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Project Feedback You Can Actually Use

September 17, 2018 | Productivity

The list of things that can impede the successful completion of a creative project is notoriously long and full of fun, time-eating distractions and unplanned, unfortunate hiccups.

One of those major hiccups that can quickly bring activity down to a crawl is the project feedback loop between the creative team and the approver. It will come as no surprise to anybody reading this article that creatives and their approvers are looking at projects through different lenses. Approvers usually know what they want, but they can’t always speak the language of creatives to explain themselves effectively. This leaves the creative team trying to be mind-readers or interpreters. Even if you’re on a team of telepaths, the back-and-forth of an email thread or the long roundabout phone conversation can leave anyone frustrated and take away precious time.

Getting clear project feedback can start to feel unattainable, but there are a couple of strategies a creative team can implement to make the process as smooth, timely and useful as possible.

Why Project Feedback is Sometimes Useless

First, let’s clarify what unhelpful feedback is. You may not even realize how often these things have been happening to your team and how much they’re actually dragging you down.

Feedback Without Purpose: This tends to occur the most when goals have not been set for the project. Not only do both the approver and the design team need to have goals outlined for the outcome, but these goals need to be aligned. At the beginning of the project, the goals are usually well-known and agreed upon by everyone, but the smaller, more specific goals need to also be clarified. Otherwise, you’ll hear feedback in the form of phrases such as, “this layout doesn’t look right,” or “this landing page makes no sense.” These phrases don’t really mean anything. There is no clear solution for project feedback like this because it doesn’t outline a clear problem.

Feedback Without Direction: This is the result when project goals are not aligned or not clearly expressed in the creative-approver relationship. In this case, the approver might have provided purposeful feedback on the proof, but their intended direction for revisions is not what the team had been discussing internally at all. This leaves them without a direction to move forward in until they take a step back and get everyone on the same page.

Overdue Feedback: As you can probably guess by the name, this is when feedback happens after the design process is well on its way down a particular path. Redirection is most easily done at the beginning of a project before too many important decisions are made that sets its course on a road you can’t come back from. Starting even a section over can be frustrating, especially when you have deadlines bearing down.

Noisy Feedback: This can happen when too many people are throwing their opinions into the mix all at once. When there’s too much noise, things can become disorganized and inefficient very quickly. Some people think these revisions are necessary, while others believe the approach should be another way. Situations like this can result in more versions of a proof than necessary, and it can become difficult to parse through it all and figure out which feedback to prioritize.

This is all exacerbated by the way your team communicates, both with each other and approvers. Email, for instance, can become a free-for-all in the approval process with everyone replying in no particular order with their responses, long and cluttered email threads full of out-of-context commentary on the proof, and there’s likely several versions of the proof sent out to the group already, making the context even harder to discern. The “noise” of an email chain becomes more literal with design meetings or phone conversations. Does anyone actually look forward to conference calls? If you enjoy listening to people talk over one another, you can come have Thanksgiving dinner with my family. In the meantime, these forms of communication can lack context as well as be full of distractions.

These types of feedback have no doubt been happening more often than you’d like them to in the quest of getting effective project feedback on your proofs. There are solutions that you can implement as a team to help you get what you want out of this process, though. This is not to say that the issues with communication and feedback have been happening purely from your side, but you have to be the change you want to see in the world, or at least the approval process.

Ensuring Successful Project Feedback Loops

Consistent check-ins: Getting effective project feedback begins with the initiation of a project and should continue all the way to the end, from start to finish. As I mentioned earlier, overdue feedback will likely result in some do-over that no one ever enjoys. Getting the initial requirements and guidelines from the approver in the beginning and then not checking in with them again until you’re very far into the design is going to result in a lot of feedback all at once. And, when that feedback can come in the form of an unhelpful phrase such as, “I don’t like it,” or, “this isn’t quite what I envisioned,” this can really stall a project out. Consistent and routine check-ins can help alleviate the bulk of the feedback coming at you, and the earlier you know about a critique the easier it will be to redirect the project.

Collaborative goal setting: A project is made up of many smaller projects, and just like with the onset of the principal project, each smaller project should have a goal that the approver and the creative team have decided upon together. They may not always understand or have a particular interest in the nitty-gritty parts of the project, but be open with them about your ideas and approach. You don’t necessarily have to present and explain every aspect of the brainstorming and design process to them, but the only way the approver can give you the kind of helpful feedback you want is if they know what you need in the first place.

Ask the tough questions: Okay, so they aren’t “tough” per se, but their answers should at least require a little bit of critical thought. A good way to ensure you’re getting effective project feedback is to avoid too many “yes” or “no” questions. Focusing on questions that begin with words such as “how” or “what” will result in a more detailed and thorough response. Yes’s and no’s are not usually purposeful feedback, and that’s what you’re looking for. Of course, “yes/no” questions aren’t always bad, but they will probably be the most helpful toward the end of the process.

Prioritize and contextualize your feedback: How you communicate with your approver can also make a decisive difference in getting great project feedback. If your team is using email as your main communication avenue, you’ve likely resigned yourself to the shortfalls of the platform. Maybe you’ve decided to forego email for a phone. In both cases, the issue of context still exists. Contextualizing feedback can eliminate many of the problems you face in the approval process.

Contextual Feedback is feedback that exists in relation to the specific point on a proof it is referring to. Contextual feedback is why in-person meetings can be so helpful, but if you can’t get everyone in a room together regularly, then it’s difficult to achieve with other conventional means of communication. An online proofing software can help give you the context you need in getting effective project feedback. It could allow your team to comment on and mark up a proof, and it will keep all the versions of the proof together in such a way that will eliminate noise and give your feedback one central location to reside. An online proofing software can also help you prioritize feedback by giving your team a workflow to follow. Everyone sees the proof when it’s their turn to see it, and everyone collaborates on the proof together.

Getting effective project feedback is made much easier with the introduction of an approval process software into your company’s everyday routine. Ashore can provide you with the tools you need to receive and give feedback in context in a streamlined environment. You will have the ability to establish a clear and linear workflow, and the software will take care of reminding the approvers when it’s their turn in the proofing process. Consider Ashore if you’re ready to have more efficient and effective relationships with your approver.

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