Do you ever feel lost in the ever-changing business landscape? You’re not alone. Navigating this ever-changing world can feel like an impossible task. The untapped power of frequent customer feedback can help shine the path. As wonderful as feedback is, it’s overwhelming. How do you structure it, organize, and absorb it in an effective way?

The Power of Feedback: Learning from Valve

I recently stumbled upon a video from Valve, highlighting their effective feedback incorporation system. Take a look to understand their process:

If you skipped the video, here’s a summary of Valve’s key steps:

  1. Establish a goal and work towards it
  2. Demo your progress when you are near the goal
  3. Listen, absorb the feedback from the demo
  4. Iterate until the goal is met (it’s no longer excruciating to listen to the demo)

Mike Ambinder from Valve encapsulates this idea beautifully:
“We see our game designs as hypotheses and our playtests as experiments to validate these hypotheses.”

Now, let’s explore how you can implement this at your organization.

Where to start?

Select a problem that enables rapid feedback and one that end users are very passionate about. Don’t be afraid of choosing the hard problems, the ones where customers really struggle. Frequency is vital, you should have multiple sessions a month. If you wait too long the customer will lose interest and will only amplify their skepticism. Choose a facilitator known for their calm demeanor and ability to extract deeper insights from participants with thoughtful follow-up questions. The right facilitator will be able to turn their feedback into backlog opportunities and learnings for your team.

Focus on people that use the product often and are passionate about improving it. The participants need to be vocal, opinionated, and love to work with others. Variety is essential so have participants from different customer segments to enable richer, multifaceted feedback. Most importantly you need a mix of users from different customers. Having only one customer represented is just as dangerous as having all your customers represented. As a rule of thumb have at least 3 and no more than 7 customers represented in the group.

Demo Time: Embrace the Mess

The first demo with your customers will be hard, messy, and nerve-wracking. That’s okay. The goal is to present new ideas, listen actively, and incorporate feedback. Making something great is messy and you’re showing off how things work at your company. It’s rare for development teams to receive direct customer feedback, making their involvement crucial. Your team needs to have those “ah, ha” moments to better understand your users. Building empathy, accruing social capital, and establishing trust with this group is pivotal.

Set the stage and unleash the power of the candid, let them to share why the product doesn’t work for them. This feedback is critical to building impactful solutions and as a bonus it will challenge everything in the backlog. Relentlessly pressure on the backlog is how you validate that you are building the right things, right now. Remember to record the session for future reference and always thank everyone for their valuable insights.

The Iterative Process and the Road Ahead

After the first time, it gets easier. Soon, you’ll be conducting these sessions for everything. As this program grows your customers become part of your team, acting as sounding boards and champions. The best teams at Value did this often and wouldn’t dream of skipping it. When I watched the video I was struck with the parallels in my experience. We started with a product customers wanted to walk away from, but a team committed to fixing the problem. After the first session our backlog was in shambles, we realized we were building the wrong things and making them too complicated. Each week we demoed what we built, and the customer slowly started to believe in the product. Over time, skeptics morphed into staunch supporters and even honorary team members. In fact, that program became so popular that customers started paying to be part of it. They saw the value of turning their feedback into action as a competitive advantage.