Understanding Types of Feedback Loops to Create Value

Understanding Types of Feedback Loops to Create Value

In Value Stream by Soumya Menon

The presence of feedback is an integral characteristic of a system — in your context it’s software development. No feedback means no system. Understanding and acting on effective feedback and the impact of the action on all parts of the system forms feedback loops. Amplifying these feedback loops is an important part of value stream management to achieve the goal of delivering value to your customers.

In an earlier blog post, we looked at the importance of feedback loops and some of the common mistakes teams make when amplifying feedback loops. In this blog, we’ll be covering the types of feedback loops.

Before we get into the types of feedback loops, let’s understand what comprises feedback and the types of “relevant” feedback that help you create loops. In software development, anything and everything is considered feedback (including notifications and alerts) — which are both internal and external. However, what you do with the feedback and how you create value out of it is critical. There are direct and indirect types of feedback.

Direct feedback: All the information coming from the right of software delivery — meaning operations, DevOps, all that stuff — that is direct feedback. ‘I found a vulnerability; you need to look at it.’ That’s direct feedback. Direct feedback has patterns and can be automated.

Indirect feedback: Indirect feedback would be, ‘I don’t know if I like the way that looks.’ Or it’s comments and collaboration. Those are more indirect. Indirect feedback doesn’t have patterns and typically can’t be automated.

Find out more about direct and indirect feedback and what is ‘human’ generated feedback in the SD Times article Creating value requires feedback loops.

Understanding feedback loops

How do feedback loops typically work? You take an action, get a reward and repeat the action. In software development, there are typically two types of feedback loops — balancing  and reinforcing.

Reinforcing feedback: A reinforcing loop is one in which an action leads to a result that affects the same action, which leads to positive or negative progress of this action. The effect of the reinforcing loop is a constant progressive effect (either positive or negative). For example, the reinforcing Product Management loop (Positive) suggests that quick management actions should be taken to implement changes in project schedule and prioritization. The reinforcing Employee Productivity loop (Negative) indicates if there is an urgent customer requirement and the project progress falls behind schedule, the team needs to work overtime to satisfy customer deadlines.

Balancing feedback: A balancing loop is one in which a change in system state serves as a signal to start moving in the opposite direction in order to restore the lost balance. This form of feedback opposes change and maintains the stability of a system that would otherwise be destroyed by the action of reinforcing feedback. 

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Balancing loops help the system to maintain balance. The effect of a balancing loop is the pursuit of a specific goal. For example, the balancing Product Development loop describes that when there is an increase in customer requirements, the need for restructuring the current software functionality and design increase. 

For balancing feedback to work adequately, accurate measurement is necessary. Balancing feedback loops are quantifiable, and the ones that can should be automated, such as results from a failed build, or a failed test, or QA or monitoring tools.

One of the keys to successful improvement of your development and delivery processes is to amplify feedback, which is done through automation. The effect of feedback amplification is that it helps organizations maintain speed in their delivery process, as well as reducing or eliminating wait times and gaining efficiency. When you amplify feedback, you are making it visible. It’s not visible if somebody’s just sending emails, but it is visible when it’s in your backlog. You have to see the feedback and attend to that new issue that came from your scan. When the system just runs a scan and you hope that somebody checks it, that’s not amplified.
To understand more about creating value with different types of feedback loops and automating them or amplifying them, speak to our team of value stream management experts.