Blog

1 day ago

9 Agile Statistics That Actually Empower Teams

If you’ve spent any time reading about project management lately, it can feel like everyone is talking about integrating Agile workflows across their enterprise.

If you’re wondering whether it is something that would work for your team, you certainly aren’t alone.

Agile statistics gathered from a variety of studies show project managers and company representatives report a consistent increase in Agile adoption over the last few years. We know that if everyone's doing it, you should at least be curious.

Maybe more significantly, those that haven’t integrated Agile into their workflow yet appear to be thinking hard about heading in that direction.

Top Agile Statistics You Should Know for 2018

Of all these studies, none are older than three years old, all come from verified, peer-reviewed sources, and they all have to do with Agile statistics--not just everyday project management statistics.

Curious yet?

Here are what the numbers--and the science--have to say.

1. 46% of surveyed organizations use or have used an Agile or hybrid Agile approach over the last 12 months. (Pulse of the Profession 2018, Project Management Institute, 2018)

Almost a quarter (23%) also estimated a hybrid approach. Predictive approaches--or Waterfall-like methods--are still the most popular form of project management, making up almost half of all projects (47%).

Source: Project Management Institute

Source: Project Management Institute

2. 76% of users choosing an enterprise Agile planning tool do so to increase their projects' visibility. (Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Agile Planning Tools, Gartner, 2018)

3. 80% of federal IT projects were self-described as “Agile” or “iterative” in 2017. (Agile by the Numbers, Deloitte Insights, 2017)

While the federal government urges the use of Agile techniques in its Digital Services Playbook, project owners are self-reporting their techniques so it isn’t possible to know exactly how Agile is being integrated, or what combination of waterfall and Agile is being utilized. Still, this is a big leap from 2011 when fewer than 10% of federal IT projects were described as “Agile” or “iterative."

4. 85.9% of 101,592 international surveyed software developers use Agile in their work. (Developer Survey Results, Stack Overflow, 2018)

5. Over a third (37%) of surveyed marketers report using some form of Agile to manage their work. (State of Agile Marketing 2018, Agile Sherpas 2018)

Agile popularity is growing too, with 61% of traditional marketing teams reporting plans to start building Agile into their workflow within the next year.

Agile Statistics from Agile Sherpas

Source: Agile Sherpas

6. Forbes interviewed more than 500 senior executives from around the world in July 2017. 92% said they believe organizational agility is critical to business success. (Achieving Greater Agility, Forbes Insights, 2017)

There were a few more takeaways from this study worth mentioning:

  • 82% of respondents believe that the ability to incorporate Agile approaches is important to implementing strategic initiatives.
  • An incredible 84% “agree" that "organizational agility" is essential to achieve digital transformation.
  • Almost a third (27%) "consider themselves highly Agile."

7. 16% of 601 development and IT professionals describe their company as pure Agile. 51% are leaning toward Agile. (Agile is the New Normal, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, 2017)

Waterfall methods sank, making up only 2% of the respondents' companies.

8. The biggest roadblocks to implementing Agile are too many projects per team member, lack of company vision, & unclear project scope. (Critical Success Factors for Agile Project Management in Non-Software Related Product Development Teams, Western Michigan University, 2017)

Specifically, 20% of respondents described having team members on other projects as "extremely challenging," 29.4% said it was "very challenging," and only 5.3% said, "it was not a challenge at all."

9. Nearly 1 in 4 of the highest performing companies surveyed by PMI completed projects with Agile or a hybrid approach. (Pulse of the Profession 2018, Project Management Institute, 2018)

Agile statistics from Project Management Institute

Source: Project Management Institute

We Demand More Agile Statistics For 2018!

It doesn’t look like anyone is going to stop talking about Agile any time soon.

Do these numbers reflect the way your team is thinking about Agile and how you see it being adopted out in the world? Are you leaning toward Agile, or fully invested in it already?

Let us know in the comments, click to share a tweet, and let us know if there's any cool emerging research we should know about!

6 days ago

45 Top Project Management Resources for 2018

Remember candy cigarettes? When I was a kid I thought they were the greatest.

Growing up there was one summer when an actual candy shop opened downtown where my friends and I could take just our pocket change and still manage to walk out with a nice handful of goodies. (It is long gone…) With a limited budget and what seemed like a million options, picking out the best candy was always a bit overwhelming.

Which glass jar of colorful sugar do you even start with? We’d never seen anything like that selection before.

