Redgate’s Fantastic Beasts (and how we improve them)

At Redgate we want our teams to be autonomous and aligned. We believe in pushing ownership of our products, and the information required to make decisions related to those products, down to the teams that work on them – that’s the autonomous part. Redgate also expects great things from teams and for them to reflect the direction, policies and values of the wider organization – that’s the alignment bit.

To encourage alignment, we need to be really clear on what our common direction, policies and values are. To paint this picture for Redgate’s development teams, we defined a set of principles that we think every one of our team should follow. By following these principles, we beleieve we will not only create an environment for excellent product development but we’ll also ensure our teams are a excellent place to work.

These principles are our desired destination for Redgate teams, but it is not where we are right now. To be honest, as our understanding of our situation and best practice changes over time, we will always find ourselves on a journey towards ‘doing things better’.  Many of our teams are doing well at following the principles, but they still have room to improve to become great. But where do they want to be great? And how do they decide? And who can remember what the principles are anyway??? That’s where our Fantastic Beasts come in.

We can’t expect our fairly dry set of principles, no matter how laudable, to inspire improvement for development teams from their home in the corner of our internal wiki. Ideally, we want these principles to stick in peoples heads; to be snappy, memorable and fun. We want teams to really engage with them and to actively use them to identify areas where they can do better. So, we gave each principle an animal mascot – unleashing our Fantastic Beasts!

The what now?!

This graphic explains it best.

Primer

Think of the Fantastic Beasts as a (furry) shortcut to the principles we hold so dear. With the power of the Porpoise teams stay focused on their purpose. The transparency of the Jellyfish keeps teams open and honest. The wisdom of the Owl means they understand their users and the agile Chameleon reminds us to inspect and adapt. The collaborating Meerkat encourages us to listen and be mindful of others. The proud Koala maintains a healthy balance between delivery and quality. 

How do we use the Beasts?

One of the uses of the Fantastic Beasts is as part of a facilitated retrospective session for each of our teams. These sessions are designed to encourage teams to take a wider perspective and reflect on where they feel they could be doing better in the various areas highlighted by the vision for development teams. We step away from day-to-day issues, problems and successes to debate where we need to take deliberate steps to improve how we are doing as an autonomous, aligned product development team.

Picture1
Scaling technique used by teams to explore how well they feel they are doing with the Beasts

We can apply the beasts in a number of ways across the general day-to-day life of development teams at Redgate. Each time we use them we reinforce the principles they represent across development. For instance, last year we organised an excellent “The Mom Test” workshops as part of a wider Owl-y learning about our users initiative. The animals have found their way into the language used by some of the teams. I’ve heard team members talk about the need to be being more Jellyfish about something. The fact that many of our teams were feeling they had an opaque Porpoise has contributed to us establishing a quarterly OKR process within product development!

One too twee?

The cynical among you may well look unfavorably at the Beasts and label them as twee or silly. Well, they are pretty lighthearted, but they are also more memorable and much more likely to rest in your consciousness than a lifeless document that we’ve uploaded to lurk in the shadows on a fileshare somewhere. But your mileage may vary with the beasts themselves. They have worked for us but they are very much tailored to our needs, to our culture. Due to that, I would suggest others look to them for inspiration rather than copy them wholesale. Other organisations will have different values they want to emphasise and different levels of tolerance for furry avatars!

Too silly or not, please don’t lose sight of the fact that the Beasts are shorthand for the fundamental principles that we believe will contribute towards development at Redgate being an environment for building excellent products that solve users’ problems and a great place to work. Whatever we can do to make these values more immediate for people is worth trying!

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