Tool: Reinforcing Feedback Loops

One of the key objectives of transformation is building Sustainable Practices. For that to happen, knowledge workers must naturally evolve their practical understanding  that a certain practice produces benefits to the process. On the opposite, when people fail to see value in a particular practice, this almost surely leads to practice deterioration (see Black Diamond anti-pattern). This is important because people are not machines. To follow a certain process, they need to continuously experience the benefit that the process offers.

Reinforcing Feedback Loops (RFL) are precisely designed to solve this type of problem. This is a type of loops that, besides other things, continuously reinforce understanding that a practice delivers value to the organization.


Practice: Test Automation.

Reinforcing Feedback Loops:

  • Catching new and unexpected defects early in the process
  • Catching regression bugs
  • Tests continuously offer a hint as to what the system does

Some practices are relatively easy to identify and properly instantiate such loops. Others are harder. But regardless whether it is easy or hard, it needs to be done as even in easy cases, if loops not instantiated, the practice will likely begin to deteriorate.

Typical examples of practices for which RFL is harder to create lie in practice that support:

  1. Regulatory requirements (the whole point of FAA regulations, for instance, is for plains not to crash; it is harder to see however how doing “XYZ” actually prevents incidents from happening)
  2. Security, reliability and a number of other nonfunctional considerations that are difficult to properly validate, which is due to the rare nature of “trigger” events, just like in the example above
  3. Anything that involves long feedback cycle

Thorough exploratory testing and simulations represent a relatively good surrogate for solving the problem in 1 and 2. In case of 3, proxy measures can be very useful, as they often can be achieved within much shorter timeframe.

In some cases, however, when such RFLs are hard to establish, it is critical to carefully watch for potentially over-constrained system (see Benefit-Constrain Analysis and Relax Constraint thinking tools). Sometimes the fact that people don’t see value in a practice, really means that there’s no value or that there’s no value in the way that practice is being adopted. Oftentimes this results in various shortcuts that may in fact suggest a more viable practice configuration in particular context.

Figure 1. An example of a “legitimized” shortcut. The picture was taken in Boulder, Colorado in March of 2017.

If such useful shortcuts were identified, the next step is to legitimize them and not consider them as shortcuts but rather a normal way (or one of such ways) of performing work.


Ⓒ Org Mindset, LLC