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Vivek Ganesan

A techie, an author, a teacher, a learner, a blah, blah and a blah!

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Blameless Continuous Integration


This blog post is about one of the instances where I messed up big time and then later made up for the same. Let me start with the mess-up first.

This happened long ago. I noticed a situation where one of my colleagues was unintentionally preventing the self-organization of the team. I was personally upset that the team is hindered from making certain decisions. Hence, I wanted to give a constructive personal feedback to the said colleague so that he can become aware of the negative effects of his actions.

Since I was going to touch upon certain touchy topics, I decided to give the feedback anonymously (which, in hindsight, I feel could have been done differently). In my organization, we have a mechanism to give feedback to any person anonymously.

I went ahead and wrote that person a message (anonymously) like the one below, in a moment of passionate frustration.

This feedback might come across as being too open. However, I feel the need to communicate this.

  1. I would expect you to blah, blah and blah.
  2. Please understand that blah, blah and blah
  3. Please stop blah, blah and blah.
  4. Please do blah, blah and blah.

Thanks for reading up to this and this feedback is shared for the benefit of the teams. Feel free to take it for what you think it is worth.

There is a chance that all I have said here is completely wrong, in which case, I apologize for the wrong communication and possibly a little bit of judgement.

Please realize that I continue to admire your passion and if directed properly, can help the teams significantly.

Done! I felt great and victorious after sending the feedback. I felt proud for serving one of my teams by doing the dirty job.

A day later, I got a furious and defensive response from the person in question. That person sounded offended about (the anonymous) me not taking their side.

I recognized the defensive tone of the person and did not intend to debate further. Needless to say, the person continued their activities which stopped the self-organization of the team. This may be because they found the feedback to be worthless. I accept my defeat! My feedback was indeed worthless, going by the outcome of it.

This is when I started looking for better ways of giving feedback and came across a web page talking about ‘Feedback Wrap’ that introduced me to Management 3.0. This led me to buy two books - Management 3.0 and Managing for Happiness by Jurgen Appelo and to read them cover to cover.

Ok! Now, let me talk only about the Feedback Wrap technique suggested by Jurgen. Feedback Wrap is a technique of giving sensible and actionable feedback to anyone.

I decided to test this new technique with my current situation. I wanted to send a Feedback Wrap to the same person, using Jurgen’s method. So, I blocked an hour(Yes, if you are giving proper feedback, you better spend some quality time on it) in my calendar and sat to write a feedback wrap.

A feedback wrap contains three sections namely

  1. Context
  2. Observations and related emotions sorted by value
  3. Suggestions

Section - 1: Context

I described my context as follows:

I am writing this after great contemplation while sipping black tea and trying to make the best use of the one-hour free slot that I have today. Most of what I am writing is also based on what I observed/heard from interactions with multiple people in our organization, so there is always a possibility of me telling you some non-factual stuff or some perceptions. So, take this feedback with a pinch of salt.

This one took a lot of time. I wrote my observations in an excel sheet, one in each row and recorded the emotion I had in each case. I also assigned a positive numeric values to good things and negative numeric values to bad things.

Because of this process, I was forced to think of any positive value-adds that person had done in this context. To my surprise, I found quite a good number of them. I had indeed been judgmental when I wrote my feedback earlier. These positive value-adds did not feature in my earlier anonymous feedback. No wonder that person thought I had a baseless feedback.

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 7.17.54 PM.png

After I listed down all the points, I sorted the rows using ‘Value’ column in descending order so that the highest value-add goes first. I copy-pasted only the first two columns into my message.

Section - 3: Suggestions

This section had nothing different from the normal way of writing suggestions. I offered that person suggestions as to what they should do. One big difference between the past feedback and this one was that this one had some items starting with “Continue doing…”.

I consolidated all of these sections into a single email (yes, no more anonymous communication) and sent it to that person. Fast forward some hours, I receive a reply from them expressing gratitude for offering feedback and his intention to change some of their actions. My day was made!

As I reflected what had just happened, I realized how judgmental I had been in the past, which blocked out the communication with an extra-ordinary individual. To me, the biggest benefit of ‘Feedback Wrap’ technique is that it removes the judgmental tone of an otherwise well-intended feedback. Thanks to Jurgen for restoring my faith in humanity :)