In a way, searching for the most useful project management resources on the web can be just as crushing. Whether you’re just getting started in a project management role, or you’ve spent decades in leadership and could use a fresh perspective, there is a wealth of resources (and awesome free project management tools) online to help with whatever you’re looking for.

Here, then, is a list to help you get started. We combed through reviews on Amazon, read testimonials, and scrutinized roundups to find the most engaging, helpful, and entertaining project management resources. Maybe you’d like a podcast to kick off the day and get you through your morning commute. Or maybe a book to leave on the nightstand. We’ve got all of those and more, organized alphabetically.

What we don’t have are candy cigarettes.

I can’t recommend them, they taste like chalk.

9 Brilliant Project Management Blogs

When your morning coffee isn’t enough and you need a little project management pick-me-up to get your day started, we recommend subscribing to a few of these. These writers bring a unique perspective to project management writing.

Best project management resources and blogs

1. The Accidental Product Manager

Dr. Jim Anderson looks to the real world to analyze and interpret examples of project management success and failures from companies that we all know. Anderson has spent over 25 years applying project management science to products at companies of all sizes and has much to share about developing and managing for success.

2. Capterra Project Management Blog

Capterra is a leading online resource for business software buyers, and on this blog, you’ll find everything from software reviews to recommend project management book lists and guides to new, cool project management tools.

3. A Girl’s Guide To Project Management

Based in the UK, Elizabeth Harrin has been writing here since 2006 with the goal of building a community for working project and product managers to support each other with real-world solutions. Her blog is full of practical tips, guides, and reviews.

4. Herding Cats

Here, Glenn B. Alleman goes deep on project management philosophy, alongside posts with book and presentation reviews. (Just don’t expect to find any gifs. Missed opportunity, Glenn.)

herding-cats-and-targetprocess-humor

Senior product managers and project managers alike will find his insights useful.

5. Leading Agile: Field Notes

If you’re looking to integrate Agile techniques into your workflow, Leading Agile’s blog has plenty of advice, guides that dig deep into the small details you’ll need to consider, and video explainers.

6. Mike Cohn's Blog

Mike Cohn has been blogging for over ten years. Every week you’ll find an insight into team building or a new training video that will help keep your ideas fresh. As a bonus, if you’re visiting for the first time he has a round-up of all the most important topics for getting started.

7. Natalie Warnert’s Blog

Natalie Warnert is the founder, president, and executive director of Women in Agile Inc. Her blog covers everything from productivity and Scrum methodology to discussions of corporate life and leadership drawn from her experience as a consultant and speaker.

8. ProjectManagement.Com

ProjectManagement.com wants to the first place you turn when you need help. The site offers community where you can find blogs written by experienced project managers alongside space to discuss issues and ask questions, and a whole variety of project management tools and templates when you need a launching pad.

9. Targetprocess

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already realized that you’ve found a great place for stories about leadership, workplace culture, Agile, and everything else project management. Come for the deep research, useful guides, and practical tips; stay for the world’s top experts on project management, industry insights, and brilliant gifs.

Targetprocess Team at Work

The Targetprocess Team Goofing Off

 9 Insightful Project Management Books

Whether you’re just getting started or have years of experience under your belt and are looking for a fresh perspective, there is always something more to learn. In these books, you’ll find new ways to approach project management and your career.

An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth - A Surprising Project Management Resource

1. An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth

Chris Hadfield takes you outside of our usual orbit to the international space station, giving insight to personal development and project management through the eyes of an astronaut. Though most of us will never find ourselves in outer space, Hadfield examines his experiences under the most extreme conditions, and translates them into ideas that can still help us manage projects and face adversity down here on earth.

2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

This story is more than just a fable. Throughout the book, Patrick Lencioni details a team’s struggles and outlines the steps to overcome them, while you keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

3. Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management

Rather than another step-by-step, longtime Microsoft project manager Scott Berkun has written a series of essays that examine the philosophy and strategy of project management with topics like “leadership and trust,” “how not to annoy people,” and “what to do when things go wrong.” Berkun breaks down complex concepts and turning them into real-world advice, making this a particularly effective project management resource.

4. The Plugged-In Manager: Get In Tune With Your People, Technology and Organization to Thrive

When it comes to best project management practices, Terri L. Griffith argues that we often focus on managing people or organizational issues or technology, but rarely all at the same time. Griffith shows you how to incorporate all three into a management strategy and to use that combination to succeed.

