready to be reviewed, how long does it take for the review to be completed?

Accelerating Peer Reviews

In our 2018 State of Code Review report, we asked how often people participated in different types of reviews. This included Tool-based, Meeting-based and Ad hoc review styles.  All of these styles are valuable and can help to shorten the feedback loop.

The teams that are conducting code reviews frequently are more likely to meet their release deadlines. Additionally, we asked ‘How often do you participate in a tool-based code review process? Daily and weekly reviews in a tool tended to drive a higher level of satisfaction as it relates to quality.

Tools like GitHub make it easy to request and provide feedback through lightweight peer reviews. 28% of survey respondents said that they were going to be adding a repository management tool in next 12 months and 70% are already using one of these tools.

Simply using one of these tools doesn’t mean that you are necessarily going to be more satisfied with your software quality. In fact, as you can see in this chart below, we found that use of one of these tools on its own doesn’t make a significant difference in software satisfaction.

Selecting a dedicated peer review tool that integrates with the pull request workflow allows your team to get the best of both worlds. We use GitHub at SmartBear for repository management, but we use Collaborator for our peer reviews. Collaborator integrates into GitHub, GitLab and Bitbucket to extend the pull request workflow.

Essentially, when a pull request is created, a Collaborator review kicks off automatically.  Many organizations need a more defined workflow for their peer reviews and a pull request isn’t enough for those organizations. They need to capture metrics for reporting and process improvement as well as have defined roles within the review. Additionally, we tie the GitHub pull request and the Collaborator review to JIRA.  This provides us with that Digital Thread so we can reference it any time we need to.

Constructive Disagreement

Outside of peer reviews, fast feedback is made possible when people feel expected to be honest and engaging in constructive disagreement. Hopefully, as we've discussed, your team has already worked to prioritize trust and a sense of collective ownership. Still, trust on its own can lead to complacency.

It needs to be a responsibility of team members to raise concerns and voice their perspective early. Intel has popularized a model called "disagree and commit", which solicits feedback early in decision-making. Once everyone has been able to have their say, a decision is made and everyone commits to pursuing that vision.

In order to accelerate your team's feedback loops, disagreement has to be an active and expected part of your workflow. If it isn't, that might be a red flag. Use tools to structure your feedback and set expectations to guide your discussion, then embrace disagreement early. The alternative is delayed grumbling and a failed project because everyone hasn't committed. Real fast feedback has to also be honest feedback.

A Collaborative Development Culture

In summary, we’ve now outlined the Collaboration Hierarchy for development and QA teams.

Trust: Trust is the foundation. As Roger Staubach said, "If you don't have trust inside your company, then you can't transfer it to your customers."

Clear Expectations: You have to set clear expectations for the individual and the team. Without clear expectations, you can’t have working accountability and autonomy.

Collective Ownership: Captain Marquet said, “When the leader is wrong in a top-down culture, everyone goes off a cliff.” Help establish collective ownership by creating a leader-leader culture.

Communication Channels: Open up your communication channels. If we are not using our tools effectively, actively listening, and asking quality questions; we will only end up thrashing about and not getting anywhere.

Fast Feedback: Each stage builds to this final level, where your team can focus on accelerating peer reviews and iterating quickly. Faster peer reviews, when paired with all the other collaboration essentials, can shift your development to a new gear.

One Last Note

Do you know the story about post-it-notes?

Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last tells a story about 3M and how post-it notes came to be.

Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, was trying to make a strong adhesive, but he failed. Instead, the adhesive was weak. Silver shared his failure with others at 3M in case anyone could think of a use case.

A few years later, Art Fry, another 3M scientist found one. After struggling to keep his bookmark in place at church choir practice, Fry thought of Silver’s weak adhesive and the Post-It Note was born.

They didn’t work in of a “Me” culture; they worked in a “We” culture.

Foster a collaborative culture that shares work readily. Host internal tech forums where ideas can be shared, including the “screw-ups”. We cannot be successful by just writing down and documenting our success and failures.  People don’t always go looking for the data.  We have to share our ideas. We have to make sure that we are providing opportunities for our teams to collaborate.

Collaboration leads to innovation. In fact, one of 3Ms mottos is “Innovation from Interaction”.

The result is that 3M holds over 20,000 patents, 80% of which list multiple inventors.

If you think for a minute about the importance of communication, you’ll realize that a vast majority of issues arise because of its absence.

Collaborative cultures improve people’s lives and allow us to build better quality software.

Regardless of where your team or organization is in the hierarchy, ask yourself this question:

What can I do to build a better culture of collaboration at your organization?

That wraps up our series on the Collaboration Hierarchy. If you want to read more on this, you can read the complete ebook here: