Change is hard. Our work habits have been honed through years to decades of professional experience. Stacked with the habits of colleagues, organizations, stakeholders, and clients, change is all the more challenging.
One habit that can be especially painful when poorly addressed, is getting good feedback.
How you gather and manage comments or revisions is so often overlooked. That is, until it becomes an impossible-to-ignore problem that chips away at your project's success.
Addressing the review and approval process doesn’t require a “digital transformation”. Your clients are already providing revision comments and suggestions. Adapting your approach can be simple and significantly boost the quality of your deliverables.
So how do you build a system for gathering accurate, timely, and useful feedback from key stakeholders?
The Symptoms of Poor Feedback
We’ve all been there; Project delays, finger-pointing, disgruntled clients and teams… These are often the signs that there is something wrong with how we are communicating around a project.
All too often, perhaps because we can be so used to it, we ignore the symptoms of a broken feedback process or misattribute it.
Is it the person’s fault that they missed a deadline, or was the process too complicated?
Before getting to the solution, there are a few key problem areas that you might recognize if you’ve ever had a broken creative workflow:
- You lose or miss comments and notes from stakeholders.
- There’s often a need to return to someone for clarification.
- You find your team redoing revision tasks because they were poorly communicated.
- There is no clear connection between the requests and who must act on them.
- Deliverables are always delayed.
- You and the client are often unsatisfied with the creative output.
Do you recognize any of these symptoms? If you identify with them it’s time to take a look how your creative workflow.
The Pillars of Healthy Feedback
On the flip side, it isn’t that difficult to update your creative communication process.
To get there, there are a few key considerations that you’ll need to address.
- Quality: On the most basic level, you want revision suggestions, questions, and conversations to be relevant and informed.
- Clarity: Ideally, all forms of communications, especially requests or updates, are accurate and clear. This is especially important with visual references. For example, think about the last time you got notes on a video project via email - and it contained multiple timestamps saying “cut here”.
- Coordination: Moving communication with stakeholders across silos, such as different tools, meetings, and emails, can result in confusion. Retrieving information and versions can also be an issue. For example, finding the latest version of a file can sometimes become a guessing game and relies on messy title conventions.
- Accountability: Who does what? Why was it done a certain way? Without transparency, issues are bound to repeat themselves and result in avoidable mistakes. Without accountability there is no learning.
4 Steps to Better Feedback
So how do you set up feedback systems that cover all 4 of the aforementioned pillars?
Here are 4 steps to deliver significant improvements to the quality, clarity, coordination and accountability of the communication.
1. The Clear and Relevant Ask
Getting quality feedback on projects starts with knowing who, when, and how to ask for it. Before reaching out to request revisions, consider what you hope to gain from it. Is it creative input from stakeholders? A general review of visuals and graphics? Final approval from the project’s decision-maker?
A good question is half the answer. Ask the right questions if you need clarification on something. Everyone wants the project to succeed, so don’t be afraid to request clarification if you’re unsure of what’s expected. To use another cliche, an ounce of prevention is a pound of the cure.
Ideally, plan how you will tackle the review and approval process before starting your project, with all stakeholders buying in. This is simpler with an online communication tool that’s easily accessible to everyone involved.
2. Make it Simple
Once you’ve tackled the clear ask, make it simple for the receiver to take their next step(s). The more time spent on figuring out how to tackle your ask, the longer it will take to start (or possibly just give up).
Removing friction is essential for simplicity. Any time someone has to download anything, sign up, or learn a challenging new software, it adds potential delays to your project. Ensure they have the right tools to keep the back-and-forth quick and effective.
Email, shared documents, phone calls, and team video conferencing can all be useful communication methods for certain tasks. But these forms of communication can quickly get confusing and time-consuming.
By making it simple for your stakeholders, with purpose-built tools, you can effectively share information, tasks and updates.
3. Be Receptive and Respond Well
Being receptive to feedback is a crucial part of collaboration. Stakeholders will feel more comfortable being straightforward when they know the recipient(s) is open to suggestions, constructive criticism, and new ideas.
Taking feedback well can be a challenge. Fear of failure, an emotional connection to your work, and negativity bias can all make you feel uncomfortable receiving edits or suggestions. Developing a positive attitude towards this process will benefit your workplace relationships and communication skills.
Temper your initial reaction and emotions to show collaborators you’re receptive to their suggestions. Take time to consider it before responding if necessary. Consider their perspective of the issue, ask follow-up questions, and thank them for their input - even if you disagree.
Being receptive creates a cycle where people see you as a positive person to work with. In return, they will be more open with you and will ultimately be happier with the results. And, of course, they will enjoy working with you or your team.
4. Maintain Accountability
A critical part of the creative process is maintaining accountability. Be sure to set clear expectations. What is required or expected of everyone, and by when? Workflows are much easier when there’s transparency regarding expectations, roles, project stages, and deadlines.
Consolidation (keeping comments, notes, file versions, and relevant activity in a central space) is essential. This maintains accountability across the entire project so everyone can go back and see the logic behind a decision.
The Right Tools for The Right Feedback
The right tools are essential to enable clarity, simplify workflows, facilitate a healthy feedback loop and maintain accountability. Here are 3 to consider:
Rock - Rock allows users to communicate with collaborators while also assigning tasks. It’s a seamless messaging platform and project management rolled into one. Besides your internal team, you can also add clients and external collaborators can also be added to project spaces without issue. Keep all your communication in one place and say goodbye to the context switching that comes from working with different messaging and project management apps on your projects.
ReviewStudio - As a creative workflow and online proofing software, ReviewStudio makes it simple for teams to gather precise, clear, and consolidated feedback. Highly intuitive, it provides an effective way to mark up, share, and approve creative in a centralized location. All your versions are collated, comments and notes are threaded, and tasks are integrated with markups. Whether video, image, web, or documents - it is a standalone space that can incorporate easily into your current workflows.
Loom - Sometimes, recording a video of your experience or just walking through your revision notes can be most effective through a tool like Loom. If a picture is a thousand words, a video is a book. A great tool to capture your screen, with the option of recording your voice and face. Sharing is very straightforward, and features like adjusting playback make the whole experience very useful.
Good Feedback Leads to Successful Collaboration
Getting good and timely communication with decision-makers and outside clients is essential for any project to succeed.
Showing collaborators you’re open to listening and implementing their suggestions or requests will help them feel comfortable providing more in-depth thoughts and requests. In addition, provide them with the tools and resources to make the creative review and approval process as easy as possible.
It's important to remember that receiving feedback can and should be a continuous process. Use what you learn from the process to adjust your strategies, improve your products or services, and ultimately enhance the overall experience for your team or clients.
With a proactive approach to your creative workflows, you can build stronger working relationships, ensure deadlines are met, make better decisions, and drive growth and success for everyone involved.