5. Project Management Absolute Beginner's Guide

If you’re just beginning your project management journey this step by step guide has clear concise instructions and covers the basics of project management. In the book, certified PMP Gregory M. Horine explores common mistakes to avoid, key qualities of every project manager and how to get started with Agile. It has everything you’ll need to get a headstart in your new role.

6. Project Management Jumpstart

Another one for those just getting started in project management. Kim Heldman, an IT Director for the Colorado Governor's Office of Information Technology, focuses on the fundamentals of project management, with real-life examples to study and review questions at the end of every chapter.

7. Project Management For You: How to Turn Your Ideas Into Reality, Deliver on Your Promises, and Get Things Done

Cesar Abeid is a project manager, consultant, and author who wants to “bring project management best practices to a wider public.” Here, Abeid breaks down project management principles into steps that can be used on the job and in everyday life while utilizing stories to drive his points home and without corporate jargon.

Sherlock would be an amazing project manager

TFW you find a project management resource that's actually useful

8. Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering From Project Failure

Todd C. Williams is an executive consultant and specialist that helps companies save failing projects. In this book, he wants to guide you as you walk way back from the edge of disaster (or help you recover and move on if it’s too late).

9. Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams

Author Terry Schmidt, a consultant and certified PMP who also briefly worked for NASA, walks through a flexible, strategic approach to designing projects that can be replicated again and again. His system is based on four questions, from which point a complete strategy can be developed:

  • What are we trying to accomplish and why?
  • How will we measure success?
  • What other conditions must exist?
  • How do we get there?

 5 Practical Project Management Guides and eBooks

Looking for some specific guides to getting started with project management, or an ebook that will point you in the right direction when you’re dealing with a difficult roadblock? These guides will help, making them a powerful addition to our roundup of top project management resources.

Best Project Management Guides and Ebooks: 7 Deadly Sins of Project Management

1. 7 Deadly Sins of Project Management

Brad Egeland wrote this eBook for Project Smart covering common mistakes that can derail projects with advice on how to see them coming and how to avoid them.

2. The Complete Guide to Managing Digital Projects

Here’s a free guide to planning and instituting digital projects, collaborating with team members and working with clients.

3. Project Management Journal

Published by the Project Management Institute, this journal includes detailed information covering the broad spectrum of the project management profession and features “state of the art research, techniques, theories and applications.”

4. Project Management Lite: Just Enough To Get The Job Done...Nothing More

Juana Clark Craig builds on 25 years of experience at fortune 500 corporations to help beginners started with this step by step guide to the basics of project management. Her bare-bones approach doesn’t require an advanced degree to understand.

5. The Ultimate Guide To Project Management

The Zapier team has put together a free introduction to product management with a guide to the basics and expert advice.

8 Educational Project Management Online Courses

When you’re ready to expand your skill set, grow as a project manager, and want to do it all from your desk (or kitchen table. Or maybe even from bed), these courses are informative, entertaining, and a great place to start.

Brain Sensei: One of the Best Project Management Online Courses

1. Brain Sensei

Watch a series of animated videos that tell the story of a samurai overcoming adversity in feudal Japan and watch illustrated key project management concepts along the way. Follow them up with quizzes and practice questions, and rest assured that the entertaining story format will help the answer stick.

2. Coursera Applied Project Management Certificate

Over the course of six months, you will prepare for the Project Management Professional exam with a series of instructor-led virtual sessions. Intended for students with 3-5 years of work experience who are interested in a career in project management.

3. Lynda.Com: Become a Project Manager Path

Lynda.com offers foundational coursework in the fundamentals of project management, strung together in an easy-to-follow path. And the best part is that it may be free to sign up with your local library card.

Libraries: An ancient repository of project management resources.

We won't say no to a library.

4. Master of Project Academy

Master of Project Academy offers a variety of certification training courses that can be taken à la carte or bundled together in a monthly package. It is easy to tailor the various options to your needs, whether you are only looking for PMP or Agile Scrum certification on their own, or want to complete them all over the course of a year.

5. Penn State World Campus

Penn State World Campus offers a strong foundation in project management theory and practice. After an introductory course in project management, you are offered a variety of customized study paths to suit your career goals.

6. PM Learning Solutions

This online, instructor-led training offers a variety of exam prep courses and exam study guides focusing strictly on project management and IT certifications. They might look super corporate, but they are actually really helpful.

Project Management Learning: A Hub of Online Project Management Courses

No comment necessary.

7. Prodevia

Prodevia’s course catalog is geared towards more experienced project management professionals looking for further career development. With personal access to the course instructor, complete course guides to keep as reference and course material available online, Prodevia does it’s best to help you learn on a flexible schedule.

8. Project Management Institute

PMI offers a variety of courses, from introductions to Agile and project management to in-depth bundles and exam prep.

4 Cool Online Project Management Communities

When you are struggling to work through a problem and could use the help of a product manager that has been in your shoes before, these project management communities are a great place to turn.

The Community for Project Managers

1. Facebook Product Managers Community

Here you can connect with other product managers to share ideas, stories, and jobs, using a profile that you almost certainly already have. This product management community curates to make sure the most thoughtful content is being shared and discussed.

2. Linkedin Product Management Group

With over one hundred thousand members, this is one of the biggest product management groups on Linkedin. If you’re looking for a place to network and identify opportunities with a group of like-minded product management professionals, it is a good starting point.

There are specialized groups as well, check out Mobile Product Management if your career emphasizes mobile apps or games, or this group if you’re a fan of the book “The Project Manager’s Desk Reference.”

3. #PMchat on Twitter

Use the #PMchat to get involved in this weekly conversation held on Twitter every Friday from 12-1pm ET. Check out and interact with your fellow project managers.

4. Product Management Community on Reddit

You don’t have to apply to this subreddit which offers a space to ask questions, discover new tools and keep an eye on developing trends. Check out /r/agile for more a closer look at Agile management specifically.

9 Enjoyable Project Management Podcasts

Check in with one or two of these on your commute and you’ll be bursting with inspiration by the time you’re at your desk. These podcasts all offer smart, witty voices looking at your world through the lens of project management.

Fix My Project Chaos: A Top Product Management Podcast

1. Fix My Project Chaos

Elise Stevens works with women in project management roles to provide a channel for their voices and reinforce their value in the industry. For the podcast, she interviews industry leaders on subjects ranging from developing your confidence to successfully leading project teams.

2. HBR Ideacast

Not always directly related to project management, but these short 10- to 15-minute podcasts from the Harvard Business Review offer a unique look at questions of leadership and other management philosophies.

3. The Lazy Project Manager

Though new episodes are posted infrequently these days, there is a deep archive of podcasts from Peter Taylor who focuses on “working smarter not harder” and be productive while achieving a solid work/life balance.

Snuggies as surprising project management resources

Snuggies for PMs: Often ignored and underappreciated project management resources.

4. Manage This

Andy Crowe, founder of Velociteach, and Bill Yates are both respected thought leaders in the project management industry. Every first and third Tuesday they discuss project management philosophy and advice, bring in other industry experts and offer advice on team management, leadership tips and more.

5. PM Podcasts

For project management beginners and veterans alike, The PM Podcast focuses on interviews with successful project managers that delves into the lessons they’ve learned and how you can apply them in your own work.

6. PM Happy Hour

In each episode, the hosts explore solutions to a specific project management problem, like building trust or questions to ask when beginning a new project, and offer practical advice. The download is free, but it’s BYOB.

Beer for project managers

We can work with that

7. Prod Mgmt Talk

Chad McAllister, a product management educator, hosts a wide-ranging conversation covering all aspects of the art and craft of product management for businesses of all sizes.

8. Project Management For The Masses

Cesar Abeid, author of “Project Management For You” in the books section above, brings his personal experience as a PM to life alongside interviews with others in the field and tips on how to improve yourself and become more productive.

9. Sensible PM

Mark Phillipy talks through the guiding principles of project management while applying life lessons that make his stories relatable. For example, in this episode, Phillipy helps an aspiring product manager set personal goals to work towards achieving that role.

The Last, Best Source of Project Management Resources? You.

Top project mangement resources for 2018

We need you to help us find more project management resources for 2018!

Above, I’ve rounded up 44 great ways to start thinking about your project management career in a new light. Pour yourself a coffee, grab a lollipop from the desk drawer of that one coworker that you know always has a candy stash, and dive in.

I’m sure that all these resources aren’t comprehensive, so let me offer a final resource: this comments section. You know lots of project management resources that should be shared between each other. Please let us know your favorites in the comments below, and we’ll consider them for when we update this article!

