10/50/99: how to give feedback

11 min

Feedback in a company like Batman in Gotham. Everyone expects her to fly in and save everyone, she will direct him on the true path. But sometimes, judging by the sensations, instead of Batman, the Joker flies in and destroys your project.

For us, as for most modern companies, the question of feedback is quite acute: when, to whom and how to give it correctly. We are trying different approaches. Recently found interesting material that we share with you. Under a cat about the principle of feedback “10/50/99”, how to help and not to ruin.

One hundred years ago I was a web designer and freelance developer. And I happened to make a website for a company that was engaged in water treatment. Exciting, right? I was young and, frankly, did not even fully understand what the guys in this company were doing.

At the very beginning of the project, we were in equal positions with the CEO (customer): he just wanted a cool site. As I! So I went and did it. Inspired by the latest design trends and modern development standards, I came up with three masterpiece (as I myself thought then) options.

And then a terrible thing happened – the worst nightmare of any designer: the CEO asked me to “make one small change”, and, in fact, add an ugly design solution that turned my masterpiece from the Great to the Vile.

I was covered with frustration. I recalled all of Dilbert’s comics, where the CEO bursts in at the last minute and destroys everything.

At that moment, I hated the site and the project. And the only thing I wanted was to end this urgently. For many years, I recalled this CEO and thought: “Why on earth did he try to control the design if he paid me money to be a designer !? He knows nothing about design! ”

… But then I noticed that I started giving feedback in exactly the same way.

How to ruin everything in one feedback

Fast forward to these days: now I’m the CEO myself (my project Soapbox) Cool specialists worked with me – rock stars in their fields. But when they showed me their work and asked for feedback, I caught myself thinking that “I’m turning their masterpieces from the Great to the Vile.”

They worked hard for weeks, carefully thinking through every detail, and then showing me the final results. And it was I, at the last minute, who ruined their work.

I saw it by their faces and recalled how I once made the same face. What the heck? I was not a bad guy. And he didn’t try to spoil everything … but he spoiled it.

The result of their work was magnificent, but it did not fit into the picture of “our common masterpiece”. When I noticed such a discrepancy, I proposed solutions from the series: “Hmm, something is wrong here, somehow crooked, try changing this …” This intrusion was my attempt to relate the symptoms to a problem that I did not suspect: we did not have a single project context.

The next time I noticed a “crooked masterpiece”, I was no longer trying to fix it. I just shared the general context of the project. And you know what? IT WAS ANOTHER WORSE. This time my feedback caused tears.

The message that I broadcast to them rolled down from “Fix one thing” to “Everything that you have done in recent weeks was a mistake.”

Immersing yourself in the context is a good idea, but the time that I have chosen for this is not. I needed to give a feedback and a hard vision of the project at the very early stage of the project. And for this to happen, my team needed to invite me much earlier, although it seemed completely illogical (after all, no one shows the teacher an unfinished assignment at school?).

That’s when the 10/50/99 approach saved me. He helped protect people from frustration and taught me how to share the missing context at the right time.

Looping around the story: at that moment I realized why that guy with water filters made me make his site vile. He wanted the site to fit his ideas and goals. I wanted to resent “Why were you silent before?”, But actually I had to ask for a general context at the beginning or to request feedback as soon as I got down to business, and not delay until the last moment to show the final version of the project.

Next will be a 10/50/99 approach that will save your projects from failure, and your team from tears.

Disclaimer: I did not come up with this approach. I am sure that I read about 10/50/99 about 10 years ago. I remember this well, but I can’t find the proof in Google. Besides me they wrote about it one or two times.

What is 10/50/99 feedback?

Imagine that any project can be divided into three phases of readiness – 10%, 50% and 99%, where:

  • 10% readiness – almost nothing has been done;
  • 50% readiness – the main components of the project begin to connect with each other;
  • 99% readiness – everything is ready, it remains to check spelling, grammar, etc.

10/50/99% of the feedback corresponds to the volume of feedback that you can share at each of these stages of work.

Super obvious and super important: the only feedback you can give at the 10% stage is 10% feedback. You should not give 10% feedback at the final 99% stage. And vice versa: you cannot give 99% feedback at 10%.

The idea behind the approach is how much time and energy this type of feedback saves. When this becomes the general rule of providing feedback for everyone in the company, a single language of communication is developed. For instance:

The contractor shows the first developments: “I am at the 10% stage.”

Someone points to a typo: “Here it is written incorrectly …”.

