Using Feedback Loops to Create Digital Products Users Will Love

Continuous learning is critical to product development for startups. Learn how to use feedback loops to build a product based on verified customer needs.

5 min
December 10, 2021
Ryan Hatch
Head of Product Strategy & Innovation

Most new product ideas fail. Why?

It’s not that product teams can’t execute the technology. It’s that people tend to build what they want — instead of what the market really needs.

It’s easy to see why that happens. We all fall in love with our own ideas. And bright, shiny, beloved new ideas are at the heart of most digital startups.

Many begin with the assumption that their big idea is precisely what the market needs. That’s understandable, but getting too attached to that idea can undermine your end goal: to create a sustainable business with a market-approved product to support it.  

The answer to this question may be a tough pill to swallow, but are you sure the idea you’re chasing is the right one? 

The sooner you can say to yourself, “I am not my audience, and I am going to be wrong (at least some of the time),” the sooner you can develop a real sense of curiosity. That sense of curiosity will encourage you to get out of your head and get feedback from the world around you.

The faster you are able to learn, the faster you’ll be able to respond, and the fewer painful lessons you’ll have to learn. 

But how? 

The solution lies in implementing a system of continuous feedback loops that inform your design and development process from start to finish.

Here’s how.

What is a feedback loop?

Put simply, a feedback loop is an information-iteration cycle that allows for continuous learning. Instead of acquiring information, acting on it, and calling it done, the new information is acted upon and the results evaluated. The resulting answers will provide new information, which is once again used to provide input for feedback. 

Think of it this way:

If you held your eyes closed, how well could you walk through your own house? Even in a space you know very intimately, you'd move slowly.

You'd struggle. You’d probably need to use your hands to reorient yourself to what is otherwise a very familiar space.

Now think about moving through a space you don't know. How well could you walk across town with your eyes closed?

Instead of just stumbling through the exercise, the entire experiment would become quite dangerous.

You use feedback loops all the time in your everyday life. So much so that you take these feedback loops for granted.

Sometimes we get stuck in our heads, but the truth is that we need to orient ourselves to the world around us. Am I heading in the right direction? Where am I? What's around me? What obstacles are ahead?

Feedback loops provide the real-time insights necessary to answer those critically important questions.

visual graphic explaining how customer feedback loops help you better understand your customers

The benefits of continuous feedback in digital product development

In an ideal world, your company would be directly interacting with customers at least once a week. From those interactions, you can quickly implement small, quick changes, then test them to see what the results are. Because receiving continuous feedback will provide you with information on your changes relatively quickly, you’ll be able to ascertain what further adjustments are necessary—before causing yourself a huge headache.

Nothing in the world is static, including customers’ needs. A user who wants one thing in year one may still want to use your product in year three. But it’s likely that their needs related to your product will have changed by then. How do you stay on top of those changing needs? Through continuous interaction with customers.

Similar to a domino effect, it’s important to realize that when users adopt your product, that change may subsequently alter their entire workflow.

Think about it this way:

Let’s say you decide to buy a camper for your family. Once that purchase is made, you realize you need a truck to haul it. Similarly, if a company adopts a new product that automates a piece of their workflow, that will change how the company interacts with the rest of their systems, and thus, may change other needs.

Open your eyes and start interacting with the world around you.

Drop the ego. Step out of fear and dreaming. Be willing to be wrong.

Your idea will change, and that's okay. Feedback is the only way you can navigate this long, winding journey of building your product.

To Implement Feedback Loops, Get in a Learning Mindset

To successfully receive and implement feedback, first make sure you’re in the right frame of mind. 

Product teams generally operate in one of two mindsets: execution or learning. Teams operating strictly in an execution mindset focus on the nuts-and-bolts steps required to execute on their product roadmap. 

Execution mindset

You want to be in an execution mindset when you have a high degree of confidence about the feature or product you intend to build. You may also dip into execution mode if you have reason to believe that taking a first step in a particular direction will unlock other opportunities or help you glean more meaningful insights in the learning phase.   

The problem is that many teams leap-frog right into an execution mindset when they really need to start in a learning mindset. 

Learning mindset

Teams operating in a learning mindset are gathering information and validating hypotheses, not running and gunning through a punch list of development tasks. Rather than completing tasks, you are trying to learn as much as you can to make sure the tasks you do add to your list are the most important and useful ones.

Continuous Discovery Habits with Teresa Torres

We had the opportunity to chat with Teresa Torres on this topic recently. You can watch or listen to the interview below.

You'll learn about:

  • Where product teams struggle most
  • Synthesis and communication to key stakeholders
  • Collaborating with sales teams for interviews

How do I implement feedback loops?

You’ve got your great idea. Maybe it’s a new feature or a new product. Now it’s time to take a moment and evaluate the risks. Where are there questions about your idea that the market could answer? 

Decisions are best made with reliable information. The more information you have, the more informed and evidence-based your decisions will be. Everything else is what we call “guessing.” And guessing is a very poor approach to business investments.

Start engaging with your target market

Instead of guessing, start engaging with your target market. Ask questions about the problems they’re encountering in your space and what they’re hoping to achieve. Can they describe how your product would help them? Would they put down a deposit for a product like yours today?

Once you have gathered data, it’s time to synthesize that information and use the insights you’ve collected to begin asking new questions.

Aim to answer specific questions

How you go about implementing the philosophy of continuous learning will depend on what type of information you’re looking for. New products should answer a series of critical questions designed to identify the customer needs your product can meet and the unique gap in the market you aim to fill.

The questions evolve as you learn more, but you should move from question to question extremely fast to gather more data about your target market, glean how much demand exists in the market, and determine what it will take to activate new users.

Defining success with feedback loops

How do you know it's working well? When you're able to answer the most important questions quickly using market insights.

By implementing feedback loops early and often, you will hold space for your curiosity to run free. As you learn lessons, your curiosity is engaged and lessons are learned more quickly, and thus, less painfully. 

Learning those lessons is, in some ways, an ego test. The answers may not be what you expected—in fact, they likely won’t be. But is it more important to create what you want or something valued by the market?

Actionable UX audit kit

  • Guide with Checklist
  • UX Audit Template for Figma
  • UX Audit Report Template for Figma
  • Walkthrough Video
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