Making the Business Case for a Dedicated Platform Engineering Team

June 13, 2023

Contributor: Lori Perri

Two separate sets of actions are needed to build and then scale your platform engineering teams.

Platform engineering helps software developers create value faster and improves their everyday experience, but despite the benefits, software engineering leaders still struggle to fund and scale dedicated platform engineering teams. These actions can help.

“Funding a dedicated platform engineering team without sufficient proof of the benefits is often not feasible,” says Gartner VP Analyst George Spafford. “Even when software engineering leaders manage to get started with platform engineering, they encounter barriers to scaling the practice. These barriers include a continued lack of buy-in and funding from executive leaders, a shortage of skills to build platforms, and insufficient staff to handle the volume of work. As a result, their early efforts struggle to gain momentum.”

Three key actions to build a platform engineering team

Platform engineering and its self-service capabilities help reduce process challenges and flow restrictions for software development teams — and allow them to better understand what they’re accountable for. It’s easier to prove these benefits if you start with the resources you have and follow a rigorous, business-focused approach when building a platform engineering team, using the following three best practices.

No. 1: Appoint a platform owner

Assign a platform owner to set the direction for the platform and actively manage its roadmap. Make sure they understand the needs of the product/software teams to maximize efficient customer value delivery. 

Tasks the platform owner with the following aspects of platform building:  

  • Defining

  • Delivering

  • Monitoring 

  • Marketing and obtaining feedback from customers and users

  • Refining

Platform owners need the right mix of people, business and technical skills and must be able to communicate well and collaborate with team members effectively.

No. 2: Initiate the product life cycle by building the thinnest viable platform

The platform owner must work closely with developers, product teams and other stakeholders to figure out how to bring platform engineering to the organization with minimal overhead. Identify and leverage existing solutions that are efficient and valuable, rather than developing new services that have yet to prove successful. 

Make sure minimal budget and time are invested in the thinnest viable platform. Demonstrating value and building the business case is easier when you’re not asking leadership for a large upfront investment.

Stay focused on: 

  • Learning

  • Improving 

  • Demonstrating value

No. 3: Use platform user feedback and outcome-based metrics to track value delivery

A platform owner needs feedback from platform users, ideally from first-person meetings. Data from surveys and emails, while useful, is no substitute for good conversations. 

Try to find out:

  • What works and what doesn’t

  • New feature ideas

  • Benefits accrued 

  • Potential emerging risks

Platform owners must also demonstrate the efficiency and increased speed of platforms in a way that leadership understands and supports, so share common metrics on adoption, usage and benefit.

Three key actions to scale the platform engineering practice

As the value is demonstrated from the prior steps, there must be consideration for scaling efforts. To make the business case to executive leaders and get the budget and right talent in place, software engineering leaders must create a vision for an initial platform engineering team. 

The key factors that need to be in place in order to secure the necessary resources are as follows:

No. 1: Build a developer journey map to identify constraints and frustrations

The platform owner needs to get customer feedback on their current and future needs. Build a developer journey map (DJM) to gauge their degree of satisfaction with each step. Features can be prioritized by showing any difficulties and frustrations within the flow in a graphical representation, which allows for greater conversations with stakeholders and development of business cases.

No. 2: Determine a staffing strategy

Make the case for a dedicated platform engineering team, by focusing on the advantages: 

  • Less task switching

  • Fewer delays

  • Improved continuity of thought

  • Platforms treated as evolving and compelling products 

Make clear that team members are more productive as a result.

No. 3: Determine the composition of the first platform engineering team

The platform owner needs to look at the value stream of the platform and then decide on how to involve them given the strategy based on their interests and availability. The platform engineering team will have the people on it with the perspectives needed to create and evolve the platform.

To scale your platform engineering practice, encourage platform owners to collaborate with the following groups:

  • Product team

  • Infrastructure and operations (I&O):

  • Site reliability engineering (SRE)

  • Security

  • Enterprise architecture

  • Data and analytics

In addition to technical knowledge, choose team members who will demonstrate the following behaviors to support the collaborative creation, support and evolution of the platform:

  • Team player

  • Motivated

  • Communication

  • Committed

  • Accountable

George Spafford, Gartner VP Analyst, primarily covers DevOps/DevSecOps, Platform Engineering and SRE. His publications include hundreds of articles and numerous books on IT management.

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