What are retrospectives?

Ever thought about why you keep making the same mistakes? Our Senior Developer, Gel Goldsby speaks about the power of retrospectives, how they work, and what benefits they can bring to your team.

In life, we always strive to get better at things. We do this by tweaking our ‘behaviour’ in an attempt to improve. We work out what to tweak, by analysing our past outcomes. For example, let’s say you and a friend are baking a cake and when it comes out of the oven it hasn’t risen. You ask each other, “Why?” Google says maybe you’re using the wrong type of flour or over-mixing.

After chatting with each other, you hypothesize that over-mixing must be the culprit because you used an electric mixer instead of hand mixing. So, on your next attempt, you lessen your mix times and the resulting cake has a nice airy texture. Congratulations! You have successfully retrospected!

The point is, to achieve the desired outcome of any task requires 1) an analysis of what happened, 2) theories of what can be done differently or continued and 3) the creation of experiments to test if they produce the desired outcome. A retrospective encourages this feedback cycle as it makes the team analyse the past so that next time will be better.

What do retrospectives mean to the Product Development team at Unruly?

Retrospectives are a time for us to look back on the last iteration (usually the previous two weeks) or any specific incidents/events. It helps us identify what has happened (both good and bad), reflect on how those events impact us (both positively and negatively) and think about what we can do differently next time. Retrospectives encourage an experimental ‘let’s just try it’ attitude.

“At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.”
— an Agile Principle

What are the goals of a retrospective?

The ultimate goal of a retrospective is to come away with both learnings and actionable steps as to what we should do differently (or continue to do) next time.

Retrospective cartoon

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
— writer and philosopher George Santayana

How often should you do a retrospective?

There is no hard rule but generally, you want to do them frequently enough to ensure that the team’s on the same page. Having this tight feedback loop allows us to continuously recalibrate our direction. If you don’t recalibrate regularly, you end up needing a much larger correction.

Man reading map

Take, for example, Blockbuster video, a popular home video rental service (pre-2013), that did not move fast enough when digital and online videos started to become popular. As a result, the company went bankrupt when the home video rental market pretty much became obsolete. Perhaps they did not hold frequent enough retrospectives to be able to adjust to the changing market.

Can’t they get rather negative?

It’s certainly easy to do! But we remind ourselves that we are generating ‘learnings.’ Remember it’s not just about reflecting on what went wrong, but also what went right and how we can do more of it. And, we are not trying to find/agree on the answer, but rather, identify ways that can move the team forward.

We use the Prime Directive to avoid a blame culture (the antithesis of what retrospectives are!):
“Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.”
— Norm Kerth, Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Review

Should we do retrospectives?

Yes! Retrospectives can be used by everyone and are not specifically for software development teams. For example, the UK Department of Health for Social Care is made up of four non-software-building teams and hold regular retrospectives to learn from the work of the previous two weeks.

Find ways to keep retrospectives fun!

Unruly retrospective board

Right, I’m convinced. How do we retrospect?

You want to create an atmosphere that encourages participants to be open to express their own opinions as well as hear other perspectives without judgment. So it’s important to find an objective facilitator (one who is not involved) and use a retrospective format (e.g. game) to help structure the meeting (do a Google search for ‘Agile Retrospective’).

The role of a facilitator ensures that not only that the conversation flows, but that everyone gets involved (i.e. equal participation), a root cause (the “why” not just the “what”) is identified, actionable steps (or working agreements) are suggested/proposed, and tangents are avoided.

Retrospective cartoon strip

Like what you’ve heard? Unruly’s a place where great people can do great things – every day. Our superpower is to take passionate, collaborative and empowered people on a mission to #DeliverWow. Find out what roles we’re hiring for.

One of the things we care about at Unruly is encouraging diversity across the business.

Recently, inspiring Unrulies Sarah Young and Hannah Mackaness were approached by Sky and asked to do an interview on what it’s like to work somewhere where diversity and inclusivity are celebrated.

The pair loved the conversation that spurred from the interview, and asked if they could re-film it so that it could be made available for anyone to watch.

During the video the pair speak about the ProDev teams approach to diversity and inclusivity. They also speak about the changes they put in place that allowed the team to double the amount of women working in it.

The pair also talk about the journeys that brought them both into ProDev, and the impact that support for inter-team transitions has had on the team as a whole. 

Pop your headphones in, sit back, and find out more about the amazing Unruly ProDev team…

Does Unruly sound like somewhere you’d like to work? You’re in luck! We are hiring for new positions across the world! Take a look at which roles are currently available.

Next up in our ‘Inside ProDev’ series we sat down with one of our Product Managers Julien Altoé to find out what it’s like to work as a Product Manager in the ProDev team.

Q: Hi Julien, first of all, could you introduce yourself and tell a bit about what you do here at Unruly?

As you faultlessly said, my name is Julien, and I am a 28-year-old Frenchman that has been working at Unruly for three years. After a few roles in the Ops team, I am now a Product Manager in the ProDev team. I am the home Product Manager for the Demand Side, and as the name implies, we are the team that look after the demand side of the business. Making sure anyone willing to access the video supply we’re offering can do it seamlessly.

