Does the VR Industry Need a Retrospective?

“You should take the approach that you’re wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.”

Elon Musk

Retrospectives are an activity in Agile where the Scrum Team evaluates the past Sprint to see how they can improve for the next one. The Scrum Master typically asks the team:

  • What went well?
  • What did not go well?
  • What can we agree to improve on in the next Sprint?

I also liked to ask my team to mark how they felt the Sprint went using a scale of happy to sad faces. I’d tally those up for a running chart during the project.

Sprint Retrospectives aren’t about how to best continually improve the product. They’re about how to best continually improve the team and processes they work in over time.

Unfortunately, Retrospectives were always the least looked forward to event. They either turned into venting sessions or team members voicing that the Retro was a waste of time because they didn’t have any control over what was wrong. It’s a common problem for the Retrospective. But without it, we won’t be able to step back and determine if we are moving together in the right direction.

Just because you’re releasing a new evolution in product every year or ship a piece of code every Sprint doesn’t necessarily mean they’re solving customer’s pain points and meeting their needs. That’s why we need retrospectives. They are “the catalyst of true agility.”

2016 was a big smiley face year for virtual reality

I thought it was awesome when Chelsea Tweeted, “what is the *worst* thing about virtual reality?” She asked, what did not go well? And since she is a Product Design Manager at Oculus, maybe she will take some of the responses and improve on them at Oculus.

In Sprint Retrospectives, we often tally up and vote on what did not go well the most. That’s what happened in responses to Chelsea’s question. One person would comment that the worst thing is getting sweaty from headsets. Then a bunch of others “heart” the Tweet or leave similiar comments. Tally all those up and you start to see what is not going well with VR.

Granted, the survey wasn’t controlled and it might be biased, since it was asked by a person who works in VR. People who follow her are probably into VR, and the people who commented must have tried VR at least once. And the sample size compared to a real survey is small.

But, it’s still a good exercise in retrospection.

“If you’re not engaged in the Retro, you’re not going to make change. If you’re not following through, why be engaged in the first place?”

David Horowitz, co-founder and CEO of Retrium, Inc.

In the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, the author shares the rise and fall of Theranos through the views of its employees. Theranos promised to diagnose and cure everyone with only a drop of blood placed in their home device. The company was a perfect guide on how not to run a startup.

In the book, one of the employees took the blood machine, an Einstein 1.0, out for a spin at other startups in Silicon Valley. He noticed that people had to prick their fingers multiple times to get the blood on the cartridge right. It was messy and some people never got a read on the device. The employee thought, if my friends can’t get this right, how can an elderly sick person?

When he brought these concerns to CEO Elizabeth Holmes she told him not to worry about it. It wasn’t a problem. But it was a problem. It didn’t matter how well the machine worked if people didn’t want to prick their fingers.

When I talleyed up the responses to create The Top 11 Worst Things about VR according to Twitter, I expected some push back. My personal experience in virtual reality is that you can only talk about how great it is, how many problems it can solve, how VR will change the world. Say anything negative and you’re down voted into oblivion.

People who said VR was socially isolating were chastised by others that believed virtual reality is supposed to be that way.

I shared the results of the comments and was hit with the generic, “VR has agressive market adoption!”

Arguing the points of people who point out a real problem to them shuts the conversation down. It shuts down what could be improved on. So while you think you’re building something awesome, you’re actually not because you disengaged from the Retrospective.

Just like the Theranos employee showed the prototype of the blood machine to friends for their feedback, Chelsea asked her followers for theirs. Even Elon Musk agrees with this strategy.

He says, “A well thought out critique of whatever you’re doing is as valuable as gold. You should seek that from everyone you can but particularly your friends.” Usually our friends don’t want to give us honest feedback because they want to spare our feelings. However, they’re the ones who can probably tell you what’s wrong the best.

Our Twitter followers may not be our “friends” per se but they are followers for a reason. “Even if you don’t agree with their feedback, Musk says, ‘You at least want to listen very carefully to what they say.’”

  • It doesn’t matter how well VR works if people don’t want to put the headset on because it messes up their makeup or makes them sweat.
  • It doesn’t matter how cool the game is if they can’t share it with their friends in the room.
  • It doesn’t matter how great the 3D visuals and immersion is if someone can’t see it because they had to take their glasses off.

After the few comments of hurt egos subsided, I started to see different responses. When I published the post and infographic, I saw the Retrospective grow. People shared their own experiences with germophobia and nausea.

Then something cool started to happen. People started to share what pieces of the problem their company was tackling. Motion sickness, inclusiveness, set-up ease, these pieces are being addressed. Multiple people mentioned Cleanbox Technology as a solution to the hygiene factor.

“As an industry we are not doing a great job at bridging consumers into demanding the tech, nor of visioning out all the possibilities for where XR can go.”

Kim Voynar

Kim Voynar wrote a piece on LinkedIn, “Is the consumer 360/VR sky falling?” She didn’t think so but I think she made a great point. She wrote, “as an industry we are not doing a great job at bridging consumers into demanding the tech, nor of visioning out all the possibilities for where XR can go.”

After seeing the responses from some of the VR companies to the list of “worst things about VR”, I think the cycle is breaking. We’re past the point of making cool tech. I think those in the VR industry are realizing where they need to improve for consumers.

I think we’ll start seeing VR companies change their mindset about the technology. We’re at the point where we need to give VR customers an outlet without dismissing them. The VR industry needs to use engaged customers to drive innovation in VR. That’s an action item from this Retrospective I think we can all agree on.

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Featured Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash


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