2 weeks ago

Targetprocess Certified as Seriously Easy to Use Project Management Software

Targetprocess is a visually stunning, easy to use project management software that encourages communication, eliminates complexity, and emboldens customizability all within an intuitive interface. Our customers regularly give us crazy-good reviews around our usability, and Capterra, a B2B software review aggregation site, has awarded us as one of the Top 20 Most User-Friendly Project Management Software options on the market.

In other words, compared to the other 713 project management tools on Capterra’s directory, Targetprocess is in the top 2% of easy to use project management software. And that’s according to verified independent user reviews from real people who actually use our tool.

If you look closely at our customer reviews on Capterra, G2Crowd, and Finances Online, you’ll find that simplicity is a regular theme among our users. But Capterra’s evaluation doesn’t just include online reviews—they use independent software testers to verify 80% of the overall usability score, leaving the rest to aggregated testimonials. According to Capterra’s independent research, Targetprocess is more intuitive than any other major Agile project management tool. Tools that are similar to ours (we’re looking at you, Jira, AgileCraft, and VersionOne) didn’t even make the list.

Easy to Use Project Management Software According to Reviews

We’re particularly proud of the actual user reviews featured on Capterra’s site (which is an aggregate of Targetprocess reviews on SoftwareAdvice and GetApp as well).

Targetprocess reviews

Targetprocess reviews at Capterra

We scored 100% on Capterra’s evaluation of our customer service, which Targetprocess users also applauded in their 350+ testimonials on the site. Part of the reason why we scored so well is because of our comprehensive customer service resources.

✓ We’ve got Live Chat
✓ We've got tutorial videos
✓ We've got a user guide that literally answers thousands of questions
✓ We've got direct email support
✓ We've got an iOS and Android app

And we've got all the integrations you could ever want. That's really no exaggeration--we have over 50 integrations along with Tasktop, an integration system built specifically for project management products (especially those related to DevOps).

A Customizable Yet Straightforward Project Visualization Tool

As Capterra looked through project management tools with outstanding user-friendly features, they also paid attention to the distribution of reviews. We totally get that it's almost impossible to compare a tool with one review against our fantastically vocal user base, so Capterra created an algorithm that specifically put pressure on how different project management tools fared in customer service and ease of use.

Naturally, we killed it.

And by "killed it," we mean "blew out our competition."

According to Capterra's data, Targetprocess outscored some of the biggest names in project management, including Asana, Wrike, and Mavenlink. That's a big deal for us--we've looked up to these brands so long that it's encouraging to see that project management users prefer our take on visual simplicity.

Unfortunately, the data doesn't specify how far ahead or behind the rest of the products we are outside of a few brands who definitively outscored us, all of which are not specific to Agile and largely function as task management tools: Freedcamp, Monday.com, Yalla, and InLoox PM. Nevertheless, these platforms deserve praise.

Celebrating the best easy to use project management software.

On to the next round of evaluations for the best easy to use project management software?

They continue to set the highest standard of customer engagement, and we will continue striving to meet their level of customer enthusiasm.

The Best Free Project Management Software According to Reviews?

Going beyond the most user-friendly report, we were recently featured in Capterra in another way.

We're really proud of our free project management software option--it's generous enough to run the projects of a small team, and it doesn't skimp on any of our features.

Every year, the site rounds up a list of The Top Free and Open Source Project Management Software. The authors write that "It’s more difficult to make our list as a top free project management tool than it is to gain acceptance into Harvard." We believe it.

That's why we were delighted when we were selected as the top free project management tool "for Agile teams." The Capterra team writes,

Targetprocess is a specialized project management tool that lends itself well to Agile project management frameworks such as Kanban boards and Scrum. The tool offers functionalities such as custom workflows, team capacity planning, time tracking, and issue management. Targetprocess is an ideal tool for software development teams that need customized workflows for planning sprints, estimating user stories, and product backlog grooming. The tool also offers excellent reporting and tracking capabilities, and at a glance, you can view dashboard summaries of project progress, time spent by project members on tasks, and even granular reports such as bug trends per feature release.

Heavens to Betsy, we're still blushing!

Capterra isn't the only place that's taken a close look at our easy to use project management software and decided it's one of the best. Even G2Crowd, in their epic roundup of free project management tools, praised Targetprocess as an intuitive top Agile program:

With Targetprocess, project managers and team members can see the “big picture” via the solution’s distraction-free overview and scalable hierarchy. Targetprocess specifically doesn’t utilize Gantt charts to display progress of projects. The solution encourages agile workflow processes, transparency through social media-esque notifications, and the identification of problems and management of risks.