Literally everyone else in the room: “We are now at 10%. Save it for later. ”

Stage 10% project readiness

The earliest stage of any project is the 10% readiness stage. When a project is just a sketch, outline, bullet list, brief. Sometimes this stage takes only 10 minutes.

At this stage there is nothing “good” that I would like to show to others. And this is the most difficult feedback that you have to give and receive, because people don’t like to show their “bad” work to colleagues and bosses.

It seems to me that this is especially difficult for the Jones: how to show a project that is 10% ready and look cool at the same time? A feeling of pain is inevitable, because it seems that you are showing unfinished work. How can you show the viability of a project without going into details?

The project itself and the executor are in a psychologically “unsafe” position at this moment, so it is important to be delicate and think carefully about the feedback. One careless word can ruin a project. Seriously.

How not to give feedback at the 10% stage

Of all the stages, it is here that people who give feedback most often make mistakes.

For example, the designer comes with the first draft layout, and the lead designer gives a feedback: “The logo is not centered.” This makes the designer think like this: “My boss thinks I’m a bad designer, that I tried too little, that I had to pay more attention to details.” He wants to do a better job and next time he will come to a meeting at 10% readiness with a color Hi-Fi layout and full stuffing.

How to give feedback at the 10% stage

At the 10% readiness stage, you should give feedback about the general vision (single vision) and the direction in which the work is going. It should be easy for performers to change the current direction of work without feeling that everything has gone down the drain. No one’s feelings should be hurt, even if everyone in the meeting room decides “you know, this whole undertaking is a waste of time, we diverge”.

At 10% of the readiness stage, you should discuss the project itself:

  • What is the purpose of this project?
  • What is the desired result?
  • Why are we doing this project at all?

All this you should discuss now to find a common language, direction and vision that will drive the project. By fixing the agreements at an early stage of the process, you save yourself (and your team) from painful and unnecessary debate later (closer to the deadline for the project to fail). In other words: if someone wants to discuss a brief project, he must do it now or let him shut up forever.

Take notes. Write down the decisions that came to your mind at this point. You will regret later if you do not. You will need them in the future if you decide to change something.

And this is exactly what I am seeking: as a CEO, I want to discuss the concept. Because at this point I can add value.

As your team delves deeper into the project, you should (ideally) give less and less feedback. Because they are experts in their field, and you are not. As a leader, you can and should offer your feedback at the earliest stage in order to translate inconsistent ideas in the right direction. It is much cheaper to do now than later.

Stage 50% project readiness

This is the first draft. Colorless layout. And if you think that it is difficult for employees to roll out 10% readiness for all to see, then the 50% readiness stage can be even worse. After all, on it they deliberately show their unfinished work.

Typos, stubs instead of images, text templates. Large chunks of the project can still be discussed and swapped. At this stage, you need to confirm that everyone is moving in the right direction, discuss the skeleton of the project, argue about the form of the text, without digging into the grammar and spelling.

Do not grind. If you give feedback on small details at this stage, you will ruin everything. People will rate your comments as criticism and not as feedback. The next time they come with three ready-made versions of the project and just ask to choose one of them. And they will not enter into dialogue. And they will be disappointed.

How to give feedback at the stage of 50%

To give feedback at this point, take out the notes you made at 10%. Look at the vision and direction that you agreed with the team then, and check if 50% of the project matches those discussions.

The middle of the process is a difficult stage. The direction and purpose are no longer discussed, but you still can’t find fault with words. Here you look at the overall structure or layout. This is also the right step to get feedback from other departments or teams, if necessary. On the one hand, the project has advanced far enough for other departments to have a clear idea of ​​the goals and brief, on the other hand, there is still time for changes based on feedback.

Ask the person leading the project to voice the following:

“We are at the 50% readiness stage. The objectives that we agreed on for the project:

  • Goal number one.
  • Goal number two.
  • Goal number three.

We are halfway. The feedback that we expect and which can help us at this stage looks like this:

  • Example number one.
  • Example number two.
  • Example number three. “

Stage 99% project readiness

The project is almost ready. At this stage, everyone already wants to start a project to death, the expectation seems unbearable, it is impossible to wait for the parties concerned to take a final look and tune.

The whole stage is 99% about small details. Finally it’s time to find fault and get to the bottom! Do links work? Are we tracking the indicators we need correctly? Are there any typos? Are there any bugs?

Now it is no longer possible to return to a discussion of a goal or structure. We figured this out in the past. Return to those notes if necessary.

