The 10/50/99% approach is a unique way to offer feedback on a project in a firm but constructive way. All too often, clients and professionals miscommunicate their needs and requirements, leaving one or both parties frustrated by the encounter. This ingenious approach allows you to share missing contexts at the right moments, maximizing productivity and minimizing in-project strife.
Take, for example, a project between a web designer and a company owner. The web designer has been instructed to take initiative and create three captivating web designs for the company—but at the last minute, the owner requests a major change the designer doesn’t agree with.
The designer feels that their work is not appreciated and is being too drastically changed, perhaps not realizing there was a practical intention behind the owner’s request. Once finding out that the owner wanted the site to match his trucks’ branding, the designer might wish that they’d known that sooner.
The only way to have known that was to gather that context at the start or to obtain feedback as they worked, instead of waiting until the last minute to show off a near-completed project.
The 10/50/99 principle is a simple framework that could have prevented the frustration felt by the designer and their team. It can be applied to a wide range of professional contexts, significantly reducing miscommunication between parties, allowing projects to flow more effortlessly and meet the needs of all involved.
Here’s how it works.
What is 10/50/99% Feedback?
Let’s say that a certain project can be divided into three main phases: 10%, 50%, and 99% complete.
- At the 10% mark, the project is still in its very early phases, and can easily be altered.
- At the 50% mark, the project’s core components should be coming together, allowing for finer details to be amended.
- By the 99% mark, most professionals should be focused on finalizing a project and checking features like grammar, spelling, and data accuracy.
The 10/50/99% system corresponds to the feedback that you should be sharing at each of those stages.
There is an important rule to note with this approach. The only feedback you can offer in the 10% stage is 10%. You can never offer 10% feedback at the 50% stage, or 50% feedback at the 99% stage, and expect the project to be a success. This also works in reverse – don’t try to supply 99% feedback at the 10% stage or your team will probably end up feeling overwhelmed!
The concept behind this approach is saving as much energy and time as possible. Using the language laid out by this approach can help to hold all parties accountable as a project progresses, while still showing that everyone’s input is valued.
The 10% Stage – The Start of a Project
The 10% stage is the earliest part of a project. Usually, the project in question will be nothing more than a sketch at this point. You may have an outline, a list of requirements, or a brief from a client. Either way, it shouldn’t take you long to get to this stage.
At this point, there will not be anything concrete to show your client. This makes it a challenging stage to offer feedback in, as most people are unwilling to show their unfinished work to their clients, managers, or team members.
You should take care to be gentle and deliberate with the feedback you share here. This stage is where most feedback-givers get it wrong, which is why employees struggle to share projects at such an early point.
For example, if a designer shares an initial idea and the client immediately tells them the logo isn’t centered, the designer may feel they are underperforming. This can lead to further misunderstandings and unnecessary changes later down the line.
At the 10% stage, you should give feedback on the direction that the project is headed. This way, a professional can easily scrap the current vision without wasting their hard work. This stage is the perfect time to debate the project, assess its goals and potential outcomes, and make major changes if necessary.
Remember to take notes of any changes you make here, as you’ll need them if anyone tries to change direction in the future.
The 50% Stage – The Halfway Mark
Most projects will exist in the form of a first draft by this stage. Again, it can be difficult for professionals to show off their work at this point, as many are hesitant to show off an unfinished product. There will be spelling errors and UX mistakes, misplaced text, and place-holder images aplenty.
Large parts of the project may be moved around or changed. This is ideal, however, as it’s the perfect time to confirm a project’s direction. You can debate its foundations and flow without focusing on smaller details that should be left for the 99% stage.
During this stage, you should be approaching feedback by building on what you documented in the 10% stage. Determine whether the vision you agreed on at 10% is aligned now.
Questions to ask yourself now include:
- Is this the project we pictured?
- Is it heading in the right direction?
- Does it mirror our company’s vision?
- Is this what the team agreed upon during the 10% stage?
- Are we eager to see the final product once it has been completed?
The middle stage is undeniably tricky, and direction is no longer up for negotiation. Focus rather on the overall layout and structure of the project and obtain feedback from other team members and departments if required.
The 99% Stage – The Last Chance
This is the last stage of the project just before completion, and it offers a great opportunity for final feedback. By now, your team should be focusing on the finest possible details, adding sparkle and functionality, and preparing for launch.
Now’s the time to nitpick if you feel it’s necessary!
Do the website’s links work correctly? Are there any minor errors or typos that need correction? Have the correct security protocols been implemented? Are we tracking the right metrics to get our business where it needs to be?
To give feedback at the 99% stage, you should scrutinize a project closely and make notes of anything and everything you want changed. Most of the feedback should be offered by the team rather than its leader at this point.
You should be aware that this phase can be a challenging one in its own right. Nitpicking the details can feel overwhelming for the person receiving the feedback, and they might make too many changes or not enough if they switch over to autopilot. Remind them gently of the project’s goals so they can distinguish solid feedback from unnecessary feedback.
Tips for the 10/50/99% Approach
Experts who have used this approach for years have added to it over time, offering tips to help your team make the most of it. They suggest:
- Always matching the correct feedback to the right stage
- Building trust with your team and hired professionals over time
- Ensuring that you never miss a feedback stage; if you do, it’s virtually impossible to work backwards and address it once the corresponding stage is over! If you skip a stage, catch up on decisions from earlier phases and try to incorporate them into the current project stage as best you can.
- Always being clear on the type of feedback you’re offering. Specify when your feedback is ‘just a thought’, a single person’s opinion, a strong suggestion, or a mandatory instruction. This way, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and maintains harmony to whatever extent possible as you work.
By utilizing the 10/50/99% feedback approach, you can improve productivity and streamline processes. This approach can be applied to just about any project and aligns goals right from the start. It’s a simple principle, but when put into practice it pays off.
Alex Thornhill is a freelance B2B and tech copywriter who specializes in business security topics and their potential impact on employees.