How to give and receive feedback constructively

We were asked recently during a pitch for a new client what techniques we use to keep a project running smoothly. Our answer sounded a bit hackneyed, but was totally true: communication. Giving regular updates, returning messages promptly, making sure the client knows how and when to reach you and who to speak to if you’re not available – all the basics. But nowhere is effective communication more important than feedback. Whether it’s feeding back on a design direction, or the functionality of the CMS, feedback can make or break a project.

These are our tips for ensuring feedback strengthens your project rather than derailing it.

Know who you’re dealing with

Make sure that the client has nominated a single representative responsible for collating feedback. Contradictory feedback takes time to unravel, so iron out any internal disagreement as early as possible. Where the client can’t agree internally on what they want, it can be helpful seek the expertise of the agency, but make sure you all end up with a clear set of next steps.

Be organised and specific

Approach your feedback in a methodical way: split it into sections that mirror the site structure and use numbering and/or bullet points. This ensures that you’re all on the same page and provides a task list for items that need to be addressed. Use this list to monitor progress and note down any decisions that impact your earlier feedback – remember to use version control if you’re working from an off-line document. Make sure all the feedback is collated in one document.

All feedback is valuable

No one likes ‘bad’ feedback, giving or receiving. It does, however, provide a mechanism for improving the quality of the end product. A good, robust design process involves iteration and refinement. Don’t lose heart! If the worst comes to the worst and the client hates the design, see it as an opportunity to understand the requirements better. Maybe the agency fell in to the common trap of making assumptions about the project or the target users, or maybe the client didn’t actually want what they thought they wanted. Whatever the reason, you now have a tangible platform for discussion. Whether you’re the client or the agency, keep calm, don’t take offence, and be as detailed and specific as you can be.

Be clear on terminology

Whether you’re the agency describing elements of the design and functionality, or the the client describing your business and content, don’t underestimate how easy it is to misunderstand each other. You use the lexicon of your profession day in day out, but it may well be another language to the other party. At the critical points in the project meet face to face, with the design or the demo site in front of you. Read expressions and body language to identify confusion and head off any misunderstandings.

In summary: don’t make assumptions, be clear, be detailed, be organised and most importantly, keep calm!