Develop a Feedback River and System of Record

One of the first things I always do when joining a product team is to setup a feedback river — an open channel for anyone who is interested to get direct access to primary feedback on the product from across various channels. This has typically taken the form of an internal company mailing list in Gmail or Outlook, but I’ve also seen it as a feedback channel in Slack or HipChat. I typically require all product managers, designers, and engineering leads to be on the list, but encourage anyone across R&D, marketing, sales, customer service, and more that’s interested to subscribe as well. The list usually has open write access as well for any internal stakeholder to contribute.

All feedback that is gathered across the various feedback sources is then encouraged to be shared in a reasonable aggregate form on this channel. For example, let’s say the product team conducted a set of customer interviews. They are encouraged to provide both links to interview recordings as well as summarized feedback on the channel. As another example, the customer support team usually has a designated person who sends a weekly customer feedback report on the channel with details of top issues that customers have been facing as well as links to reports for further details.

This setup ends up having several benefits. First, it provides product managers, designers, and engineers the ability to regularly hear feedback directly from its source as frequently as they would like regardless of the source of origination. As an organization gets bigger, I always find it take far more effort to get out of the building and actually talk to your customers and the feedback river makes that as bone-dead simple as possible. This also helps to ascertain patterns across the various feedback channels. Second, it serves as an internal alias that anyone in the company can use to share feedback and ideas on the product. It’s usually the responsibility of a designated set of folks on the product team to respond depending on whether it falls into their product area. And third, it’s a great way for new team members to quickly and authentically hear the voice of the customer and understand what excites them most about the product and their pain points.

While it ends up being a high-volume channel that can get noisy at times, I find the benefits of the ease of sending feedback to the list as well as the broad transparency end up outweighing any disadvantages. And folks just filter it into a folder and decide the cadence that makes sense for them to scan it (typically daily or weekly for product team members).

Develop a Feedback System of Record

In addition to developing a high-volume feedback river, I also always setup a feedback system of record. This becomes the source of truth for consolidated and aggregated feedback across various feedback sources designed specifically for facilitating roadmap planning.

The goal here is to create a highly systematized process such that as new feedback comes in across the various input sources, it is quickly and efficiently processed into the system of record. For each unique piece of feedback received, it should have a short description, one or more feature or product categories it falls under, and names or counts of the requestors. You should then be able to easily sort this by category and frequency.

The trick to making this process work is making it as light-weight as possible to get all the data from the various feedback sources into it. If it’s burdensome to do so and it’s not kept up-to-date, it ends up being a waste of effort. I find that having a designated person entering data for each source of feedback enables them to quickly accomplish the task given their regular familiarity with it, but also distribute the load across various stakeholders responsible for each source.

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