(You can also find us listed as one of the best free project management software on sites like Tools of Excellence, Daxx, and Everhour, all of which mention that we're an easy to use project management software, particularly for Agile teams.)

Would it be a jump to say that Targetprocess is the best free easy to use project management software? We know our bias, which is why we listen so closely to yours.

Targetprocess is Easy to Use Because We Put Our Customers First

We're proud of how professional project management software evaluators and real user reviewers have evaluated our simple visual project management program. In the spirit of Capterra's Top 20 Most User-Friendly Project Management Report, we created a graphic celebrating some of our favorite Targetprocess reviews across multiple domains.

Our users advocate for us everywhere.

"As a Product Owner, I use Targetprocess every single day, from the very beginning of a project when I prepare the roadmap to the last release of the software. And everyone in the team uses it as well, allowing me to know in real-time which user story has been started or which bug has been fixed... Try it and I am sure you'll adopt it!"
Targetprocess reviews on Capterra

"Targetprocess has the best support line that I have ever worked with. They are very responsive and always willing to help thanks to LiveChat built-in app that is provided. Also each customer [gets] a dedicated Product Specialist to whom you may address more complex issues which require special attention."
Targetprocess reviews on Gartner Peer Insights

"Targetprocess (TP) makes it very easy to manage a wide range of projects in the app. This ease of use is not accidental, rather the people behind TP listen carefully to their customers and iterate on the feedback. As a result, you have the application, which allows you to define your custom project structure, create a one-off or permanent dashboard, and switch between different ways of looking at the same data."
Targetprocess reviews on G2Crowd

"We have a small company and the free license has been enough for more than one year, so far we haven't paid for anything! We are certain that we want to keep this tool working in our company so we will be glad to move from the free to the paid plan when the time comes."
Targetprocess reviews on SoftwareAdvice

"When I started using Targetprocess I didn't pay much attention to its slogan: "Visualize everything." But that is really its strength... These features in Targetprocess are in my opinion unbeatable and I have evaluated many, many tools before I finally found this piece of gold."
Targetprocess reviews on GetApp

All of these are 100% verified Targetprocess reviews from real users

Targetprocess and Ease of Use

We're not a perfect tool and we're not a perfect company. We've made some major changes over the past few months and have massively appreciated the positive feedback we've been getting from all these sources. It's humbling. It's energizing. It's an awesome reminder of why we do what we do: create easy-to-use visual software so that teams can focus on knowledge work instead of tiring technical tickets.

Want to contribute? Consider leaving a review for Targetprocess, sharing this article, and leaving a comment. We're thrilled to be included in Capterra's report, and we look forward to our inclusion again (hopefully!) next year.

Review Targetprocess

We'd love to hear your opinion!

Capterra
Finances Online
G2Crowd
Gartner Peer Insights
GetApp
PCMag
SoftwareAdvice
TechnologyAdvice

3 weeks ago

4 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Inspire Honest Feedback at Work

As a former art student, I still sweat if you ask me about portfolio reviews.

Review days were often a harrowing experience. After long hours and late nights of work, my classmates and I would post our prints up on a carpeted wall with thumbtacks through the corners, one person at a time, with the hope of hearing some honest feedback.

I love positive honest feedback

I love positive honest feedback, don't you?

More often than not my prints were analyzed, dissected, and deflated by my peers. And after it felt like everything had been ripped to shreds, my prints came down, someone else's went up, and the process began again.

It should have been a positive experience. The long-term goal was to gain a better understanding of what worked, what didn’t, and the best direction to take the work next time.

Of course, it also came with a grade attached.

Whether you are a project manager overseeing a team or looking to communicate more effectively with your teammates, soliciting, accepting, and providing feedback is always part of the job. Making sure that feedback is honest and direct is the most effective way to communicate constructively, whether that message is negative or positive. And the science is there to prove it.

I'm not sure how that works

Explain the psychology of feedback to me

For example, did you know that if you are untruthful, it can damage your work performance? A recent Ernst & Young study found that “moral stress,” or the “bad feeling” you get after telling half-truths or outright lying, can result in a 20% decline in work performance. Furthermore, research from The British Psychological Society found that aversion to providing negative but candid feedback from peers or between manager and subordinate could be a sign that the workplace promotes low self-esteem among workers.

