Where Can You Create Reinforcing (Virtuous) Feedback Loops?

I love to make it easy for me to do my best work. To do so, I need to think about what I want to reinforce and what I want to dampen. When I create reinforcing—or virtuous—feedback loops, I use my data to do more of what I want. However, that’s not always easy to do.

I already said I like to use games in What Games Do You Create to Succeed in Life and Work?

Sometimes, I use personal reinforcing feedback loops, such as for my writing. My writing spreadsheet creates a reinforcing loop for my writing practice. The more days I write, the more I see I can write. I hate to let a day go by without writing.

Other times, we need team-based reinforcing feedback loops. When I work with teams that want to use agility, I ask them to measure their cycle time. (See how to measure cycle time in Measure Cycle Time, Not Velocity and Why Minimize Management Decision Time for managers.)

Why do I call these reinforcing or virtuous loops? Because we can see “better” data in the measure.

Most of the time, I want to write more words. (I realize this is an activity, not a deliverable, but I can’t deliver something unless I perform the activity. I can’t write a book or a chapter in a day. Even when I write a lot, I can’t write a chapter in a day, yet.) When I see a consistent word count, I’m more likely to finish some specific writing piece.

Alternatively, we often want to lower cycle time, so we can release more product faster. Again, the “better” is in the measure itself.

These data work for me. You might need something else, especially if you’re not releasing products of some sort.

Consider These Steps for Reinforcing, Virtuous Feedback Loops

Here’s what I do:

  1. Identify the outcome I want. In my writing, it’s blog posts, articles, short stories, books. For agile teams, it’s releasing value the customer can use. Who can use that outcome? Is there a w- or h-word that will help you create a measure? (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How. I tend to use the What, When, and Why to generate outcomes.)
  2. Based on that outcome, is there a direct measure I can use? I often write a blog post in an hour or so. But, sometimes, it takes longer. I rarely write an article in just a day. It takes me longer to write short stories and books. In each case, I can use my word count as a surrogate measure. Agile teams can learn to split stories and collaborate so they can release a feature in a day. That’s why I use cycle time for each story.
  3. Test that measure to see if it creates the outcome you want. My word count data work for me right now. When I learn to write a chapter or a short story a day every day, I might well move from my activity-based measure to an outcome-based measure. Especially if I can see my cycle time for a story or a book.

The more we use reinforcing measures, the more we can create these virtuous feedback loops.

The question this week is: Where can you create reinforcing (virtuous) feedback loops? If you use another way, please let me know.

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