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The feedback iceberg is always ahead of you

It’s almost the big launch day. Your team has been cranking through feedback and tickets and bugs and it’s almost deadline time.

But first: You need to get through this one last review with a fresh audience that has never seen your project before.

Perhaps, for instance, you’ve been working with a product manager and now their boss, the VP, needs to review things. Or you’re working with a client and their boss needs to give it a once over before it gets approved and goes live.

Or it’s an internal review with your customer success and sales teams for enablement.

And that’s when it hits: The iceberg of buried feedback which ends up delaying your launch and possibly generating a slew of meetings and headaches.

I was recently part of a lean coffee session with several engineering and product leaders. This topic – how to deal with unexpected late feedback – came up in the context of a client relationship.

I first ran into it while working as the Digital Director of an advertising firm. We had a large project with an even larger client. We’d been working with our contact on refining the project for a few months and felt ready to rock.

Then we hopped on a call with our contact’s boss – the ultimate owner of the project, who had been getting updates all along via email – but we’d not heard a peep from all along.

And we went from a week away from launch to four based on all of the feedback.

In the years since, I’ve pondered this – wondering where we went wrong.

And I’ve realized, we didn’t go wrong at all.

This will always happen – to some degree.

Any time you introduce a project to a new audience – one that feels like they have some ownership over it and care about said project – you will get feedback.

It might range from “Can we make this button cornflower blue to match my tie” to “WTF are we even doing here?” But you will get something.

This is because on the other end of your presentation, the audience needs to contribute to the project. Nodding along to your perfect project doesn’t fill their need to justify their care and their sense of ownership.

They will find nits to pick, colors to change, and tweaks to be made to even the most urgent, tardy, and perfect project.

Your question is not: “How do we keep this from happening?”

It is: “How do we deal with this when it does happen?”

There are two approaches I’ve successfully used in the years since:

1. Phase the release: Explicitly ask if their feedback should delay the launch of the project or if you can chase with the change post-launch. Most times, for most things, folks are comfortable with their requested change happening later. You will find deal breakers and launch stoppers, but those are generally fairly obvious and agreed upon.
2. Bake the time in: If you know this feedback will happen – and it always does, your project plan needs to include time to address the feedback. You can’t finish your work and ask for review the day before you intend to launch the project. Imminent launch only increases the amount of feedback you will receive because your audience feels they have limited time to assert their ownership.

Ideally, I’d suggest a mix of both – bake some extra time into your launch plan and process for feedback, and aggressively try to push the feedback into post-launch.

You can also sometimes reduce the amount of late-arriving feedback by baking review with as many stakeholders as possible as early and as often as possible.

But as long as you have one stakeholder who isn’t paying attention, you’re going to hit the feedback iceberg at the end.

Just remember: It largely has nothing to do with the quality of your project and everything to do with the mental and emotional space of the stakeholders.

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