Luckily, the research also shows that forthright exchanges between employees have clear, direct benefits. Gartner recently released a report that found high-quality peer feedback could be attributed to “boosting employee performance by as much as 14%.” The Journal of Applied Psychology found that managers largely become fairer over time when given consistent, honest feedback, especially from their reports.

There’s a difference between “honest” and “constructive,” though.

Positive portfolio reviews (if there were any) aren’t the ones I still remember. Once, a photo that I was particularly fond of came back with a post-it note review from my professor. “The light gleaming through the window is one of those examples where you have to wonder if it was skill or luck that was responsible,” my professor wrote.

I didn’t feel like he was leaning towards skill.

If it was just luck, as my professor seemed to imply, there wasn’t any useful information in his note that I could build on next time. I was left to interpret his meaning, and guess at what the next step should be. Honest feedback could have been the backbone of the portfolio review sessions. Had my professor followed these guidelines, we could have improved the classroom communication and, eventually, our work, together. Here are a few ideas that would have worked in our classroom, and will work for you too.

1. Create a Psychologically Safe Environment

Supportive team members create a psychologically safe environment

Psychological safety is about support.

The constructive criticism I received at those portfolio review sessions could have improved my artwork. Under more positive conditions, I think it would have.

So how do you go about creating an environment at work where honest feedback can be shared openly and without creating friction between team members?

Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, shares three easy guidelines to help teams communicate effectively while pinpointing, learning from, and eventually overcoming communication problems.

The first step is to recognize uncertainty and the necessity of interdependence among team members working on a project. She says. “Frame the work as a learning problem, not an execution problem.” Acknowledge that your team is tackling a problem that no one knows the answer to yet. Because everyone is going to be learning together as you go along, it is especially important to have everyone’s voice involved in the process finding a solution.

Your team has the best opportunity to grow when everyone speaks up, asks questions, and improves together.

The second step to creating a psychologically safe environment is to acknowledge that even you, project manager or not, are going to make mistakes (because we all know that everyone makes mistakes).

Show your colleagues that you’re open to feedback when something doesn’t go right, and they will
be more likely to let you know when they see it happen, improving the project.

Here is a calculator to help you determine how open you are with your colleagues.

If they feel safe offering feedback, they will feel safer receiving it as well.

Finally, Edmondson stresses the importance of modeling your own curiosity. “Ask a lot of questions,” she says. “That actually creates a necessity for voice.”

Todd B. Kashdan suggests that one way to do this is by starting meetings by opening up space for creative ideas to emerge.

“When ideas are in their infancy, search for what is interesting and ask questions. They can be tough questions, as long as they arise from the desire to gain knowledge as opposed to the need to exert control.”

Promote the practice of sharing thoughts amongst the team, opening up the space for good and bad ideas. It makes it easy for everyone to get involved and to pick the best ones.

2. Seek out Feedback for Yourself

Ask for feedback at work

Ask for advice

One way to make sure your coworker is comfortable hearing your feedback is to ask for feedback yourself. It will help build trust between the two of you, which is essential to making honest feedback stick.

Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University, told Business Insider that the best thing to do is to ask a colleague for their advice rather than their opinion. Specifically, Cialdini says, “When you ask for someone’s opinion, here’s what that person does: psychologically, they take a half-step back from you. They separate and they go into themselves to find an answer.”

He adds that, better yet, “asking for advice causes [your colleague] to take a half step towards you psychologically, to put themselves in a partnership, collaborative, cooperative state of mind. And the research shows they become more supportive of your plan or idea before they experience it.”

Building that foundation of trust doesn’t have to be hard. It can be simple actions like praising others’ accomplishments, sharing information, and trusting your teammates. It may seem obvious, but by allowing yourself to trust your co-workers' skills, they are likely to see you as trustworthy as well, helping to create that bond.

3. Listening is Important, Too

Listen carefully

Listen carefully

During those infamous portfolio review sessions, one rule my professor enforced was that you weren’t allowed to talk when your work was up on the wall.

No defending yourself, no explaining your thought process.

It is easy to get defensive and try to protect yourself when a group of peers is doing their best to find flaws in your hard work. But by removing the opportunity to explain your intent you had to really pay attention to how your peers understood your work.

You just had to sit there and listen.

