If at first, you don’t succeed: Why postmortems are integral to our fail-friendly culture

Innovation never stops in adtech, and we love being at the forefront of an industry that’s always thinking ahead. But when we’re creating the new, the different, and the better on a daily basis, embracing our failures is just as important as celebrating our successes. 

We develop and manage multiple systems, products, and processes here at smartclip. And we’re home to numerous teams, personalities, skill sets, and skill levels. No matter how much careful preparation we put in, operating in such a complex, fast-paced environment means failures are inevitable. It’s how we handle them that matters.

That’s why one of our key working principles is creating and maintaining a fail-friendly environment, and a central element of this is our postmortem process.

What is a postmortem?

Postmortems aren’t a new concept in the tech industry — if you’ve worked in any tech company, you’ve probably encountered them before or at least heard about them. Here’s how we define a postmortem:

The process of closely examining an incident or failure to find the root cause(s) of the issue and to identify actions that will prevent the same and/or similar things from happening in future.

Postmortems allow us to learn from incidents or failures and constantly improve ourselves and our platform. As failures are bound to happen, we don’t believe in penalising or blaming anyone when they occur. Instead, we initiate our blame-free postmortem process, with the goal of transforming them into valuable learning opportunities that we can use as stepping stones towards success and growth.

What our postmortem process looks like

Postmortem processes vary across companies; at smartclip, ours take the form of moderated discussions. These discussions, take place for an agreed-upon duration of time and are led by our undertakers — colleagues who have been trained, via an external consultant, on how to handle postmortem situations. Just like anyone can become an undertaker, anyone from our tech teams can request a postmortem, and they can be initiated for any incident where the root causes of the failure are unclear.  

A primary undertaker moderates the discussion, providing a structure, maintaining focus, ensuring appropriate language, asking questions, and requesting consent, while a second undertaker observes the discussion. Additionally, the undertaker works to ensure that every participant has an equal opportunity to contribute to the discussion. 

Each discussion has three phases: check-in, investigation, and check-out. During check-in, the primary undertaker summarises the reasons for the postmortem and explains the structure and rules of the discussion to help the group reach a mutual understanding of the incident at hand. The investigation, which forms the majority of the discussion, involves gathering and analysing as much information and data about the incident as possible. The focus is always on the process, not the people — as we believe that there is never a single person to blame — and the undertaker will lead the conversation away from assigning blame to what we can learn from the situation — such as identifying systemic errors or training needs — and how we can use it to improve future performance. All participants have the opportunity to share their thoughts and learnings, and the goal is to find mutual agreement on answers to four key questions:

– What happened?

– What root causes/contributing factors led to the incident?

– What did we learn from the incident?

– What concrete actions do we need to take and who takes ownership of those actions?

Discussions conclude with the check-out, during which the undertaker summarises the postmortem and gathers feedback. In some cases, such as more complex situations, an additional session is scheduled if the original meeting isn’t sufficient. 

The benefits of postmortems

Whether we’re investigating a simple misstep or a total wrong turn, our postmortems allow us to optimise learning even when things don’t go to plan, giving us in-depth insight into what happened and why, and how we can be better equipped to stop it from happening again. These blame-free, process-focused discussions offer our colleagues the supportive environment they need to be fully open about what happened, which increases our understanding of each incident. As a result, our postmortem process brings many benefits, such as making our systems, products, and processes more efficient and resilient; highlighting potential issues, improvements, and training needs; boosting team cohesion, motivation, and morale; and giving our tech teams the confidence to carry on innovating.

Our postmortems are an opportunity to learn from ourselves, each other, and our collective mistakes, and we believe this learning is key to progress in the fast-moving adtech industry. Most importantly, as part of our fail-friendly and change-embracing learning culture, it means smartclippers can flourish in an environment where transparency, resilience, respect, continuous learning, and improvement are always prioritised — empowering them to truly push the boundaries of adtech without fear of failure.

Want to know more?

We’re always looking for forward-thinking talent to join our tech teams, so if you’d like to be part of a culture that champions innovation, learning, and growth, get in touch to find out more.

Tobias Wolff

Tobias is the VP Engineering at smartclip.

Tobias Wolff
VP Engineering

Portrait of Lee Richter Junior Content Editor Europe at smartclip

Lee is the Marketing Specialist Europe at smartclip and is responsible for content writing, editing, social media, and creative support across the department and company. Originally from the United States, Lee graduated from the University of Cincinnati, where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Electronic Media. Before joining smartclip, she has worked with various organisations managing social media accounts and assisting in the video and audio production processes.

Lee Richter
Marketing Specialist Europe