Q: Can you talk a bit about how you joined Unruly?

As I have met numerous ad tech companies in my previous role, it was only a matter of time before Unruly crossed my path. With Sandra, the commercial in charge of OMD, we skipped the usual formal meeting in the lobby and went straight for lunch. We had an instant connection and after she told me about the Unruly culture, she mentioned an offer as a Campaign Manager in the French office they were currently looking to backfill. I applied the following day. Having the opportunity to work abroad regularly was my main incentive, and three years later, I am more than happy about the outcome! I started in Paris, went to Sydney for a few months, spent some time in Hamburg. I have also collaborated with our New York, Singapore and Stockholm offices, and am now based in London, love it!

Q: What notable roles did you hold before?

I had a variety of jobs when I was studying sports marketing. I’ve been a seller at IKEA, a warehouse worker at Chronopost, a receptionist in a bank and even a binman! I believe each role helped me to be versatile and adapt to my following experiences.

Once I completed my Masters, I had no experience or knowledge in digital advertising. However, I was fortunate enough to get an internship at OMD as a Digital Media buyer. After six months I got a role as a Digital Trader, which is where I started playing with programmatic.

After that I took on the role at Unruly as a Campaign Manager in Paris, and completed my tour in Australia. I then started as a Senior Campaign Manager when I moved to London. We launched our programmatic offering, and I helped build the tools and processes needed to develop the new business model. I moved on as a Programmatic Ops in the UK and continued to support the team with the daily activities, as well as longer-term projects around programmatic.

Q: How would you explain your job to your grandparents?

I’ve been trying for a while now, but I’m not sure I’ve found the right way. I tell them that it’s similar to the massive poster ads you see at the bus station, but I do it on web pages! It’s difficult to explain to your grandparents, especially when it comes to the scary and complicated internet! As a Product Manager, I try to explain to them what that means on a daily basis. I tell them that we build things, and I have to make sure we build the right things, in the right way.

Q: What draws you to this type of work?

I believe this is very much related to my personal development. If you asked me three years ago, I would’ve never imagined I’d be a Product Manager in an adtech company in London. Talking in front of an audience was the scariest thing for me, but now I do it every day. At the beginning my knowledge of technologies was more than limited. Along the way I’ve been lucky enough to find patient mentors who shared their adtech masteries throughout the years, and helped me progress within the company.

I’m honestly not too sure how I ended up here. I took my chances when opportunities arose, which is very much interrelated to my development as a (grown-up) man. I continuously try to stay open-minded and adapt my approaches to new situations. Empathy is a keyword in the team. Being surrounded by people who care is indispensable for me. I am fully aware that we’re in a business with commercial goals, however, that doesn’t mean we have to remove the human aspect from the equation.

Q: What continues to surprise you about your work?

During the hiring process at Unruly everyone is given 30 seconds to “Deliver Wow”. I wanted to show something about myself that I wouldn’t usually do with people I just met. I told the team about my sense of humour and that I would do things that only I would find funny. They were fine with that as Unruly is a place where you can just be yourself.

Every day I collaborate with new people, and I’m still amazed to see how diverse and tolerant people are in this company. Arriving in the ProDev team after almost three years in the Ops team was full of surprises! I’ve discovered a new way of approaching my work with lots of retrospective and feedback sessions, where we are as transparent as possible and try to learn from previous iterations. That continuous quest for improvement, both in terms of productivity and well-being, is a real enjoyment for me!

Q: It’s the weekend: what do you like to do in your spare time.

I am fortunate enough to have a garden, and I spend lots of time there. I do feel some enjoyment from not taking the tube anymore and cycling around as well, I’ve discovered so many new places and areas since I got my bike.

Also, I’ve been practising Crossfit for more than a year now which I love. It is super important to help me maintain a positive mood most days. Finally, watching the Premier League takes a significant part of my free time, as Arsenal produce good football while losing at the same time!

Q: What kind of challenges does ProDev tackle?

As we’ve grown up very quickly in the past few months, some new internal challenges arose within the team. One very important thing in a company with such a unique and strong culture is to make sure new joiners understand the foundations and values of the business, as well as to feel a part of it as early as possible.

In an always changing environment where new priorities and market needs can disrupt the short and long-term objectives quite regularly, some external challenges have to be faced by developers.

Q: What music do you listen to while working/do you have a specific playlist?

I most definitely do have a few playlists, their vibes vary a lot, depending on the weather, the day of the week or even the football results! I enjoy different types of music from reggae/dub to techno, rap, house and even some French classics for nostalgia. There’s my “Principalement du Chill” playlist that I listen to a lot, and my “D’ici et d’ailleurs, enfin surtout d’ailleurs” playlist that can cure a punctual blues! 

Want to join the Unruly family? You’re in luck, we’re hiring! Check out our job page for the latest roles!

Meet some other members of the ProDev team!