How to give feedback at the stage of 99%

It is time for the picky feedback that it was tempting to give throughout the project! See a spelling mistake? Excellent! Distances a few millimeters less than necessary? Awesome! At this stage, most of the feedback should come from the team (i.e. experts), not from the leader.

And anyway … If you have a good team that you trust, you can skip this stage. Your participation is no longer required. Entrust them with their work and do not bring to micromanagement.

However, difficulties may arise here. Throughout the project, everyone was dying of the desire to give 99% feedback at the wrong time. And now that the time is right for this, people may be trying to get back to 10% feedback. Again and again. Your task as a leader is simply to make sure that they do not.

There are still cases when 99% feedback becomes a nightmare for its recipient. The brain turns off, the autopilot turns on. And a person begins to make all the changes that he is told about. Your task is to recall the goals of the project so that the performers can separate the good feedback from the bad.

In addition

It will be a little difficult

  1. It is difficult if your team does not have an atmosphere of psychological security. Easy if there is one.

    Naturally, everyone is afraid of 10% and 50% feedback, because it hurts to show unfinished work to people you want to impress.

    It is logical that employees have this fear – throughout the school and the university you get grades for the finished homework or control. And now all of a sudden you have to be free, from the very beginning to attract people and be prepared for the fact that the projects will be completed even before someone really sees what you are capable of.

    As a leader, you must create a psychologically safe space in which your team will feel comfortable sharing their work at every stage of this process. When you reach this level, the results will be phenomenal. People will feel more comfortable sharing their work and their opinions.

  2. It is difficult to restrain yourself when you really want to share your opinion.

    In my experience, it is difficult for any leader to spread the feedback into stages and not to poke spelling errors at the 10% stage.

    Everything is complicated by the fact that few people know how to give feedback on the principle of 10/50/99. This skill needs to be trained, and most people believe that everything should happen naturally. In addition, people often confuse constructive feedback with overly harsh criticism out of context. People may think that it’s normal to be harsh because they are open and honest, but they are not the same thing. Excessive harshness or incorrect feedback at the wrong stage will only warm employees’ fears. As a result, the level of psychological safety in your team will decrease.

Three Approach Tips

After several years of using the approach, I formulated tips that will help the 10/50/99 approach work for you and your team.

  1. Match the right feedback with the right stage.

    Although I have already said this a hundred times in the article, it’s worth repeating again. Once again. Once again. Because it is the most difficult thing to realize.

    For this feedback approach to work, each participant must be responsible for providing the right feedback at the right time. That is, every time a feedback does not rush to the stage of project readiness, it is necessary to indicate this and not accept it. Everytime.

  2. Work on building trust.

    Your team must believe that you do not want to ruin their work. And you, as a leader, must believe that your team will not ignore the feedback that you share.

    Building trust is a long story, but worth it. You can let them read this article before implementing the approach, so that everyone is in a single information field.

  3. If you missed one of the feedback steps, well, you’re out of luck.

    If an employee showed 10% readiness, but you were not there. Poorly. Now you need to find out their 10% solution and come to 50% feedback.

    Or admit your mistakes and ask to restart the entire project from scratch, because you once could not find the time.

    And yet, if you are seeing something for the first time, you should be allowed to give 10% feedback. Just explain very clearly that you did not have the opportunity to discuss 10% of the material, so you are going to share your 10% feedback now. Next time, give it from the start.

CEO feedback types

As a leader, clearly define the type of feedback you give.

You have great power. When you give feedback, your team may perceive it as a law that has entered into force. Sometimes it’s very good, and sometimes it’s harmful.

That is why it is important to have a clear idea of ​​the type of feedback you give when you give it. My personal feedback taxonomy types look like this:

  1. Thinking Aloud. This type of feedback is exactly about that – just thinking out loud. Just a fleeting thought that accidentally arose in your head and burst out of your mouth when someone was standing next to you. This is not the feedback that should change the course of the project.
  2. The opinion of one person. This is a type of feedback when you offer your own point of view, but not as a leader, but as a person interested in this project. It should be evaluated with the same priority as the feedback of any other team member.
  3. Suggestion. This is no longer “one person’s opinion”, but still not a directive for the team. This type of feedback is the opinion of one person, which was formed through experience and lessons learned. But this does not mean that the team cannot but listen to the feedback.
  4. I said. The leader tells the team how to do it. Simple and clear. Sometimes this is a necessary evil, but it should not be used excessively.


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