When I was first getting started as an entrepreneur, co-founding a business with someone who I had relatively recently met, I’d consistently run into a challenge getting feedback. I’d have built a prototype, have some ideas for what we could do with it, and take it to my cofounder to show it to her and ask her thoughts. We’d almost inevitably get bogged down looking at and talking about details that had nothing to do with the prototype itself – this font isn’t right, why is this other part of the site interacting with it this way, etc.
This went on for quite a while, and was frustrating to both of us. I’d just want some direction on the single item I was working on, and she wanted to clean up and polish all of the other things around it. Alternatively, sometimes I’d have something that was just about ready to run and the conversation would veer into fundamental directional questions. Until one day, we stumbled on the concept of thirty percent feedback vs ninety percent feedback, which I believe I first found on the 42 floors blog.
The basic idea is this – Whenever you’re asking for feedback, make clear if you’re closer to 30% finished or 90% finished. The feedback you’ll get will be wildly different.
Thirty Percent Feedback
Thirty percent feedback is strategic, it is big picture… it answers the question ‘Am I heading the right direction?’ and because it is early enough that there is time to course correct, it has room for divergent thinking, opening up the problem domain and exploring radically different options.
Because it is early in the process, it glosses over fine details and polish, knowing those will be addressed later. Thirty percent feedback is possibly the most difficult to ask for, because it involves putting yourself out there with work that you know is not ready, is not polished, but it is also often the most helpful feedback to get. It can help you sidestep a lot of wasted effort, and give you truly powerful strategic insights.
Ninety Percent Feedback
Ninety percent feedback is more tactical, it is detail oriented, and it tries to catch every little issue so that nothing makes it out into production. This is the time for closing things down, tweaking final copy, and making everything pixel perfect.
You Need Both
The place I think this is the most important is in dealing with stakeholders. The most painful thing in the world is when you think you’re at 90% complete, you go to a stakeholder, and they’re giving you massive directional changes. Suddenly you’re back at square one, and you’ve wasted a ton of time and energy polishing something that doesn’t end up getting used. This is a natural consequence of skipping your 30 percent feedback checkin.
Almost as painful is going to someone for 30% feedback and having them get all caught up in the details, not able to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, and acting as if you’re delivering shoddy work. Its not shoddy, its just only 30% finished!
So what I’ve learned to do is engage both – you engage all of your stakeholders early and often in the process, as soon as you have any sort of idea or direction, but you make clear the stage you’re at and what type of feedback you’re looking for. That way, by the time you get to the 90% feedback not only do you have much more high quality work, but they’ve been coming along for the ride the whole time.
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