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Feedback Loop

In 1982 Walter Doherty and Ahrvind Thadani published, in the IBM Systems Journal, a research paper that set the requirement for computer response time to be 400 milliseconds, not 2,000 (2 seconds) which had been the previous standard. It was found that when a human being’s command was executed and returned an answer In under 400 milliseconds, it was deemed to exceed the Doherty threshold, and use of such applications were deemed to be fast and “addicting” to users.

I see this all the time when I create applications for clients. The speed at which they get a response from a button click or tapping on the navigation affects the way they perceive the application. Kayak was famous for slowing down the loading of the screens that displayed your flight results to give the effect that the application was "thinking" or working hard to get you the best results and Instagram got praise for images seeming to upload insanely fast because they were uploading the images in the background while you typed the caption and chose the geolocation. Pretending that your user interface is faster or slower than it actually is, is a well-worn trick for creating great user experiences.

What I discovered recently is that this phenomenon is not just bound to technology. I found this is also part of human interaction. I have seen this from two angles. I find contracts I get that are larger than a month long, there has to be constant feedback with the client. This I discovered a while ago, what I found interesting recently is that it also goes the other way around. If I am dealing with a client that absorbs all the status reports but gives no feedback, the motivation of the project wanes. I have thought about this a lot recently and what the adequate threshold is. I found in any vibrant productive project, there is a solid flow of back and forth between the team executing a project and the decision maker. This could be the manager within a company, the CEO or a client of a consultancy, basically a feedback loop of what is getting done and how well it is getting done. I have made this mistake also with developers who what worked for me. In the beginning, they send me reports, I get excited, there is a flurry of communication and after a while, I just scan the reports because I trust them now and I know they are progressing, but ALWAYS I see they lose interest in the project and suddenly all the work turns to shit.

Living in Nigeria it is always easy to blame the work ethic or culture of the people but it was not until recently that I discovered that I was depriving them of something essential... Meaning. If you look around to most hard working people you know, almost all of them want to work on something that is impactful, something that affects other people. When they do work and they get no feedback, it feels like all the work is going into a black hole, it feels like all the work is in vain. I found a client is comfortable and feels like work is getting done on a big project if they get a weekly or BiWeekly update, I find the executing team feels like adequate feedback is given between a day or week from their update, anything above this and people start to drift. The other extreme of this is micromanaging the team and that also is not the answer... similar to the Dorothy Threshold the answer is in a range.