Creating a healthy feedback culture can be intimidating and overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start, what level of feedback you are seeking, how to apply it, and how to get buy-in on the changes. As the Product Department Head at GIPHY, I wanted to improve the feedback culture of our Product Management Team, and I knew that I especially wanted to get our PMs comfortable with peer feedback. It is so often that we hear feedback from our managers and from leadership, but we don’t always give and receive feedback from our teammates.
To take a step back, I wanted to better understand why feedback is so important. I did a fair amount of research and found that I wanted to encourage our Product Team to have a growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe that their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — overall, it’s a perspective that aligned with what I was trying to achieve.
At the root of it, a feedback culture is a motivator to perform better. It fosters development by showing us our strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, I wanted to create a safe space where our PMs could learn from one another and grow to become as successful as possible at GIPHY and beyond.
Over time, our processes and templates have been refined to effectively communicate our vision and ideas to stakeholders. Our product brief is one tool we use to communicate the what and the why of a product: it gives readers the background as to why we are building a thing, what the product requirements of the thing are, and what the expected timeline will be for launching the thing.
I want to start out by saying, our Product Team is already very strong! Our product managers are thoughtful about their products, experts in their domains, skilled in product brief writing, and diligent about getting buy-in from stakeholders on what they plan to deliver. I did not want to create a process for developing a new skill, but rather strengthen the muscles our product managers currently have. The opportunity I found is to help our team get stronger at pitching their products by ensuring that their communication tools (in our case, product briefs) are top notch.
The Better Brief Bureau is essentially that — focusing on strengthening how we write and talk about what we want to build. I created a feedback forum which takes the shape of a 30-minute segment in our recurring team meetings and built a process around the solution. There are two types of participants in the segment:
- the product manager who is pitching their product and asking for feedback and
- the rest of the team who is providing the feedback.
Inside each segment, there are three parts.
Part 1: The Pitch. The pitching PM has seven minutes to share their product vision, convey why they were proposing the product, and explain the goals and expected outcome of the product upon delivery.
Part 2: The Feedback. We then use the remainder of the time, divided evenly between each team member, to give rapid fire round robin style feedback to the pitching PM in response to their pitch and their brief.
Part 3: The Wrap Up. Once all feedback is provided, the pitching PM has two minutes to close out the segment or give a ‘rebuttal’ as we call it.
The first few were a bit nerve wracking for the PM in the hot seat! However, over time, we all found our footing and it has become a natural part of our meeting and our process.
Provide tips on how to give and receive feedback.
I wanted the teams to feel prepared to give and receive constructive feedback. Constructive criticism is best when it provides specific, actionable suggestions rather than providing general advice. To help our team understand good versus bad feedback, I gave them a list of examples and tips. A few of those tips are:
- Be specific. Give details on exactly what is lacking or needs fixing.
- Be direct. Avoid the ‘$hit’ sandwich. Don’t layer the hard feedback you really need to deliver in between two positive pieces of feedback.
- Prioritize your feedback. We’re product managers, so we need to know what’s most important up front. We guided our teams to present their feedback with the big picture first and then work their way to the small details — like the start of a movie.
- Style your feedback for your audience. Again, being product managers, we wanted feedback to be product-styled. Specifically, focus on the what and the why, NOT the how.
I found that, for some team members, receiving constructive feedback can be more challenging than giving constructive feedback — especially when it comes from peers. To combat that, I provided our team with some tips to help when it comes to receiving feedback from your peers.
- Always assume good intent. Don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that there is ill will. The person giving feedback is probably just as uncomfortable.
- Don’t get defensive. This is really hard! We coached our team to remember that this session is not the time to defend yourself or your work (there will be time for that!) so they should avoid responding in the moment.
- Accepting and implementing the feedback is optional. The PM owns the product, and they are ultimately responsible for the outcome of the product.
- Follow up. Communicate actions taken post-feedback.
Feedback on feedback
Our process and the segment itself has evolved over time. As I receive feedback from the team through our pre-and post-pitch check-ins, I’ve made optimizations. The two-minute rebuttal was actually added later as a result of the feedback I received! Additionally, distributing the brief ahead of the meeting to give people the opportunity to get familiar with the content was a change implemented based on feedback.
Overall, this has been a great feedback loop for our team and for product leaders. Our team loves the segment and has found the feedback to be helpful at different phases of their process. Their brief writing skills have become sharper AND the team has grown in pitching their products.
More on Growth Mindsets: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/