What is a Feedback River?

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A feedback river is a central place to see and classify all relevant feedback. Slack or email digests are common ways to build feedback rivers.

Organizational Feedback Systems

Organizational Feedback Systems via the 3Cs: Step 1, Collect: Feedback is collected from various sources (flowing in from feedback tributaries to form a feedback river). Step 2, Classify: The feedback river provides a central place to see all relevant feedback, and each piece gets classified. Step 3, Communicate: The classified feedback is routed to the most relevant stakeholders (the river forms feedback lakes).

While many consider the central place of feedback rivers as the end goal, I see it as the second step of a 3-step process. In this sense, feedback rivers are one part of what I call the 3Cs of Organizational Feedback Systems. The 3Cs are:

  • Collect
  • Classify
  • Communicate

Let’s break each down.

Collect Feedback (Feedback Tributaries)

Step 1 here is about collecting feedback from various sources. One metaphor that may be helpful here is to think about all the tributaries that feed into a river. The goal here is to map out all the most critical feedback tributaries and to create a process for how they are being monitored.

For example, if we think about collecting customer feedback – those tributaries would include the internal feedback our customers send us privately (and ensuring they have easy ways to do so), and it would include monitoring the most important areas where they are providing public feedback.

Classify Feedback (Feedback Rivers)

In a colorful abstract landscape, a roaring river flows through the middle of a town. In the bridge crossing the river is a sign that reads: Feedback River.
An organized feedback system is vital for controlling wild feedback rivers.

At this step, we ensure all that feedback flows into a central place where it can be seen in aggregate. This could be a Slack channel, for example. Once there, it’s helpful to Classify it. For example, is this External feedback about a particular product or service? Is it positive or negative feedback? You can get as detailed as is helpful here.

For example, it may be helpful to note if it’s coming from a Fortune 100 customer with whom you have a significant deal as opposed to a customer from a small business who is simply on a free trial.

We then move to Step 3, Communicating. Some organizations end at Step 2, thinking that the feedback river is enough, but the river contains everything and can be an overwhelming source of information to the point where it’s irrelevant for many people receiving it.

Communicate Feedback (Feedback Lakes)

The flowing water metaphors continue here, as Step 3 is about creating feedback lakes from the river, ensuring that the classified feedback is routed to the most appropriate people or teams. As in our example, a batch of feedback from Fortune 100 customers on a particular product could be routed to the product team responsible for that product, to the enterprise technical sales team who can follow up directly with their customer points of contact, and perhaps to the marketing team who can determine if and how to respond to the public feedback.

So, on the whole, we’ve taken what can be a complex but always-on organizational feedback initiative – an area which Dr. Angela Duckworth has never seen an organization get right – and we’ve turned it into a relatively simple three-step approach we can keep top of mind as we work to improve our efforts and build a truly elite feedback culture across the organization.

This is much easier said than done, but putting a process in place is vital.

Examples of Organizational Feedback Systems

While I agree with Dr. Duckworth, I have seen some organizations create elegant and effective feedback systems.

Way back in 2008, Patagonia wrote about how they aggregated all types of feedback into large spreadsheets organized by month. They would save these for many years and make them easily searchable. Why would they save them for so many years?

“In the world of product development, it’s not uncommon for two years to pass between concept and completion…. During this time, we’re developing the revised product, testing the new design, sourcing new materials, drawing up contracts with production facilities, scheduling factory time, planning distribution, etc.”

In essence, they had a way to feed tributaries into the river, and even if they didn’t form lakes, they at least provided some way for people to fish out what they needed from the river.

In my experience, Slack is perhaps the most used feedback aggregator tool. It’s also a company that knows a thing or two about feedback, as they made it the epicenter of their initial growth efforts.

Many years ago, Matt Haughey wrote about funneling customer feedback into Slack. Much of what Matt wrote is still relevant and still not being used by many organizations. Consider this:

“For teams developing applications or games for desktop and mobile systems, keeping track of how your products are reviewed on every system can be a bit of a chore. There is the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store, the Microsoft Windows Store, and Amazon, among others. Slack apps like ReviewBot, Appbot, and AppFollow check your review accounts on a variety of systems and sends all those into a Slack channel for easy viewing.”

Slack has improved and expanded its capabilities dramatically since that 2018 blog, and it’s now easier than ever to leverage it for creating and organizing feedback systems.


  • Learn about organizational feedback systems in video format beginning at 30:16 in the video below: