If You Don’t Ask For Project Feedback Now, You’ll Hate Yourself Later

4 proven methods to gain the right feedback, and avoid project failure

I will never forget. My 2nd-grade teacher asked the class to draw a heart on construction paper, color it, and then cut it out.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / justinkendra

I was determined to create the BEST HEART EVER.

My lips pursed with concentration as I carefully drew a heart on my paper. Great! No problem. I then started coloring inside the heart being extremely careful not to go outside the lines. I was intently focused on my project when I looked over to my desk mate Melissa and saw some wild arm motions.

I’ll be if she wasn’t coloring the whole damn page with complete disregard for the lines!

She feverishly drove her crayons back and forth, from one side of the paper to the other.

Then Melissa picked up her scissors and started to cut along the outline of her heart.

Are you freaking kidding me? Brilliant!

Melissa’s construction paper heart looked phenomenal. I promptly followed her jaw-dropping technique to finish my project in no time. I thought my coloring technique was the one true way to get the job done. I was sorely mistaken.

People have methods that work each and every time. It’s simple. You follow the directions. You get a definite outcome. You bet I created many more beautiful hearts in 2nd grade all because I paid attention to Melissa’s success formula.

Have you ever experienced a time when you realized your efforts just didn’t yield the return you hoped for? Perhaps you saw someone else EASILY accomplish the same goal that you were working so hard to achieve? Chances are, there’s a better way to attain your desired result.

And instead of you looking over your shoulder to find another project manager basking in success while you figure this out on your own. You MUST do this if you want to avoid project failure.

Seek Feedback. Early and often.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / JohnKwan

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / JohnKwan

You need a feedback loop, and you need it now. Here’s why. If you operate in a vacuum, you will fail. PERIOD.

Seeking feedback is a difficult concept for new project managers. New project managers want to prove they can lead. They want to show they can do it all! They want to control outcomes with a strong fist. They see the success of a project as their personal success. There are many things to learn as you journey into project management, but one thing to note is that you can’t control everything. Surprisingly, there is little you CAN control. Remember that you are a coordinator. A guide. A consultant. A mentor. A coach. A leader. You’ve been to the mountain and had experiences that can help others to make better decisions.

4 Proven Methods To Gain the Right Feedback, and Avoid Project Failure:

  1. Embrace Observational Feedback – Remember when I saw Melissa using an excellent technique for coloring her heart, I would not have seen it if I was not paying attention to my surroundings. In meetings, take notice of how key stakeholders react to discussion topics. Many times you can find out clues to how someone feels about something by studying their nonverbal reactions. A VP may shoot the CIO a particular look when a stakeholder brings up a certain subject. Your colleague across the table may show defensive body language. Another person may show aggressive body language. Someone may just be sitting back and watching the fireworks go off in a meeting with a lack of engagement. Pay attention to these things. You should be gathering this observational feedback in each and every meeting you attend.
  2. Ask for Informal Feedback – It is important to note that this method is critical however heed these warnings. People don’t like to be bothered, so you need to understand WHEN it is appropriate to request feedback and HOW to ask for it. You don’t want to appear needy or look like you have no idea what you are doing. This could certainly be the case, but I encourage a good fake job. What I like to do to get feedback informally:
    • Request written feedback on a deliverable
      • Take the initiative by completing a draft of a document first and then seek feedback on your draft from a stakeholder.
      • It shows that you have put thought into whatever you are working on. They see you taking the additional step, and they will want to meet you half way.
    • Schedule an off-campus coffee or lunch chat
      • Stakeholders tend to open up when not physically at the office. Your chances of getting great feedback skyrocket during coffee or lunch meetings.
    • Be specific with your request
      • What specific thing are you are asking for feedback on?
      • Talking in generics is ill-advised and not particularly useful.
      • Try to ask pointed questions such as:
        • Based on what you see so far on the project, do you feel that your needs will be met at the end of phase 1? If not, why?
        • Anything I can do better to help make this project easy for you?
    • Also, here are times when you SHOULDN’T ask for feedback
      • Right before or right after a meeting.
      • During a meeting.
      • At the end of the workday.
      • First thing in the morning.
      • When the person you want feedback from is visibly stressed or just not able to focus attention on you or your question.
  3. Ask for Formal Feedback – You may get a watered down version of the truth via a survey or a lessons learned meeting. However, you may still get valuable feedback if somebody is willing to open up in one of these forums. If you don’t try it, you won’t know.
  4. Research similar projects as yours – Does the vendor you are using have a client you can talk to? How many resources did they have working on a similar initiative? What challenges did they experience? What would they have done differently? We have the benefit in today’s world to have access to so many personal experiences that others have encountered. FAQ boards, forums, help pages, you name it. Melissa may have been amazing at drawing hearts, but I was equally fantastic at observation and investigation. I concluded that her method of drawing hearts that brought her so much success in 2nd grade was certainly a recipe to follow.

Work in a vacuum is work wasted. Project management is about people, not Gantt charts. Charts tell you only part of the story, seek feedback from PEOPLE to fill in the blanks! How do you know what your project needs if you don’t ask?

What are some of your favorite ways to seek feedback?


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