You know the worst thing you can do? Ask for general input after an app or design project is just about final.
Something happens to people when they hear the words, "Take a look and give me your feedback." An invitation to criticize is like catnip to some people. Folks who had no input going into a project suddenly whip out the white gloves and develop an attention to detail that would put a rice painter to shame. Add a group dynamic, and you've got yourself a firing squad, because now everyone is showing everyone else how observant and knowledgeable they are by lobbing astute observations (aka criticisms) at your product.
It is in this atmosphere that people have been known to debate for hours the size of a toggle button or the emotional impact of a shaded text box. In other words, what they have an opinion on is completely out of proportion to what matters in the long run.
And do you ever notice how infrequent the compliments are? That's because most people are under the mistaken impression that negative comments sound smarter than positive ones.
Don't get me wrong: Feedback is necessary for business success. You need sign-off from the people who are going to be using the product or who understand the customer dynamic better than you do. But a free-for-all, "all insults welcome!" approach is not the way to do it.
Instead, you should be specific about the kind of feedback you're looking for. Make it clear you're looking for only big-picture issues. Ask people to answer only questions like:
- Does it work?
- Is it efficient?
- Does it pull the information you need?
- Was anyone seriously injured when attempting to use the product?
Bottom line for IT professionals
When you're asking for feedback about a project that is nearly finished, be prepared to hear a list of detailed problems unless you set some guidelines at the get-go.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.