And sure, my professor’s words carried a little more weight because he was, after all, the one giving me a grade; he was the named authority. But I sometimes struggled to take my classmates seriously. They were peers, and half the time I could see their eyes gloss over as I critiqued their work. Why should I listen to their feedback if they didn't want to hear what I had to say?

When it comes to teams, giving and receiving feedback becomes even more complicated between peers. Everyone is responsible for the end product as opposed to an individual artist working solo. When there are problems to be addressed, it can be a recipe for pointing fingers instead of constructive critique.

Amy Edmondson, who also contributed to the section on creating a safe environment, tells the story of a study worked on as a young researcher. She wanted to know, “do better hospital patient care teams make fewer mistakes?” (You can find the specific part of her speech referencing the quantitative effects of honest feedback here.) With the help of trained nurse investigators, she evaluated the highest performing teams and combined it with data on how many mistakes were reported per team. Initially, it appeared that the best teams were making the most mistakes. It was only after further study that it became clear that the best teams were reporting more errors because they were also the most willing to openly discuss them, and to use them as a learning experience from which everyone could improve.

A surprisingly good resource for demonstrating active listening is the Auditor General’s office of the Australian government. They outlined the three stages of understanding when it comes to hearing and accepting feedback in a productive way.

  1. Be aware of your initial reaction, and be able to moderate it. Processing feedback will take more than a few seconds, and you don’t want to seem dismissive.
  2. Reflect on your own performance and ask for specific examples to help you understand the feedback.
  3. Respond by thanking the person giving the feedback. Being open to receiving feedback helps to build trust between colleagues. Then focus on future improvements and provide specific steps to move forward.

4. Be Supportive With Feedback

Constructive honest feedback

Constructive honest feedback

Writing in Psychology Today, Emma M. Seppälä says, “Not only can feedback given in a supportive way be honest, it is immeasurably more effective than blunt criticism in three critical ways: It motivates performance, is less likely to be misinterpreted, and uplifts rather than crushing employees.”

It is equally important to provide specific examples with positive and negative feedback. Highlighting particular strengths will reinforce what is working and encourage development. Offering criticism with specific guidelines for improvement will make the solution tangible.

Rather than telling someone “your work is sloppy," a better way to frame it would be “Your report had the right research, great analysis, and excellent organization. With a little bit of tweaking to some rough spots with spelling and grammar, I think we'll be able to present it to the board."

Dr. Kristina Hallet, a clinical psychologist and executive coach, says “If employees are primed to give and receive honest feedback as part of what moves the whole team forward, this tends to go better.” 

She continues,

“Feedback should start with what people are doing right – and be detailed and specific. Following this with detailed commentary on specific areas that can be improved, with accompanying suggestions for change and availability of resources, makes it easier to take in and process the feedback. Finally, the feedback needs to be neutral and geared toward content, not personal. It’s personalized negative feedback that disrupts interpersonal relationships among colleagues.”

When it comes to negative feedback, it can be tough to be critical of a team member. After all, when you have to work together every day you want to be on good terms with each other. But most people want to hear the hard truth.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman argue against the default assumption that most managers dislike giving negative feedback because they assume that people don’t like to receive it. In their survey of 899 people, Zenger and Folkman found that 57% of survey respondents prefer receiving corrective feedback and “when asked what was most helpful in their career, fully 72% said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback.”

Unsurprising? Knowing how to improve should help you improve, after all. The more significant takeaway from Zenger and Folkman's research was that honest feedback is a two-way street. They “found that subordinates whose managers did not listen to their point of view before offering up feedback were significantly less interested in receiving negative feedback.”

So again, the first step for a project manager or peer that is trying to reach a colleague and share feedback that is effective and supportive is to be open to receiving it.

Honest Feedback is Good Feedback

Honest feedback

Some honest feedback is more helpful than others

In an art class, there may not be any way to avoid a bruised ego when portfolio reviews are involved. Thankfully, the workplace generally recognizes that sticking everyone’s ideas with thumbtacks and putting them up on a wall just to punch them full of holes is not the best way to foster productive teamwork.

Building trust among team members by being open to honest feedback, and providing it with specific, helpful, examples go a long way toward creating safe environments where projects can thrive.

And if nothing else, avoid passive-aggressive sticky notes (or blog posts). They aren’t going to endear you to anyone.

Do you have any tricks or tips for promoting honest feedback among your team members? Be sure to let me know in the comments.