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Feedback: Be useful not polite

We often talk about feedback, it is a crucial aspect of agile. Feedback on our behaviour as team mates, feedback on our product by users, feedback on our approach as leaders. Yet so often when we hear people give feedback or we get feedback ourselves we find people are too polite to be honest, and this ends up with feedback like: “It was great” and “There’s nothing you need to improve”. This might make our ego’s feel great but it doesn’t actually help us grow.

Recently I have been working on a new conference submission with a new speaker Yogini Moodley. To help her get started presenting at conferences I’ve offered to co-speak with a workshop we’ve designed together based on work we’ve done together. We’ve submitted it to 2 conferences so far and it got turned down, so we know the submission needed some work. However, when we asked for feedback, lots of people just said “It looks great”.

So I decided to reach out to a friend Justin Kotze, an agile coach at Spotify, that knows me well, and knows that I really do want honest feedback.

He gave really useful feedback, that actually helped us improve the submission. So what does really useful feedback look like? Here it is, judge for yourself:

Before feedback

Title: Influencing an Agile Transition

Abstract: An agile transformation in a large organisation (10,000+ employees) is difficult to say the least, an estimated 5-10 year journey. So much like eating an elephant, we decided to go for it one bite at a time. We started with ourselves and our team. We’ve found that influence is a critical skill in Agile transformations. As a coach, often the only control you have is via influence. This is our story, a perspective of both internal and external coaches, on how we embraced Agile in a large financial organization, and what we learned in the process, and wish we had done differently.

The Feedback we got

The title doesn’t jump out to me to say “go to this talk”. Can you make it a bit more catchy?
I’m thinking stronger phrasing, like: This is how to succeed with Agile in a Large financial Corporate(even better if you mention the company name, people can relate to it more) Or “The secret to succeed with Agile transformation” or? i dunno?
My thinking here is that the abstract will give the audience member more context. The title to me is key though. The concept of internal and external coaches might be foreign to the person reading this at the conference? Mention here that it will be a workshop. Sell it a bit. For me at conferences this is sometimes a deciding factor. Currently you are selling it as a story and it’s more than that and rather interactive.
I do not feel that this summary is doing the session justice. i believe influencing is such an important skill that people will be able to learn about and the abstract feels like it is lacking a little. It jumps from, something we all know corporates, to an elephant, to saying that influence is important, to saying that you are internal and external, to saying you will share what you learned. I feel like you can get a stronger message across somehow?

I would likely have gone for the following kind of format for the outline.

Something obvious like, we all know agile transformations are difficult. we all know it’s even more difficult at large financial corporates. Some quote here either about influencing, corporate, or how agile is difficult

then something like, a question or two to the reader that you will be answering in your session.
like, do you find it difficult to x or y
wondering about the value of x or y
and then something that really sells your session. A strong promise of learning. Work your learning outcomes into a sentence or two here and say who is this talk for, like the intended audience. Call out roles and invite people that aren’t in those role
Add a bit of fun 🙂

After feedback – how we changed the submission

Your Agile Transformation Superpower – INFLUENCE

Your large company has decided to go agile! YAY. Now what? How do you get thousands of people to start thinking and working in a different way, without being controlling?
It turns out the only person you can change, is yourself. This makes YOU the key to your company’s agile Transformation. The skill you need to master to have an impact is influence.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” Napoleon Hill

Join us for an interactive workshop to learn why influence is so critical in agile transformations, and to practice this important skill! We will share examples how we used this skill helping ABSA in their Agile Transition as both an internal employee (Yogini) and an external coach (Karen).

I’m sure you will agree that our submission is stronger and better thanks to the feedback. What I also love is that Justin put himself in the shoes of a conference attendee when reading it, and told us what he’s looking for when he does that, not a perspective we’d really thought of for this submission before because we were so focussed on getting accepted. We’ll find out for sure if the talk gets accepted this time.

So next time someone asks you for feedback: Trust that they can handle it, and be BRUTALLY honest. I promise they will thank you for it when they have grown as a result.


You can listen to Justin speak about Scrum and everything around it on the Scrum And Podcast ( Please support him, he’s an all round good agile guy!